School Advocacy

High Expectations — and Frustrations: Stories of Twice Exceptional Students Desperately Seeking Support

Twice exceptional students are both gifted and challenged; they are also likely to remain undiagnosed and treated as their strengths compensate for or hide their struggles. High expectations can exacerbate frustrations at school, home, and in friendships as they miss the mark — and don’t know why. Below, ADDitude readers share their stories of securing a 2e diagnosis and academic supports for their children.

Young boy holds hand to forehead in frustration. Standing in front of chalkboard.
Mixed race boy doing math problems at board in class

A 2e student’s high IQ often overshadows or camouflages their neurological or learning challenges — confusing teachers, parents, and clinicians alike. Twice-exceptional students perform above average in one or more subject areas, and below average in others. Accelerated intellectual growth and delayed social-emotional growth are common — and commonly contradictory — characteristics in 2e children. And all of this is quite confounding to everyone.

It’s hard to know the prevalence of twice-exceptionality, but a report from the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) estimates that 6% of U.S. students receiving special education services are also academically gifted.1 Patience, persistence, and advocacy are key to improved outcomes for this largely underserved school population.

If your child is twice exceptional, did you first notice their strengths or their weaknesses? We asked ADDitude readers this and more: Did the school system acknowledge and support all the aspects of your child’s learning profile? How does this affect their academic performance and friendships? Scroll down to the Comments section and add to the conversation.

“We recognized the gifted attributes first, which ‘hid’ the ADHD until fifth grade. Teachers have high expectations, but they often do not consider [my daughter’s] ADHD when she forgets something or needs reminders because she performs well. She is still doing well, and they have a great resource department. She has a small group of friends who have ADHD too, and who are also doing extremely well in school.” — An ADDitude Reader

“My 12-year-old son has ADHD, developmental coordination disorder (DCD), and is gifted. The DCD was diagnosed first. The ADHD diagnosis came much later. Because he is bright, an introvert, and not hyperactive or impulsive, he flew under the radar. He does very well in math and reading, but just average on written tasks, which he finds harder because of his motor difficulties and his struggle to make decisions about what to write! He has always had friends but is shy. He finds it hard to initiate social interaction.” — Emily, Australia

 [eBook: Signs & Symptoms of Learning Disabilities]

“We had our daughter tested for ADHD after her brother’s diagnosis. We always felt she wasn’t reaching her full potential at school. They came back with a diagnosis of ADHD and giftedness. I think the diagnosis improved her self-esteem and helped her better understand how she learns, but she experiences a big social and academic disconnect. At school, she hangs out with kids on the fringe but takes AP courses. Her classmates are always surprised that she’s smart because they don’t perceive her that way. She feels that many of her teachers don’t, either. She’s a really bright kid who acts impulsively. Luckily, medication and therapy are helping her make better decisions and focus on her future.” — An ADDitude Reader

“Both of my children are 2e and I couldn’t be prouder of that fact! It’s difficult to distinguish which I noticed first, as both were very bright little people who never stopped moving. The ADHD diagnoses came first and helped push toward a 504 Plan. Once they were old enough for thorough testing and evaluation, high intelligence and specific learning disabilities (SLD) were indicated. Before that, though, there were areas of concern that the school consistently dismissed as typical for the age (which was not the case). Once the documentation showed otherwise, the IEP process began for the SLD need, but all ADHD supports were stopped. It wasn’t totally understood by the teachers involved why an IEP was necessary. Their “low” is average and average is what they were aiming for, but it wasn’t allowing the children to reach their potential. With administrative support at a new school, supports to address their attention and focus were added back in and things have been positive overall.” — Rebecca

