Definitions and Resources

2e Primer: Key Terms & Resources

Helpful definitions of common terms used in describing twice-exceptionality

2e: The term “twice-exceptional” or “2E” is used to describe people who learn differently both because of their high abilities and challenges

Developmental asynchrony: Schools tend to use “grade-level norms” quite a lot. Unfortunately, norms are mathematical constructs, not people.  While they can be useful, they often fail in providing us with useful descriptions of the students who operate considerably above or below the norm. 2e students typically are asynchronous in their development, meaning that in one social, academic, intellectual, or creative area they may be developing ahead of their age peers, and in other areas they are developing more slowly, at their own natural rate. ​

[Also see: What is twice-exceptionality? | 2e background | Additional reading | 2e documentaries]

Dual-differentiation: Curricular modifications that simultaneously take into account both a student’s advanced cognitive abilities  and learning challenges

Exceptional: Exceptional is sometimes used to describe the ability to perform something at a high level.  It is also used to indicate that students’ abilities and/or challenges fall at the extremes of statistical norms, such as on the low or high ends of a normal curve.

​Family context: Children spend 85 percent of their time away from school.  What happens during that time is as important to the development of the child as is his/her time at school. We want to understand and work with families to support parents, and improve communications, relationships, and roles to maximize all kinds of learning while not in school. Information in this area can help us to make decisions about students and curriculum.

Gifts: “Gifted” is typically used in two ways. Clinically, gifted refers to the potential we believe a student to have in certain cognitive areas, based on psychometric testing.  Gifted is also commonly used as an adjective. When someone has a demonstrated ability in a particular area that stands out, considerably above everyone else for his/her age and experience levels, we say he/she is gifted.

Interests: All people tend to have interests. We tend to be drawn to our interests naturally, and learning is often greatest in areas of interest. Sometime interests can be so intense that we must seize upon these wonderful moments when students are “in flow” to maximize their education.  We can use interests to create courses, find entry points and analogies to learning across the curriculum, and to help remediate any weaknesses.

Learning differences: Differences can include learning styles, diagnosed or undiagnosed learning challenges, personalities, temperaments, and IQ data. Some differences also are sometimes described as learning disabilities.

Relative strengths: The term “relative strengths” is used to indicate a hierarchy of abilities. There are always some things we do better than others. While none of these abilities may be referred to as a gift or a talent, they are strengths when compared to other lesser abilities one may have.

Social and emotional profile: The SEP tends look at the conditions under which students are at their best. We want to understand what motivates engagement and what triggers unproductive behavior. We want to understand and develop student resilience, self regulation, and inter- and intra-personal awareness.

Strength-based: Curricular and instructional approaches that are differentiated to take into account a student’s cognitive abilities and styles, learning preferences, and profiles of intelligences.

Synesthesia: The word comes from two Greek words, syn (together) and aisthesis (perception). Synesthesia literally means “joined perception.” The most common form is when someone always sees a particular color in response to a certain letter of the alphabet or a number, but it can involve any of the senses. For example, some people taste colors, others smell sounds, while some have a tactile response to what they see. Duke Ellington saw sounds as colors. Physics Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman noted, “When I see equations, I see the letters in colors. As I’m talking, I see … light-tan J’s, slightly violet-bluish N’s, and dark-brown X’s flying around.”

Talents: “Talent” is used to describe demonstrated ability at something, academic or artistic. A given talent might be at the level that we would refer to as “gifted,” but it might not. However, we typically do use the term “talented” to indicate that someone does stand out among peers in his or her performance area. Talents are advanced abilities with greater potential that can and need to be developed if they are to be the foundation of a career in a competitive field or the basis for personal development.

Talent development: Encouragement and support of identified talents and abilities that are nurtured in their own right – not as an opening for remediation nor as a reward or motivator for achievement.

Talent focus: Involves ongoing identification and recognition of a student’s advanced abilities as well as budding interests, along with explicit options for exploring and expressing those abilities and interests within and outside the curriculum. “Talent focus” is used as an overarching term that includes “talent development.”


In addition to the 2e Center, the Bridges Education Group manages, which is the home for leading research, conversation, and commentary around the needs of this population and increasing awareness of the role cognitive diversity plays in learning and the workplace. You may sign up for a free membership here. Other helpful resources include:

Recommended Reading
2e Documentaries
Operational Definition of Twice-Exceptional Learners
SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted)
TECA (Twice-Exceptional Children’s Advocacy)
The Twice-Exceptional Dilemma NEA handbook
Upcoming events

The full operational definition of twice-exceptionality, as written by Sally Reis, Susan Baum, and Edith Burke in Gifted Child Quarterly in Gifted Child Quarterly, v58 n3 p217-230 Jul 2014, is as follows:

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)

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