Twice Exceptional (2e) Learners and Dyslexia

Students who are twice exceptional with giftedness and dyslexia have unique needs.


Research indicates that between 2-5% of all students are identified as being gifted and having a disability (Dix & Schafer, 1996; Whitmore, 1981). The largest subgroup of twice-exceptional students is specific learning disability with giftedness (National Association for Gifted Children, Twice-Exceptionality White Paper). In turn, the most prevalent disability under the category of specific learning disability is dyslexia. Thus, most students who have been identified as twice exceptional are gifted students with dyslexia.


Giftedness masks dyslexia and dyslexia masks giftedness. In the early grades, the twice exceptional student often presents with creativity, reasoning, critical thinking and strong oral language skills, while at the same time, he or she may experience difficulties learning letters and sounds and developing automatic decoding and spelling skills. Often one profile (the profile of strengths or the profile of difficulties) is recognized and not the other. See the printable document, “Signs of Dyslexia” to see these possible strengths and challenges presented alongside one another for each stage of a student’s education.

FCPS offers a continuum of advanced academic services for students K-12 that builds upon students’ individual strengths and skills and maximizes academic potential for all learners. To learn more visit Advanced Academic Programs.


Myth: Twice exceptional students can compensate and succeed without added support.

Teachers are often concerned that providing interventions or accommodations for a twice exceptional learner is unnecessary. In fact, some teachers may be concerned that providing additional support to these students might not be fair to other students who are not receiving the interventions or accommodations, because it can lead the twice exceptional learner to outperform his or her peers. This requires a lot of discussion on the importance of a student-centered approach to education in which every student is treated individually and receives whatever he or she needs in order to reach his or her potential.

A gifted learner who is provided with special education services or accommodations as dictated by his or her needs may indeed perform at higher levels than a typically achieving student who is not receiving either category of services. Accommodations or specialized instruction for a twice exceptional learner are intended to provide him or her access to the appropriate advanced level of instruction and means to demonstrate understanding without the interference of a disability.

Myth: Twice exceptional students can and should do more work.

Simply assigning more work at the same level does not lead to greater levels of learning. For a student eligible for both Advanced Academic services and special education services for dyslexia, an increased reading and writing workload can actually interfere with their access to rich learning opportunities.

Gifted students should not simply be given MORE work; they should be given more rigorous work: meaningful, engaging, complex tasks that require critical and creative thinking. Students with dyslexia should be supported so that their weaknesses in decoding or spelling do not prohibit them from full, active participation in these tasks.

Increased academic rigor may include four elements: Concept-based curriculum, Problem-based learning; Students working as experts; and Problem Solving.

Myth: Twice exceptional students should be self-motivated learners.

There are many social emotional impacts of dyslexia that can affect a student’s self-esteem, interfere with the willingness to take academic risks, or decrease the motivation to learn, even if a student is also eligible for Advanced Academic services. If learning has been overly associated with reading and writing rather than other forms of inquiry, a student may be perceived as being unmotivated or lazy behavior.

For a twice exceptional learner with dyslexia, the home and school contexts may offervery different opportunities and reveal distinct needs, which is one reason why home-school communication is so vital. We encourage families and educators (both special education and gifted educators) to establish a partnership. It takes the expertise of numerous individuals to problem-solve and find out what works best for each student. See “Families and Schools as Partners” for more information.

A focus on a growth mindset and on developing executive functioning skills is doubly important. First, it can help these students overcome the social emotional barriers dyslexia has introduced. Learn more in the section entitled, “Social Emotional Impacts of Dyslexia.”

The ultimate goal is for the student to work toward self-understanding, as this is the most powerful route towards self-advocacy and success. Finding and serving twice exceptional learners is a complex task that requires commitment and support on multiple levels to ensure that every student who has the capacity to succeed in advanced academic programs has access, accommodations, and support. See the section entitled, “Student Voice and Self-Advocacy” for more information.

Although twice exceptionality can pose particular challenges, schools are required to provide students who are identified as twice exceptional with the appropriate services they require to achieve.  Gifted students may qualify as having a disability and be eligible for an IEP or sometimes a Section 504 plan.


Dix, J., & Schafer, S. (1996). From paradox to performance: practical strategies for identifying and teaching GLD students. Gifted Child Today, January/February, 22–31.

Everatt, J., Ovampo, D., Veii, K., Nenopoulou S., Smythe I., al Mannai, H., & Elbeheri G. (2010). Dyslexia in biscriptal readers. In N. Brunswick, S. McDougall, & P. de Mornay Davies (Eds.), Reading and dyslexia in different orthographies (pp. 221–245). Hove, East Sussex: Psychology Press.

National Association for Gifted Children. Twice Exceptionality White Paper. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 1/30/2017 from…

Youman, M. (2012). Dyslexia in different languages and English language learners. In N. Mather & B. J. Wendling, Essentials of dyslexia: Assessment and intervention (pp, 223-240). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Whitmore, J.R. (1981). Gifted children with handicapping conditions: A new frontier. Exceptional Children, 48, 106–114.

The FCPS online dyslexia handbook provides information and resources to FCPS schools and parents alike as they support students with dyslexia.

© 2017 Fairfax County School Board. All rights reserved. This material may not be reproduced, displayed, modified or distributed without the express prior written permission of the copyright holder. For permission, contact the FCPS Department of Special Services, Office of Special Education Instruction, Willow Oaks Corporate Center, 8270 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive, Fairfax, VA 22031.