Gifted and Challenged


Imagine a child who finds school both too easy and too hard. Highly creative and with a vast general knowledge, they can’t sit still in class and or hold a pencil properly to write a simple sentence.

This is just one example of what life can be like for ‘twice-exceptional’ (2e) students, also known as GT/LD (gifted with learning disabilities). This group of learners was identified in the late ’70s, but those who haven’t experienced it firsthand are unlikely to have come across the terms twice exceptional or GT/LD.

SPELD NZ Teacher and Professional Standards Committee representative Cathryn Bjarnesen has worked in gifted education for many years. She says 2e describes individuals with exceptional strengths in some areas as well as significant weaknesses or learning difficulties in others.

“These strengths can include specific academic abilities, such as in maths, reading or science, creativity, or an extensive vocabulary. 2e individuals are often extremely knowledgeable and focused about their particular area of interest,” says Cathryn.

“Unfortunately these ‘gifts’ or strengths are sometimes not recognised, as the 2e student can also struggle with a learning difficulty (including: dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and/or dysgraphia) or attention difficulties (ADD/ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, anxiety and/or other emotional or behavioural challenges.”

Because the areas of difficulty can mask or hide the 2e student’s strengths, this naturally creates enormous frustration for the student. While they might easily understand some difficult concepts, they may also struggle to develop important skills or complete simple tasks their classmates can manage.

“A 2e student may have many exciting ideas, but they may only write a few simple sentences due to their difficulties with spelling or handwriting.”

2e students are often an enigma to teachers and sometimes even their own parents who can see the great potential but puzzle over why it is not reflected in academic achievement.   Cathryn notes that parents and teachers of 2e students sometimes mistakenly put down the student’s lack of progress to a lack of effort or motivation. Worse still, the student’s expressions of frustration, or their incomplete work or disengagement, can simply be attributed to bad behaviour.

“It’s essential to identify the 2e student’s unique mix of strengths and weaknesses early on so they can get the support they need to achieve.”

A comprehensive cognitive assessment such as SPELD NZ’s Woodcock Johnson will provide the information needed to form an Individualised Education Plan (IEP). What’s important, says Cathryn, is that the student’s parents, teachers and specialists – the SPELD NZ Teacher and Special Education Needs Coordinator – work together as a team and share information. 

Further 2e resources for parents and educators:

Identifying and catering for 2e students