Twice Exceptional Learners: School Supports Needed for the Assessment Process

The National Association for Gifted Children position statement (2013) titled “Ensuring Gifted Children with Disabilities Receive Appropriate Services: Call for Comprehensive Assessment” details the method in which educator’s can ensure that children with concomitant exceptionalities are receiving appropriate educational services, both in their areas of disability, as well as their areas of giftedness.  As a speech-language pathologist, I am often part of the assessment team when determining disability.  All too often, however, our team will focus on interventions needed to help a child learn to perform at grade level.  Once at grade level, the child is dismissed from the caseload, and left to carry on without support, using the skills they have gained. 

2e students often use many compensatory strategies, which results in their giftedness masking their disability.  It is not until the academic coursework becomes too intense and the pace accelerates that these students cannot keep up.  For example, think of the child with “stealth dyslexia”, which is compensated for easily in the early years by the child’s ability to make guesses using context cues and world knowledge.  Our gifted children are exceptionally adept at making pieces fit, and the dyslexia may therefore go undetected.  Likewise, there is concern that our cutoff point for special education is “too low”, and the student has to perform so far below grade level to get identified that many middle-performing students are not able to access services to support their disability. “In essence, gifted students with disabilities may appear “not impaired enough” for disability-related services if they perform at grade level and “not gifted enough” to receive gifted education services.”(NAGC 2013).

The action plan for assessment calls for five steps:  comprehensive assessment, parent education, RTI discrepancies across subjects or academic tasks, the use of Gifted specialists as part of the assessment team, and continuing education for school personnel.  All five areas can be targeted in practice.  Dynamic assessment will continue to identify the most children.  By utilizing parent report, examining school work, and speaking with the child and with teachers past, we can complement the test scores and gain additional information as we design an educational plan.  Additionally, many test scores of IQ and cognitive ability “top out” at the 99th percentile.  However, there is a difference between the child who scores in the 99th percentile and a profoundly gifted child who scores in the 99.9th percentile, in terms of their academic needs.   Similarly, we need to be examining the needs of the child whose nonverbal ability is in the 99th+ percentile range, but who scores in the 80th percentile on language-based measures, which traditionally is considered “good enough” for academic achievement.  From my personal experience, I have seen children performing theoretical math above their grade level, but give them a language-based math word problem and they fall apart, ensuring that they spend the majority of their 3rd grade days in grade-level math. The problem is a language processing difficulty, not quantitative ability.

Parent education is also key.  With the advent of the internet, parents are tapped into social media groups and discussions forums about their twice exceptional children.  However, as educators and interventionists, we will have more support for our team process if we are the ones providing them with research-based information.  I would like to see special educators becoming the first resource for our schools and districts, and be able to point parents in the direction of appropriate resources.  Calling parents or meeting with them as we delve into the RTI process and/or assessment is a great first-step.  Sending home checklists and using parent report as part of the assessment process can help us understand the nuances of a child’s profile.  Likewise, our school staff need our guidance in learning about twice exceptional learners, the supports they need, and what will serve them best, regardless of legal mandates.  All too often, while a teacher may follow the IEP “law”, the support for addressing a student’s gifted needs can fall by the wayside.  We should reinforce all areas of need when creating treatment plans, and focus not only on academic areas that need remediation, but areas that need support in order to develop a student’s full potential.

H. Koning 2018


National Association for Gifted Children (2013).  Ensuring gifted children with disabilities receive appropriate services: Call for comprehensive assessment.  NAGC site: