Why Being British Stopped Me Finding Help For My Twice-Exceptional Child

british and twice-exceptional

Back when I was still trying to figure out why my intense son was so different from other kids I did a lot of research online. (Read ‘Spent hours googling Why does my child have so many meltdowns? How to parent my explosive child without losing my sanity,’ etc.)

One of the terms I came across on US websites was ‘twice-exceptional’ (sometimes shortened to ‘2e’).  The GHF defines twice-exceptional as referring to a child who ‘is both gifted and has identified learning differences or other emotional or mental health disorders’.

Although my intuition told me that my sensitive, intense, intelligent son fell within the definition of ’twice-exceptional’,  I felt very uncomfortable using the term, even in my own mind. The dictionary defines exceptional as:

Exceptional: 1. unusual; not typical / 1.1 unusually good.

Who was I to go around describing my son with a word that others might construe as meaning ‘unusually good’, let alone doubly so?

I also disliked the word ‘gifted’. I knew my son was bright, but aren’t all kids gifted in their own ways? Besides which, Jasper’s intense emotions often felt more like a burden than a gift.

If it weren’t for the use of these words and my cultural prejudice against them, I might have found answers and support a lot sooner.  I suspect that many British parents of kids with overexcitabilities have a similar experience.

The Dutch lady who tried to ask British parents about giftedness

Simone de Hoogh’s experiences with her own bright, sensitive, intense children inspired her to found PowerWood to support children with OEs.

When Simone, an ECHA Specialist in Gifted Education, moved to the UK from her native Netherlands she was shocked by how giftedness is perceived here.

Simone’s first surprise was her discovery that in Britain hardly anyone uses the word ‘gifted’. The UK government defines the term to include the top 10% of children who achieve consistently high academic results, so as to warrant their inclusion in the school’s Gifted and Talented Register. When, as part of her research, Simone began asking parents about giftedness, their reaction was actively hostile. Most Brits, Simone discovered, perceive giftedness as elitist and as conferring even more benefits on already overly-advantaged white, middle-class children.

Children who fall through the cracks

It became apparent to Simone that the official UK definition of ‘gifted’ excludes many high-able children, like (i) those who aren’t achieving due to socio-economic factors (like a lack of time or space to do homework), (ii) kids with unrecognised learning disabilities (like dyslexia or sensory processing issues), and (iii) those with a high level of overexcitabilities.

Simone could see that out of all these groups of youngsters whose high ability was not being recognised (and who were therefore under-stimulated and often unhappy at school), kids with overexcitabilities were the worst served by existing institutions. She set up PowerWood to fill this gap and support children and families dealing with OEs.

Simone’s challenge was how to connect with her target group in a country in which the concept of ‘overexcitability’ was practically unheard of. In the US, OEs are rarely mentioned except in the context of giftedness. In the UK, however, Simone found that it was only by avoiding any mention of giftedness that she could reach the people she was trying to help.

(Incidentally, the latest research suggests that OEs are not only found in the highly able. Nor do all highly able individual have OEs. But where OEs are present, they are usually more intense in the highly able, which Simone suggests is one reason they’ve been considered an aspect of giftedness for so long. The other reason is that the highly able are more likely to go searching for, and find, answers about themselves and their children.)

What twice-exceptionality looks like in our family

Both my children have overexcitabilities, but my son’s are more extreme. Cordie and Jasper have been home-educated since they were 6 and 5 respectively.  I suspect that if they’d stayed in school, Cordie would have been identified as gifted but Jasper would not.

Jasper’s every bit as able as his sister – more so, in some areas – but already after two terms of school I could see that his intense, hyper-reactive behaviour and in particular his need to constantly be in motion was beginning to get him labelled as a naughty trouble-maker.

The teachers were obsessed with Jasper’s handwriting – I once spent an entire 10-minute parents-evening session being shown the ‘snappy-snap crocodile’ pencil grip which I was supposed to make my 4-year-old practise daily.

Jasper has sensory issues which cause him to feel overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of a typical classroom. And he has mild dyslexia, which probably wouldn’t have been identified or supported at school because, like many high-able kids, he was able to compensate for it and therefore ‘keep up,’ which is often the only thing teachers have time to be concerned with.

Is twice-exceptionality recognised in the UK?

The UK equivalent of twice-exceptionality is DME – ‘dual or multiple exceptionality’. DME refers to a child who is not only exceptionally able but also has one or more special need or disabilities. I’d never heard of the term until I began researching this blog post, which shows how often it’s used.

