What does it mean to be a Twice-exceptional or a 2e student?

A 2e student, or a 2e learner, or a 2e kid is somebody who has two exceptionalities. In the education world, giftedness is considered an exceptionality as are learning disabilities. So a 2e student is somebody who is, on the one hand, gifted and talented and on the other hand, has some sort of learning disability or learning challenge.

If you know a young person who has a spark or is bright, but who struggles to show it, they may be 2e. Approximately 5% of the population is 2e.


At Kids Like Us, our focus is on helping twice-exceptional or 2e young people, but not everyone knows what this means, and the question we get asked the most is this:

How do you define a 2e person?

Many Australian states identify gifted students according to the definition proposed by education researcher Professor Françoys Gagné. ‘Giftedness’ is considered as an outstanding potential, while ‘talent’ is outstanding performance.

Gagné suggests that the environment, chance events, motivation and personality all influence the way that an individual’s talent develops and presents itself. Gifted and talented children and young people can occur in any circumstance, but Gagné highlights:

  • Academic disciplines – including math, science, humanities and languages;
  • Physical, artistic and technical disciplines – including sport, performing, art, music and computers;
  • Creative areas – including thinking and problem solving;
  • Social areas – including communication, caring and leadership.
  • Students may excel in many areas or in a very narrow specific domain. However, a twice-exceptional (2e) student also has a challenge of some kind – this challenge may be officially identified as a disability or social emotional problem …or it may not.

These challenges can be anything from Autism to Dyslexia, or ADHD to Medical issues, and can have a significant effect on how well a person is able to learn.

Traditional teaching methods are often structured in a logical and rigid way, and because of this we frequently encounter 2e students who are struggling with the confines of the education system. In addition to their gifts and challenges, these students may find themselves confronted by anxiety or depression, which further stunts their progress.

A common concern that these students find is that they are misunderstood by people who don’t know much about twice-exceptionality.

2e young people tend to develop quite “asynchronously”

The key thing to acknowledge with 2e young people is that they are pretty much all asynchronous. They are “all over the place” in terms of grade level ability or age appropriate development. For example, you might have a student in 6th grade who reads at the 12th-grade level, has the fine-motor handwriting of a 1st grade, writes like a 3rd grade, understands math concepts at an 9th-grade level, calculates math facts at a 4th-grade level, can hold remarkably deep conversations with adults, and has temper tantrums like a 3-year-old

As a consequence these young people may appear disengaged and frustrated. This comes about because many teachers are uncertain of how recognise and then work with twice-exceptional students to help them to achieve their full potential – and this potential is huge!

Many 2e young people go on to be entrepreneurs, their creativity and different insights into the world helping them to see openings in the market, or opportunities that have been underdeveloped.

One of our founding goals is to help these young people to gain the confidence and self-assuredness to recognise that they are not the problem, the problem is the problem.

We work hard to help 2e students to embrace themselves and what they can be. We work to see our students taking their gifts and challenges and using them to open the doors to their future, wherever it may lead.

2e in Australia

What does it mean to be gifted and neurodiverse?

It means having a very different world going on behind your eyes. Invisible sensory issues are common – auditory, visual, and more. A wide range of issues can prevent such a person from perceiving things the way you do. As part of this, they can be very distractible, particularly when topics or activities don’t interest them. That said, the opposite is also frequently true – topics and activities that interest them can cause them to hyper-focus on what they’re doing. People who are gifted and neurodiverse may need to fidget or move a lot but can concentrate well while they’re doing it.

On the social side of things, such people often find themselves having difficulties. Negotiating their way through social situations – familiar and unfamiliar – can be confusing, especially if they have difficulty understanding other people’s behaviours and facial expressions. Contributing to this, many have a lot of difficulties expressing what they want with words. These, among other things, can lead to problems regulating their emotions and result in deep frustration that can be viewed as their fault. This may mean they attend extensive programs designed to teach them how to behave as society expects.

People who are gifted and neurodiverse do have some incredibly positive traits, though. It’s common for them to have exceptional creative thinking skills to formulate innovative solutions to problems that other people find confusing. Most people engage with things in different ways, which means that outside-the-box ideas are second nature. They are also frequently incredibly loyal friends to those who understand them and the way they think.

What does it mean to be gifted and living with a learning difficulty?

It means being hidden, criticised, shunned and ignored for being the complex person you are. They're often told they're not trying hard enough, while the opposite is generally true – they're putting in vast amounts of effort to keep up.

Frustration is common – no matter their age, as they find themselves knowing how to respond to a question verbally but unable to form it into written words or figures. Feelings of shame and confusion often go along with this. The same can be found in a classroom or meeting environment – trying to listen, write and pay attention simultaneously can feel impossible.

