Operational Definition of 2e Introduced

By J. Mark Bade

September, 2014

In the June, 2014, edition of Gifted Child Quarterly, a journal of the National Association for Gifted Children, three authors presented an operational definition of twice-exceptional learners. Those authors are Sally M. Reis, Susan M. Baum, and Edith Burke.

The article was motivated, in part, by what some professionals in the gifted and 2e communities called a lack of a clear working definition of twice-exceptionality, a definition that would allow for accurate identification of 2e individuals. Only with accurate identification can the appropriate services and assessments be provided. Furthermore, the authors state, “…behaviors alone can be misleading without understanding the characteristics of each exceptionality, the context in which a behavior occurs, and the effect of comorbidity on the combinations of giftedness with the diverse disabilities.” (Page 221)

Comorbidity is important because a combination of conditions (giftedness and ADHD, for example) can lead to observed behaviors or characteristics different from those seen in either condition by itself. The authors spend several pages on this topic.

The authors’ criteria for an operational definition of twice-exceptionality included:

  • Acknowledgement that giftedness can coexist with any IDEA-defined disability (except intellectual disability)
  • How particular disabilities are manifested
  • The impact of the combination of giftedness and disability.

The Operational Definition

The operational definition presented in the GCQ article was based on contributions by many individuals during a series of meetings over several years, including a symposium held four years ago by an ad hoc National Commission on Twice-exceptional Students and subsequent meetings held in conjunction with annual NAGC conferences. The definition is also supported by research and literature cited by the authors during the course of the article.

The definition, in its entirety, is this:

Twice-exceptional learners are students who demonstrate the potential for high achievement or creative productivity in one or more domains such as math, science, technology, the social arts, the visual, spatial, or performing arts or other areas of human productivity AND who manifest one or more disabilities as defined by federal or state eligibility criteria. These disabilities include specific learning disabilities; speech and language disorders; emotional/behavioral disorders; physical disabilities; Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD); or other health impairments, such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These disabilities and high abilities combine to produce a unique population of students who may fail to demonstrate either high academic performance or specific disabilities. Their gifts may mask their disabilities and their disabilities may mask their gifts.

Identification of twice-exceptional students requires comprehensive assessment in both the areas of giftedness and disabilities, as one does not preclude the other. Identification, when possible, should be conducted by professionals from both disciplines and when at all possible, by those with knowledge about twice exceptionality in order to address the impact of co-incidence/co-morbidity of both areas on diagnostic assessments and eligibility requirements for services.

Educational services must identify and serve both the high achievement potential and the academic and social-emotional deficits of this population of students. Twice-exceptional students require differentiated instruction, curricular and instructional accommodations and/or modifications, direct services, specialized instruction, acceleration options, and opportunities for talent development that incorporate the effects of their dual diagnosis.

Twice-exceptional students require an individual education plan (IEP) or a 504 accommodation plan with goals and strategies that enable them to achieve at a level and rate commensurate with their abilities. This comprehensive education plan must include talent development goals, as well as compensation skills and strategies to address their disabilities and their social and emotional needs. (Page 222)

The Rationale

The authors go on to provide their rationale for each component of the definition. They note, for example, that their implicit view of giftedness is broader than simply IQ, and allows both performance and potential to be considered in identifying gifted individuals in a variety of domains listed in the definition (math, science, etc.).

The authors also acknowledge that state and local standards might influence the identification of LDs. When these standards depend only on below-grade-level performance, they state, identification of 2e students can be difficult. The discrepancy model, comparing ability to potential, is a more effective way to identify the twice-exceptional.

Addressing the issue of co-morbidity, the authors acknowledge the difficulties it can pose in identifying the twice-exceptional. For that reason, their definition urges identification by professionals familiar with both giftedness and learning disabilities.

In terms of services provided, the authors state that talent development is possibly more critical than remediation, but that both are required. Also needed, in the authors’ view, is social-emotional support “because of the emotional difficulties resulting from their asynchronous development.”

Finally, the authors use past research and practical experience in 2e-oriented schools to rationalize the adoption of strength-based 504 plans or IEPs for twice-exceptional students.


The authors conclude their article with this statement: “We hope that this definition will encourage policymakers, professionals, and parents to work together to identify more 2e students and develop comprehensive programs that address their complex needs.”

Gifted Child Quarterly

The Gifted Child Quarterly article discussed here is available to NAGC members at http://gcq.sagepub.com/content/58/3/217.full.pdf+html. It may also be available to interested readers through public or private libraries that subscribe to services (for example, OpenAthens) offering access to SAGE journals; SAGE is the publisher of GCQ.  



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