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7.3 Twice Exceptional Learners
Sometimes, students identified with dyslexia exhibit incredible strengths in other academic or non-academic domains and are identified as gifted. These students’ reading challenges are not only unexpected, as described in the formal definition of dyslexia (See Chapter 2: What is Dyslexia?), but are vastly different from their overall ability.
Accordingly, the CDE’s technical assistance guidance on twice-exceptional students states:
Twice-exceptional students are difficult to identify because they possess the characteristics of gifted students and the characteristics of students with disabilities. Gifted characteristics may mask disabilities, or disabilities may mask gifted potential. Either the strengths, the disabilities, or both may not be identified.
The difficulty in the identification of such students makes it especially critical for this special population and their unique needs to be specifically highlighted in this handbook. Twice-exceptional (also called 2e) students can use their strengths to compensate for their reading challenges, and both their dyslexia and giftedness can be missed.
Twice-exceptional students are those who are both:
- Identified as gifted, according to state criteria in one or more of the categories of giftedness (general intellectual ability, specific academic aptitude, creative and productive thinking, leadership ability, or arts ability), and
- Identified with a disability, according to federal and state criteria — and the disability qualifies them for either an IEP or a Section 504 plan. (See Chapter 8: Dyslexia and Legislation for a fuller explanation of these documents.)
Gifted students with dyslexia sometimes become doctors, lawyers, artists or leaders. Other gifted students with dyslexia underachieve because neither their dyslexia nor their giftedness is identified. Still other gifted students with dyslexia sometimes become frustrated and, feeling markedly misunderstood, drop out of school and never realize their potential. Gifted students with dyslexia are at risk because their educational and social-emotional needs often go unnoticed or, in some instances, are misinterpreted. They may be labeled as “unmotivated” or “lazy” when their academic work is far below their perceived ability.
As with all students identified with dyslexia, it is essential that the identification and evaluation process be comprehensive, allowing for a thorough understanding of the whole individual — not just their weaknesses, but also their strengths. Early identification is important for this special population of students, as it is for all students with dyslexia, since reading challenges and teachers’ misperceptions about students’ capabilities and efforts can take a significant toll on twice-exceptional students’ belief in their abilities and strengths.
Just as dyslexia is commonly misunderstood (see Section 2.2 Common Myths About Dyslexia), there are a number of myths associated with twice-exceptionality. For example, some people claim that dyslexia is really a gift, and that all individuals with dyslexia are exceptional artists or entrepreneurs. This is truly a myth. Students with dyslexia are just like people without dyslexia. They have a broad range of abilities, varied strengths, interests, and talents. Myths about gifted students’ ineligibility for accommodations, individual education programs (IEPs) or support services are common.
Research indicates that 2% to 5% of the gifted population will have disabilities and that 2% to 5% of students with disabilities will be gifted (Dix & Shafer, 1996; Whitmore, 1980; Maker, 1977). It is important to identify gifted students with dyslexia early. A lack of identification and dual support for both their giftedness and dyslexia can lead to emotional and behavioral issues. These twice-exceptional students, just like other nongifted students with dyslexia, may have other co-occurring condition(s) such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety or depression. (See Section 7.4, which addresses comorbidity.)
Like all students with dyslexia, those identified as being twice-exceptional will benefit from a comprehensive evaluation that is designed to identify the student’s learning challenges and strengths, and address the specific type of instruction, support, strategies, and accommodations needed to address the student’s dyslexia, as well as the support and strategies needed to support the student’s giftedness. Just as other students with dyslexia benefit from a structured literacy instructional approach, so will those who are identified as 2e. As a result of their giftedness, these students may need instruction at a faster pace or with more depth and complexity. Accommodations such as access to audiobooks or voice-to-print technology will allow them to successfully participate in more-advanced and more-rigorous courses in which content is aligned to their capacity for complex thinking and their overall learning abilities.
For more information regarding program supports, strategies, and accommodations use the following link to the CDE’s resource book Twice-Exceptional Students: Gifted Students with Disabilities, Level 2, Establishing an Educational Plan Through a Collaborative Problem-Solving Model.