What Does 'Twice Exceptional' Mean?

2 Nov 2023




minute read

Last Updated

Dec 8, 2023

Many neurodivergent people have exceptional talents much like there are neurotypical people with exceptional talents. Twice exceptional describes this group of people who are both neurodivergent and exceptionally talented.

What does it mean to be twice exceptional?

People who are simultaneously gifted and challenged are known as “twice exceptional,” or 2e. While there is no set definition of twice exceptional, it generally includes people with exceptional ability and a neurodivergence or disability at the same time.

Twice exceptional can refer to any disability, however, autism, ADHD and specific learning difficulties (such as dyslexia and dyspraxia) are among the most common conditions in twice exceptional people.

Neurodivergence often brings great strengths and skills, such as creativity, problem-solving and verbal reasoning, so it’s no wonder that many neurodivergent people are also highly talented.

Escaping neurodivergence diagnosis

Identifying and diagnosing twice exceptional individuals can be difficult due to the significant masking effect their exceptional abilities can have. Masking refers to the tendency of some neurodivergent individuals to copy the behaviours of those around them and adopt compensatory strategies to appear neurotypical.

Twice exceptional individuals are less likely to be identified and diagnosed during childhood because their neurodivergent traits go unnoticed by parents or teachers. This is often because they don’t appear to have many difficulties and academically they perform at the same level as or even better than their peers. By the time they reach adulthood, many twice exceptional people have developed compensation strategies or made specific life choices that mean any difficulties associated with their neurodivergence might remain unnoticed.

The deficit focus of neurodivergence and the stigma surrounding it also contribute to this delayed or missed diagnosis. Some people have such a negative perception of neurodivergence that they don’t understand that neurodivergent people can still excel. They can be dismissive of any difficulties, and not understand why a child might seek support.

At school, twice exceptional children often receive feedback of ‘not fulfilling their potential’ or ‘clever but don’t apply themselves’, reflecting the difficulties that neurodivergent children can face when not offered the right support.

This delayed diagnosis and oversight of any difficulties can contribute to the self-doubt and negative self-talk that many neurodivergent people experience. A diagnosis can help the individual improve their self-understanding and practice self-compassion for any difficulties their neurodivergence might cause.

Famous twice exceptional people

There are many famous and very successful twice exceptional people including:

🤸‍♀️ Simone Biles, 7-time Olympic medalist for gymnastics, has ADHD.

🎵 Lewis Capaldi, Brit award-winning singer/songwriter, has Tourette’s.

🧙 Daniel Radcliffe, the actor most famously known for Harry Potter, has dyspraxia.

🌎 Greta Thunberg, world-renowned climate activist, is autistic.

🎤 Cher, the “Goddess of Pop”, has dyslexia and dyscalculia.

Twice exceptional TV characters

A common TV trope portrays neurodivergent characters as twice exceptional, exemplified by characters like Christina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, and Woo Young Woo from Extraordinary Attorney Woo. While the latter two share characteristics of the more stereotypical depiction of a twice exceptional person as a highly talented autistic person, Christina Yang represents a more typical twice exceptional individual as a successful surgeon who has dyslexia.