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5 Tips for Fostering Social-Emotional Development in Twice Exceptional Children


July 30, 2017

If you are the parent or caregiver to a twice exceptional learner, chances are you are concerned about fostering their social and emotional development. Parents and caregivers play a significant role not only in the academic progress of their twice-exceptional children, but also their social and emotional success. Parents must first recognize their children's gifts, as well as their disabilities, and then assume responsibility for the development of their child's potential.   

What Does Twice Exceptional Mean?

According to The National Association For Gifted Children, a “twice exceptional learner” is defined as a student with both gifts and learning disabilities. Limitations may include AD/HD, sensory sensitivity, autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, dysgraphia, receptive and expressive language disorders, processing delays, and difficulty with executive function, among others. A twice exceptional learner may be far behind in reading and not able to copy simple math equations from the board due to inattentiveness or restlessness in the classroom. However, they may be able to build complex structures with Lego or blocks, and they may create stories about these structures that are incredibly sophisticated and well beyond their grade level. According to, twice-exceptional children often find school frustrating and suffer from low self-esteem when beginning school. They may have difficulty with social skills and not feel as though they fit in with their peers.

What Are Common Characteristics of a Twice Exceptional Student? explains that twice exceptional children often feel trapped between two worlds. Many have internal motivation and strong belief in their abilities, yet they lack confidence in certain areas common amongst children with learning disabilities. They tend to have high expectations of themselves and are continually frustrated by their disabilities, and may thus form an overdeveloped fear of failure. Twice-exceptional students also experience the paradox of feeling bored and confused at the same time, which leads to increased frustration and sometimes depression. Teachers and parents are often unaware that twice exceptional students may be able to complete a task sometimes, but not all of the time. According to, twice gifted children may be able to muster the extra mental/physical/emotional energy to do a difficult task if the subject is one that engages them when they feel fresh and rested, but not at the end of the day on a topic they dislike. They may also learn that it is dangerous to perform well because they worry about being held to a standard that they can't maintain consistently.

What Can I do To Support Twice Exceptional Learners?

Finding ways to address both the gifted and special needs of a twice exceptional learner is challenging. Often, the student’s abilities and disabilities mask each other, resulting in average performance or underachievement. Here are some tips to help your child feel supported and secure, both in the and out of the classroom:

  1. Focus on the Talent, Attend to the Disability According to, intervention should focus on developing the talent of the twice exceptional student while attending to the disability. Keeping the focus on talent development, rather than on remediation of deficits, appears to yield more positive outcomes and minimizes problems of social and emotional adjustment.
  2. Surround Them with Similar Children All people need to feel like they belong. It is important to surround your twice exceptional learner with other twice exceptional learners. This will help them to celebrate their strengths and feel less isolated. The popular television series The Big Bang Theory is an excellent example of the importance of this. Together this group of “nerds” fit in with one another, yet stand out considerably among the general population. Together, the characters feel emotional and socially accepted.
  3. Talk to the School If you suspect or know that your child is twice exceptional, request a meeting with their Special Education Coordinator and School Counselors. Discuss your concerns and inquire about any specific testing and support that may help your child.
  4. Maximize Your Child’s IEP If your child is identified as twice exceptional and has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) at their school, this pertains to you. Brainstorm ideas to address their weaknesses and nurture their gifts as part of the annual goals set forth by the IEP. Be persistent and remind the staff regularly about the areas in which your child is gifted.
  5. Educate Your Child Teach your child what their gifts and weaknesses are, and let them know that you will support them in the areas where they struggle. Finding programs outside of your school that support their gifts is very important. Examples include STEM programs or classes in the performing or creative arts.
    Overall, advocating for your twice exceptional child is of the utmost importance for their social and emotional development. As a parent, you must be the center of all support staff, teachers, and counselors. Helping your child find a cooperative peer group will lead to less social pressure and a greater sense of self. Celebrating their high achievements, while acknowledging and supporting their disabilities, will result in a well-adjusted student.

Author: Team Member

Autism Spectrum Disorder Mathematics Writing Reading ADHD Language Disorder Executive Functioning Social Skills

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