Twice-exceptional students: What districts need to know

Educators need to better identify gifted students who have learning difficulties (known as twice-exceptional (2E) students), and then manage accommodations and supports
By: | Issue: February, 2020
January 21, 2020
Credit: Unsplash/Matese Fields

As special education needs continue to increase, a challenge for district leaders is identifying and managing accommodations and supports for academically gifted students who have learning difficulties, also known as twice-exceptional (2E) students.

It’s not that educators don’t want to help these students; it’s that some might not even be aware that they exist, says Amy Slater, author of Educating Twice-Exceptional Students in Compliance With IDEA and Section 504 from LRP Publications, which also publishes DA.

“Picture it as a Venn diagram,” says Slater. “You have students with disabilities on one side and gifted students on the other, and the area in between is the twice-exceptional students.”

With a wide range of disabilities in schools, Slater reminds educators that a special ed designation doesn’t always mean an intellectual disability. For example, anxiety and ADHD may require accommodations but neither is classified as an intellectual disability. Thus, an academically successful student may also qualify for special ed.

Determining eligibility for 2E students

When it comes to 2E students, educators need to be aware of Child Find requirements, eligibility determination and implementation of supports.

Most districts are already well versed in federal Child Find mandates, so the question becomes when does a gifted student with special ed needs get those supports and services, says Slater. For example, does a team need to consider the student’s grades or their potential, which means considering issues such as overall education performance. Performance standards vary by state, so educators need to be familiar with local criteria.

Determining eligibility for 2E students can be tricky, says Slater. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a student qualifies for special ed if they have a disability that has been identified.

For example, a kindergartner may excel academically but can’t talk without stuttering, so the eligibility team may decide that the student has an impairment that requires special ed in terms of academic interventions, and the student could be eligible for IDEA services.

State-by-state definitions for education performance and how it relates to special ed and related services vary, adds Slater.

Removing barriers to support

In regard to assessing and supporting 2E students, Slater offers a few best practices, including:

• Review Child Find qualifications with relevant staff members.

• Conduct periodic training on 2E students and Child Find requirements in general.

• Make sure evaluators are knowledgeable about 2E students because gifted abilities might mask disabilities, and vice versa.

Educators also should be aware of the potential signs of disability in gifted students (see below).

When it comes to potential barriers to implementation of supports, Slater says teachers in gifted and accelerated classes may not be familiar with IEPs or Section 504 programs.

Ultimately, leaders need to remind staff of the district’s obligations, and ensure that educators know they can’t pick and choose what services 2E students should receive. Even if a teacher thinks it’s unnecessary, they have to make that service or accommodation available, says Slater.

“There seems to be this mindset with some educators that if you’re gifted, you can’t have a disability,” says Slater. “You can’t just assume that a gifted student doesn’t have a disability. Even if they perform well, there may be other factors involved.”

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Here are some behaviors in gifted students that could signal a need for special ed services, according to Amy Slater, author of Educating Twice-Exceptional Students in Compliance With IDEA and Section 504:

• difficulty with attention or focus

• difficulty with a specific subject or curriculum area

• frequent absences

• missing or incomplete assignments

• fidgeting, repetitive movements or difficulty staying still

• difficulty with transitions

• difficulty with social interaction

• behavioral outbursts

• frequent disciplinary offenses

• acts of self-harm