Understanding Giftedness
Understanding Giftedness

Parenting Hacks (1): Understanding Twice-exceptional Students | Understanding Giftedness | HKAGE

Teaching gifted students is already a challenge for many educators and parents. However, when these gifted students not only possess exceptional qualities different from typical students but also have some learning difficulties, providing appropriate support becomes crucial. Failure to address these learning difficulties can become a significant obstacle for gifted students to unleash their talents.

Twice-exceptional Students, Gifted Students

Categories and Characteristics of Twice-exceptional Students

According to the Operation Guide on the Whole School Approach to Integrated Education updated by the Education Bureau of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government in 2019, twice-exceptional students are not classified as a separate category of special education needs. Instead, they refer to individuals who have both exceptional intellectual abilities and one or more special education needs. When gifted students have multiple learning difficulties, they are referred to as multiple-exceptional students.

  1. Learning Needs: Special learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.
  2. Behavioural, Emotional, and Social Developmental Needs: Difficulties with attention, self-control, or social development, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism.
  3. Sensory, Communication, and Physical Needs: Sensory impairments, such as visual impairment or hearing impairment; communication difficulties, such as speech disorders; motor activity disorders, such as cerebral palsy.

The specific learning difficulties can include one or more of the following:

Learning Disorder

Communication Disorder

Reading Disorder

Expressive Language Disorder


Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder

Disorder of written expression

Phonological disorder

Motor skill disorder


Developmental coordination disorder



Challenges in Identifying Twice-exceptional Students

Identifying twice-exceptional students is not easy because their abstract reasoning abilities can mask their weaknesses. The more intelligent a child is, the more difficult it becomes to identify their learning difficulties (Silverman, 2002). Similarly, the exceptional intelligence or talent of twice-exceptional students can be overshadowed by their learning difficulties. The identification process generally focuses on either nurturing their gifted qualities or addressing their special education needs separately (Boodoo, Bradley, Frontera, Pitts & Wright, 1989). Additionally, some twice-exceptional students may go unnoticed and unclassified, receiving no support in any category because they appear no different from typical students.

3 situations commonly encountered by Twice-exceptional Students in schools:

Situation 1

Teachers focus solely on developing their giftedness without identifying their learning difficulties. As the learning materials become more complex, their academic performance may decline steadily, leading to a decrease in their motivation and self-doubt about their abilities (Baum & Owen, 2004). They often become underachieving or disengaged students and may even be labelled as "lazy" (Silverman, 1993). If the students' learning difficulties are not identified by high school, social and emotional problems may grow together with their learning difficulties (Baum & Owen, 2004).

Further Reading: Parenting Hacks (2): How to Nurture the Potential of Twice-exceptional Students?
Further Reading: Parenting Hacks (3): Cultivating Executive Functions in Twice-exceptional Students

Twice-exceptional Students, Gifted Students

Situation 2

They are only provided with support for their special education needs while their talents continue to be overlooked. The intense helplessness associated with their learning difficulties gradually overshadows any positive feelings related to their exceptional talents, and the education system reinforces their negative feelings (Baum & Owen, 2004).

Situation 3

As for those twice-exceptional students who remain unclassified, their higher cognitive abilities compensate for their learning difficulties, enabling them to maintain academic performance at an average level without fully realising their potential. As a result, they are not identified or referred to gifted programmes or special education services (Trail, 2011).

Intelligence hides the disabilities, while the disabilities mask the talents. Sometimes, in non-traditional learning environments, such as reducing written reports and utilising drama, debates, projects, and discussions, their talents can shine (Baum & Owen, 2004).

Prominent Individuals with Disabilities

1) Researching Prominent Individuals with Disabilities

Understanding prominent individuals with disabilities can help twice-exceptional students and their families recognise that despite facing disabilities, they can still achieve success. When selecting role models, it is important to guide twice-exceptional students in choosing individuals with similar disabilities, but without explicitly mentioning their disabilities. It would be better if children discover their disabilities through their own research. (Trail, 2011)

Twice-exceptional Students, Gifted StudentsProminent Individuals with Disabilities - Thomas Edison (Hearing impairment)

Twice-exceptional Students, Gifted StudentsProminent Individuals with Disabilities - Walt Disney (Learning disability)

2) Prominent Individuals with Disabilities


Prominent Individuals

Outstanding Achievements

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Tim Page

Temple Grandin

Ko Wen-je

Pulitzer Prize-winner, Critic, Writer 

College professor, Author

Doctor, Politician

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Michael Phelps 

Richard Branson

Olympic swimming champion



Learning Disability

Albert Einstein

Henry Winkler


Lee Kuan Yew

Mathematician, Physicist 

Actor, Writer

Lawyer, First Prime Minister of Singapore


Stevie Wonder (Visual impairment)

Thomas Edison (Hearing impairment)

Walt Disney (Learning disability)

Singer, Composer


Producer, Entrepreneur

Further Reading: Parenting Hacks (4): Importance of Home-School Collaboration to Twice-exceptional Students 
Further Reading: Parenting Hacks (5): Twice-exceptional Students Can Succeed - Gifted Children with Autism 



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