Being gifted and having a learning difficulty may lead to significant isolation – when parents (many of whom carry the same learning difference) say things like "We managed – why do you need accommodations? Why can't you just do it?", this builds walls. When you're ahead of your peers in some ways but behind in others, and when everything develops in ways you can't seem to grasp, how can you relate? What if you can't read as fast as your classmates? What if you can read or say any word you like but can't spell them at all? What if you're stuck on a level of readers everyone passed years ago? Or you can't keep track of or completely misinterpret instructions?

Because of their learning difficulty, it can take longer for them to accomplish objectives. When at school, they may find themselves kept in at lunch or recess to finish their work. Leading to frustration – they're missing out on valuable social time. The amount of time taken doing such work may not always guarantee a better result either, or it's common to see red marks all over a piece of work that took you hours while your peers did it on the bus on the way to school. Such a result can lead to being intimidated and humiliated when others, including parents, see it.

Worry is a constant, too – whether it's about passing an exam, getting into university, getting a job, anxiety adds another layer to such a person, which in turn creates a cycle of distress and fear. There can also be a great sense of hopelessness, being taken for testing again and again as parents/teachers try to find out what's 'wrong' with you.

Resources are available for the support of such people, often in the form of a computer used as an aid to reading, spelling or writing. The lack of resources that enable you to display your level of ability – not being allowed to use them in class, for instance – can be deeply distressing. It is also possible to get extensions, modifications, and adjustments to reading materials, tasks, and exams, and again, the lack of these can be harmful to their studies.

There are, however, definite positives to being gifted and living with a learning difficulty –it's common to have outstanding pattern identification skills, brilliant creativity, and excellent performance skills – whether in a theatrical capacity or simply the ability to talk engagingly. These people are often natural empaths and are caring, comforting people. They can form deep connections with others who struggle in school, supporting them to find their path, even if it's not the usual path others think is "right". They're also profoundly insightful and able to read people, feeling their emotions and identifying things that are being said or are being kept hidden. They can also be driven risk-takers – an attribute that lends itself to entrepreneurship. They can act without fearing the results, having already analysed and compensated for them.

What does it mean to be gifted and living with mood disorders?

It means having periods when your emotional state is the dominant feature of your experience – it becomes the core aspect of what the world sees of you for a while, which comes and goes.

When young, these people may struggle to perform to their full academic potential at school while having very intellectual arguments about why they should be feeling depressed or anxious. Unfortunately, a mood disorder in a young, gifted child may be the precursor for a significant mental illness in their teens or twenties—professional assistance when young could reduce the impact of the disorder in later years.

Understanding and compassion are vital to these people, wherever they might be – at home or school, and a “Mental Health” day off school from time to time may be needed. They also need to be supported and encouraged and to receive continued stimulation in their area(s) of giftedness or topics and activities that they are passionate about and enjoy.

To mitigate the effects of their mood disorder, they might need counselling from a professional or medication to treat their symptoms. They might need a little extra time to complete tasks in school when their mood disorder has a flare-up or some activities that help them cope with their emotions.

Such people often have needs beyond themselves. Supporting a gifted child and living with a mood disorder can be taxing for a parent/carer. So, it’s useful for those who care for such a child and who love them to take time out to take care of themselves so that they can continue to care for their child to the best of their abilities.

What does it mean to be gifted and living with physical difficulties?

It means having the disability prioritised and no one seeing your abilities or skills – and if they do, they’re seen and often accepted as compensation for the physical difficulty.

Frustration is a common trait, often being unable to physically keep up with peers, being absent from school and friends to go through appointments, checks or investigations, and being frequently in pain. These people often feel like everyone is talking down to them and that the professionals they see treat them like a younger kid when they have the intellect of an adult and the fears of a teenager.

In many ways, they find themselves maturing too fast, being aware of the financial cost of their needs at an age where they shouldn’t know about these things, engaging in long-term planning and organisation to make sure they can get through the things they need to, and having to develop resilience and adaptability rapidly. They also need to learn to laugh at the intrusions to their privacy that others don’t have.

These people can often find divisions between themselves and their peers, knowing that they’re being denied possibilities due to their condition, needing accommodations that classmates don’t need, and having to work with a support team to get through school.

People who are gifted with physical difficulties may find themselves developing strong determination and focus on ensuring that they’re able to achieve their goals. They work hard to read, write and speak to prove themselves, often needing to demonstrate their skills through the use of appropriate tools, including computers, hearing aids, walking sticks and similar.

They and their families also find themselves in the odd position of needing to use organisations and funding. If they don’t, “the powers that be” will believe that others in their circumstances don’t need them themselves. They also develop an understanding of disability and ability as a social justice issue, not a handicap.

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