A large, underserved, at-risk group of students exists within the general population of school children in the United States: Twice-exceptional students (2e). These 2e students are a study in contrasts, for they have gifts, usually high intelligence and/or talent, along with learning differences. Despite being highly intelligent and/or highly talented, these students do not function well in regular classrooms, in gifted programs, or in programs for those with learning disabilities. Poor educational performance can often result in poor functioning in the adult working and social worlds.
The potential of 2e students is rarely fully realized because the learning disabilities and differences (such as dyslexia, visual or auditory processing disorder, obsessive/compulsive disorder, sensory processing disorder, Asperger’s or Tourette Syndromes, attention deficit disorder, or a diagnosis of anxiety or depression) interfere with the student’s ability to access the curriculum. To further complicate matters, most 2e students have multiple or “co-morbid” diagnoses of learning challenges. Some 2e students may have no formal diagnosis, but do have learning differences of other kinds, such as a highly dominant learning style or preference, or a highly “quirky” personality and temperament that make it hard to be accepted in schools and challenge teachers to adapt their approach.
Increasing numbers of 2e students are being reported. According to the Oak Foundation, approximately 20 percent of children (10 million students) in United States public schools have learning profiles that are not aligned with the expectations and teaching methodologies prevalent in mainstream school systems. Yet, there is minimal educational literature that provides comprehensive theory and strategies for meeting their academic and social emotional needs.
While there are some isolated graduate and certificate programs related to teaching and understanding 2e students, there are no requirements within general teacher education. Parents, teachers, administrators, and other professionals who support the learning and social emotional growth of 2e students need information, strategies and pedagogy to work with this complex population. According to a needs assessment conducted by the 2e Center in 2014, all stakeholders indicated a lack of resources and support available for educators, clinicians, other professionals, and parents.
Research and experience support the view that every individual can create a meaningful life, develop personally sustaining relationships, and contribute both economically and culturally. In contrast to prevalent deficit-based/focused educational environments, we find that students benefit most when there is a focus on understanding, developing, and building strengths and talents in an environment that is psychologically safe, appreciates the value of neuro-cognitive diversity, and synchronizes an educational program with the developmental pace and rhythm of individual students.
We believe the diversity and complexity of social and economic life in the 21st century demands an approach that integrates all kinds of minds, strengths, gifts, and abilities.