Unfortunately there are no real advantages to being identified as having DME, unless a child is lucky enough to have a teacher with the means and inclination to support him or her. Children on the Gifted and Talented Register are given enrichment opportunities of an academic nature (though funding for such activities is negligible) but the kind of practical and emotional support twice-exceptional children need is pretty much non-existent.

Homeschooling a twice-exceptional child

I’m so thankful that I’m able to home-educate my twice-exceptional son. At home Jasper can leap around the room as he solves maths problems, take trampoline breaks whenever he needs to, and read quietly on his own when he’s over-stimulated.

He can dictate to me or use a keyboard to write his stories. He can ask the incessant questions his intellectual overexcitability stirs up in him without being seen as disrespectful or a know-it-all. And when Jasper starts describing his new invention in the middle of a fractions problem I can listen and even help him take notes, knowing that the maths question can wait, while my son’s intense imagination needs to be nurtured and appreciated right now.

Gifted, twice-exceptional or DME – how we feel about these words doesn’t matter. In the US they’ll probably help you find community and support. Here in the UK they may not. What matters is that we embrace the incredible neurodiversity that nature has created, and ensure that every child is loved, appreciated and supported as the precious individual that he or she is.


Websites (UK)

PowerWood – An Introduction to High Ability in Children

Special Educational Needs Magazine – Young, Gifted and Special

Support for families dealing with overexcitabilities – PowerWood Facebook Group

Websites (US)

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum – Resources: Twice-Exceptional (2e)


Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults by James T Webb

Living With Intensity by Daniels & Piechowski

* * *

Do you use the word ‘gifted’?

How do you accommodate your twice-exceptional child’s special needs?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments on at the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page!

GHF Blog Hop - British & Twice-exceptional

To read more about what makes high-able 2e kids twice-exceptional, visit the other blogs in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop.

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31 thoughts on “Why Being British Stopped Me Finding Help For My Twice-Exceptional Child

  1. The issues with giftedness here are very similar to ones in Massachusetts where it is seen as elitist and there is no state mandate for gifted education and there is no (public) recognition of 2e kids. It seems that that perhaps a certain percentage of the kids being home educated either here in the UK are 2e; it’s probably 60% or higher in MA. And what happened with your son is not dissimilar to what happened to my son in MA. So the grass isn’t always greener and sometimes there is no grass!

    1. Indeed, Carolyn. Reading your post was quite eye-opening. I like your Matrix-esque way of summing up the situation. 😉

  2. Another great blog, Lucinda! I rarely admitted to anyone in the UK that my daughter was gifted, and if I did I used the phrase High Learning Potential (HLP) as I felt that was a better description and didn’t carry the same stigma. But it is more of a mouthful!
    Here in the US I have been using the ‘gifted’ word as I had heard there was less of a stigma. I still get the feeling though from people’s responses that there is some stigma attached to the word.
    I think what I find most frustrating is the lack of understanding about the challenges that come with being ‘gifted’ especially if you also have OEs and/or 2Es. It is seen as just meaning that you super intelligent and that therefore you have an advantage over others (is jealousy of this ‘advantage’ the source of the stigma?) and life will be easier for you. Hahaha! If only!
    But if we don’t use the word and take the opportunity to educate others about the challenges then nothing will ever change.
    On a side note, we are just starting out on our home-schooling journey and I’m looking forward to watching how my children (nearly 9yrs and nearly 6yrs) develop outside of the restrictions of school 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words about my post, Kirsty. I only just saw your comment with the exciting news that you have begun homeschooling! I’m so pleased for you. It’s not an easy path, especially in the beginning (mainly because of ourselves – our kids get deschooled much more quickly than us!) but it’s one I’m sure you won’t regret in the long term.

      “…It is seen as just meaning that you super intelligent and that therefore you have an advantage over others (is jealousy of this ‘advantage’ the source of the stigma?) and life will be easier for you. Hahaha! If only!”

      Hahaha indeed! If only they knew! ?

      Thank goodness for kindred spirits who do understand what it’s really like!

      I’m really looking forward to hearing more about your home-ed adventures. 🙂 Btw, I wrote a homeschooling blog for several years while my kids were the ages yours are now, if you’re ever interested in having a look at some of the things we did. It’s Navigating By Joy and a lot of posts are tagged by grade level. (I haven’t officially given it up but I seem to be focusing my time on this one for now.) And Stories of an Unschooling Family is my favourite home ed blog.