“I have three gifted children. They’re all amazing, but two of them are 2e. My oldest was recognized as academically gifted in some subject areas, but the inattentive ADHD wasn’t until much later. I was diagnosed first and it became obvious to us that she had it too. It took three years of work and ‘second opinions’ to get a diagnosis at age 17, with only 5 months left of her school life… My youngest 2e child has been recognized by adults as gifted since he was a toddler. Individual teachers would recognize it, but… we had to pay for an external evaluation to get a diagnosis: first of severe dysgraphia, then combined ADHD. The school now acknowledges the diagnoses and provides minimal support for the dysgraphia during assessments only… I am extremely proud of my middle child, but I look at what she has been able to achieve at school and in the community and wonder what the other two could have done, or could be doing, if they received the support they needed.— Lisa, Australia

“From the time he was 2 or 3 years old, my son’s incredibly bright mind was obvious to me as a parent. Unfortunately, his keen intelligence left me questioning my parenting when he couldn’t do simple things like stay close to me in the grocery store or listen when he was told not to touch something… He thrived academically but had a lot of trouble adapting to all the rules in a classroom. That’s when we knew something wasn’t lining up. He was diagnosed with ADHD in first grade. His psychological evaluation confirmed his high intelligence, but also revealed a rather low processing speed. Suddenly everything made sense, and I cut myself some slack as a parent. There is no perfect place in school for a 2e child, but he is currently thriving in advanced classes with a 504 plan in place. He has healthy friendships with other bright kids, many of whom are a year older than him.” — An ADDitude Reader, Michigan

[Read: Slow Processing Speed — Signs & Solutions for a Misunderstood Deficit]

“Both of my kids are 2e. In the oldest, IQ masked ADHD (without hyperactivity). We didn’t get a diagnosis until things fell apart in sixth grade. It was hard for my child to cope with always being ‘the professor’ who had no trouble in school to suddenly being the kid who couldn’t find homework or keep up with busy work. In my youngest child, ADHD masked her IQ, so school wouldn’t allow her in the gifted program despite testing from a psychologist. The psychologist didn’t want to ‘label’ my child as ADHD until they were in the correct academic setting, so we wasted a lot of time begging for help and cooperation while my child suffered. Now they are both getting what they need and doing well, but it’s sadly always a gamble: Will they get a teacher next year who doesn’t get them and their strengths or needs? Thankfully, both kids have good friends that got them through their difficult times. I wish teachers would be more knowledgeable and aware of 2e kids so it wouldn’t be such a big ordeal.” — An ADDitude Reader

“A few of [my daughter’s] recent teachers don’t understand her ADHD. She has been in gifted or honors classes since middle school and is now a sophomore… They don’t understand how hard it is for her to stay focused long enough to complete her assignments, which are longer in advanced classes. They don’t know how that goes into getting [assignments] done — taking medication in the morning and afternoon at the right time, being able to fall asleep so she can function the next day… Listening to music on her phone with earbuds helps her focus, but that isn’t usually allowed in school. Sending a text to her dad or I about something important before she forgets gets her in trouble. I think she’ll do better in college, where she can control her course load and have more autonomy to take care of her needs. One advantage of her being 2e is that she has a better understanding of her ADHD and how to manage it. This helps her advocate for herself better.” — Kim, California

“My 16-year-old son is 2e. His IQ is over 130, but he also has ADHD… We recognized his 2e diagnosis in second grade. Although he had read most of the books in the Harry Potter series by age 7, his teacher (in a dual language immersion school) said that she did not think he needed any accelerated or differential teaching. He has had particular issues with teachers who were not trained in the U.S. (Latin America and Europe) and his current high school supports are completely teacher dependent. His private college prep school refuses to give him any accommodations around decreasing homework or allowing additional time on assignments due to slow processing speed (he only receives extra time for tests)… Although transferring schools would probably benefit him, he is adamant to stay at this school. He has had substantial issues with friendships. He currently does not have many good, long-term relationships after starting high school and floats from group to group. He has a lot of social anxiety and difficulty ‘reading’ both his peers and school teachers or administrators.”

2e Students and ADHD: Next Steps

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View Article Sources

1Baird, L. L. (2022, April 20). How to support your twice-exceptional child. U.S. News & World Report.