Twice Exceptional Learners Are “2E”

By Carolyn Patterson on


The term “2E” refers to being Exceptional, as in gifted, and Exceptional, as in having special learning needs. Many children who have learning differences/disabilities are also gifted, perhaps in math, the arts, or other areas.

A thought-provoking theory about giftedness is that these special traits or talents are “intensities”.  I like this description for many reasons, one being that it honors the basic abilities that most people have to create, to think mathematically, to understand literature, to relate on some level to the creation they are witnessing. For example, most people shudder at the thought of public performance, but they still love to hear music performed because they can appreciate the melodies, the interplay between the musicians, or some other aspect of the performance.

If you or your child has ADHD, and yet you can see areas of unexpressed talent, it may very well be that they are functioning at two different extremes. Because a lack of executive functions can impede productivity and follow-through, you or your child may not believe that you or he could be “gifted”. The common belief is that gifted only applies to academic subjects; people forget that dancers, designers, engineers, architects and so many other professions require creativity, novel approaches to problem solving, and a willingness to try many options (perseverance) until the most suitable solution is found.

Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychiatrist, developed this theory of human development, or “theory of personality.” One very nice book that details various aspects of intensities is Living with Intensity, edited by Susan Daniels & Michael M. Piechowski, Great Potential Press, 2009. Dabrowski’s theory has many fascinating insights into human development and what educational therapists call “temperament”. The most widely-known concept from his work is called “Over-Excitabilities,” or OEs. This term is an unfortunate translation of the Polish term nadpodbudliwos’c’ “superstimulatability” or “superexcitability” (p. 8). Dabrowski identifies five areas where a person might be intensely sensitive: psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational and/or emotional.

This book is a collection of works by psychologists, therapists and educators who apply Dabrowski’s concepts to behaviors in children, adolescents and adults. The articles range from the theoretical to the practical to the spiritual. Most of the authors imbue their texts with hopeful outcomes once their clients are liberated with the idea that they are gifted and worthy of appreciation. Many of their clients have experienced only the awkward parts of being gifted: being rejected for being “too intense”; not having peers to match their interests; feeling different but not knowing why; being depressed or anxious; and many other scenarios.

Seeing a person’s gift(s) in a more specific way can also be helpful in understanding his or her temperament. A person with an OE in the sensual realm, for example, may “catch details and may, for example, be captivated by the beauty of a glistening drop of oil floating and swirling across a rain puddle” (p. 40). Someone with a psychomotor OE may appear to be hyperactive, because they may like to move around a lot or use rapid speech. Chapter 3 of this book has wonderful suggestions on how to talk with a child about his or her gift, such as “You have wonderful enthusiasm and energy” or “Your curiosity fuels your intelligence.” There are also strategies listed for each type of OE.