Dual or Multiple Exceptionality2020-04-28T13:35:03+01:00

Dual or Multiple Exceptionality

Dual or multiple exceptionality is when a child experiences high learning potential alongside a special educational need because of a learning difficulty or disability.

In this section you can find out all about what the term dual or multiple exceptionality means, what it covers, the characteristics of dual or multiple exceptional children, the common issues such children have and the support they need.

Definition of Dual or Multiple Exceptionality

The term dual or multiple exceptionality is used in the UK to describe children who have both high learning potential and would be classed as having a special educational need because of a learning difficulty or a disability. It means the same thing as the term ‘twice exceptional’, or ‘2e’, that is used in the US and in other parts of the world.

The term dual or multiple exceptionality reflects the fact that an individual may have more than one issue alongside their high learning potential, for example have both an autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit alongside exceptional cognitive abilities.

It is estimated that 5-10% of children with high learning potential also have a special educational need.

It is estimated that 2-5% of children with an identified special educational need also have high learning potential.

Therefore, dual or multiple exceptional children could be described as a minority within a minority.

The term dual or multiple exceptionality is used to cover high learning potential alongside:

  • Neurological disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit disorders sensory processing disorder and dyspraxia
  • Learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia
  • Sensory and speech impairments

Find out more about children with dual or multiple exceptionality with our advice sheet F01 Dual or Multiple Exceptionality.

Characteristics of Dual or Multiple Exceptional Children

Whilst it is difficult to generalise about such a diverse group of children and much will depend on the type of issues alongside their high learning potential, dual or multiple exceptional children share some characteristics. The characteristics relate to their intellectual strengths, academic difficulties, emotional and behavioural characteristics.

Related to their intellectual strengths, dual or multiple exceptional children are likely to have these characteristics:

  • Ability/expertise in one or more specific areas
  • An Active imagination
  • An Extensive vocabulary
  • Exceptional comprehension
  • High performance in tasks requiring abstract thinking and problem solving
  • Excellent visual or auditory memory, possibly not both
  • Creativity outside school
  • The Ability to take part in broad-ranging discussions

Conversely, they might have the following academic difficulties (depending on their special educational need or needs) :

  • Poor handwriting
  • Poor spelling
  • Difficulty with phonics
  • Inability to do seemingly simple tasks. However, they often have the ability to do seemingly more complex ones
  • Success in either mathematics or language subjects, but challenges in the other
  • Poor performance under pressure
  • Difficulties in completing tasks with a sequence of steps discussions
  • Inattentive at times

Managing two (or more) issues means that DME children often develop the following emotional characteristics:

  • Minor failures that create feelings of major inadequacy
  • Unrealistically high or low self-expectations
  • Feelings of academically ineptitude
  • Confusion about abilities
  • Strong fear of failure
  • Sensitivity to criticism
  • Experiences of intense frustration
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of being different from others
  • Poor social skills

These emotional issues may result in the following behavioural characteristics:

  • Disruptive in class
  • Often off-task
  • Disorganised
  • Unmotivated
  • Impulsive
  • Creative when making excuses to avoid tasks they find difficult
  • Can be intensely frustrated at times. Sometimes this can spill over into anger or aggression
  • Withdrawn at times

Difficulties Dual or Multiple Exceptional Children Face

There are several learning differences and disabilities that commonly exist alongside high learning potential. When a child has both a learning difficulty or disability  and high learning potential they experience considerable frustration and challenge in their daily lives, resulting in emotional and, sometimes, behavioural problems. Commonly found alongside high learning potential are:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders (particularly Asperger Syndrome, High Function Autism and Pathological Demand Avoidance)
  • Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (and problems with executive functioning)
  • Sensory Processing Difficulties, including Dyspraxia
  • Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia
  • Auditory Processing Disorder
  • Hypermobility
  • Auditory and Visual Impairment

Support Dual or Multiple Exceptional Children Need

In order to avoid problems and to support to them meet their potential, dual or multiple exceptional children need recognition and understanding both at home and at school. Most fundamentally, they need support both for their high potential and their difficulty or disability as supporting one without the other will cause further pressure or frustration.

Supporting Dual or Multiple Exceptional Children at Home

Children with dual or multiple exceptionality need the following support in their home environments:

  • Understanding of their talents and weaknesses
  • Appreciation of the mental energy used in functioning well and the affect that this has on emotional regulation and behaviour.
  • Good relationships with parents, siblings, other family members and friends to preserve their self-esteem.
  • Their talents recognised as well as their weaknesses in order that they have a sense of belonging and self-worth
  • The opportunity to experience success through activities, after school clubs and home learning.
  • The opportunity to develop independence, which may take considerable thought on behalf of parents where there are learning difficulties.
  • Support to manage their emotions and to express their frustration in appropriate ways.
  • Positive social experiences that will give them stimulating peers and confidence in their abilities.
  • Areas of interest and strength can be used as motivators to work on areas of weakness.

Coming home from school or an outing is the time dual or multiple exceptional children need the most nurture because of the anxiety or issues that this causes and the energy it takes for them to deal with them.

It is also important that parents have good working relationships with educational environments to ensure that their needs are met.

Supporting Dual or Multiple Exceptional Children in Education

Children with dual or multiple exceptionality need to have recognition and understanding of both their special educational needs and their areas of high potential, including the correct identification of this and the right supports in place. In addition, they need to have challenging work in their strength areas so that they can develop these skills and build resilience in an area of strength.

Many children with dual or multiple exceptionality benefit from an Individual Education Plan that addresses both their special educational needs and their advanced abilities.

The frustration experienced by children with dual or multiple exceptionalities needs to be understood by adults in the education setting so that they are best-placed to deal with issues that may arise and to avoid resulting emotional problems and negative behaviours. The emotional problems and negative behaviours that often result from a lack of recognition and understanding about dual or multiple exceptionality can lead to school exclusion and school refusal in the many cases.

For information on supporting dual or multiple exceptional children at home and at school, please see our fact sheet F01 Dual or Multiple Exceptionality.

Other DME Fact Sheets:

F02 Asperger Syndrome and High Learning Potential
F05 Sensory Processing Disorder and High Learning Potential
F07 Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and High Learning Potential
PA517 Supporting Dual or Multiple Exceptional Profile High Learning Potential Children

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