  3. I think the use of the term ‘gifted’ or ‘2e’ varies in the US. I haven’t come across the term ‘gifted’ or ‘2e’ used much since we’ve been living in England. But as I mentioned, I didn’t come across the terms much in Massachusetts either! Much more often, I’ll hear people say their child is bright, but on the spectrum or bright but with ADHD. So that’s usually code language for 2e to me.

    Interesting Kirsteen, I haven’t heard anyone use the term HLP or refer to Potential Plus. My son is nearly 10.5 yrs old so most of the parents who HE with these kids tend to have some experience with the OEs and behavioral issues, even if they won’t say that’s what it is. Usually, we commiserate on how these kids act and behave, or try to negotiate or challenge our authority at every opportunity.

    1. I hadn’t come across ‘HLP’ until recently, either. I like it for its accuracy – it would be great if it were more widely used.

      I know what you mean about code language, Carolyn. It’s helpful once you’re already with people who understand, but it’s less useful for connecting with kindred spirits in the first place, or figuring out what’s going on with your child! 🙂

  4. This was a fascinating read. It’s interesting to think about the similarities and differences between the US and the UK.

    1. This exactly, Paula! Seems that the world over there’s a lot of advocacy work to do – but at least we’ve got a place to start!

  5. Very interesting post. Also, FYI, in Australia, 2e is often called GLD (Gifted Learning Disabled), just to add another acronym to the mix…

  6. Hi. I found your article via the potential plus face book group. Potential Plus is a UK organisation working for gifted / hlp (including twice exceptional) children and their families

    1. Hi Sarah, I like the Potential Plus website, though I haven’t visited for a while. Thanks for letting me know about the FaceBook group.

  7. Loved this article and felt less alone after reading it, also the link to intellectual over-excitabilities. I have been home educating my son for over two years now and I often feel like I’m the only one that really understands, and sometimes begin to doubt myself. I’m constantly having to defend my son and our decision to home educate against a world that just wants to see autism, Aspergers, dyspraxia, or ADHD. We have been sent to Coventry by some people, and being quite sensitive myself the whole situation is at times heart-breaking. Even when I do try to explain, it seems that people just don’t want to hear it, preferring a label that they know something about. I genuinely do not believe my son has a “disorder” but has borderline autistic traits due to “giftedness.” Then I see peoples’ eyes glaze over, thinking that I’m deluding myself. The more I read on the subject however the more I believe in my instincts. It’s great that there are people out there like you who are speaking up and reaching out to others.

    1. Sharron, Thank you so much for your comment. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been given such a hard time by people who don’t understand what’s going on with your son. It sounds like you also have emotional OE, which makes it even harder because you’re so aware of other people’s reactions and take them to heart.
      It’s exhausting feeling so alone and misunderstood, isn’t it?

      When I finally started to understand what was going on with my family (my son, my daughter and myself, too) everything suddenly made so much sense. Also, knowing what we were dealing with (just our non-average version of normal) was the first step to finding the friendly, understanding community I’d spent so long looking for. If you’re on FaceBook I’d love you to join us at the PowerWood Group, which is full of compassionate people who get people like you and your son.

      By the way, I especially appreciated getting your comment today. I’ve been having a tough week and your words really lifted my spirits. 🙂

      1. Hi Lucinda, thanks so much for your reply. I was amazed actually, I’m quite new to this whole internet explosion and have preferred to sit on the sidelines until recently. I was wondering if I said too much and that I’d probably messed it up (hyper-sensitive right)? I’m sorry you were having a bad week and pleased that my comments gave you a boost. I think I’ve signed up to your newsletter about three times due to my ineptitude, so sorry about that. I have joined Powerwood on Face book but in my Face book name of Louise Porter.( I didn’t want unwanted friend requests). However I have given genuine details for newsletter. it’s a great site, so is yours, and I’m very glad I stumbled across it. I would have loved to go to the summer camp but my daughter is getting married that weekend. I’m a bit worried about my son’s behaviour on the day, but will just have to hope for the best. Thanks again Lucinda,
        Best Wishes,

        1. Hi again Sharron, Please forgive the long time it’s taken me to reply to your lovely comment. I ended up doing a Spanish course all last week which didn’t leave me time for anything else apart from dealing with my children!
          I can relate to what you say about wondering if you messed up after you leave a comment. I do that all the time! But please be assured that from this end, chatting with people like you is the reason I keep writing. 🙂
          How exciting that your daughter is getting married. You must all be very busy preparing. I can understand your anxiety about how your son will cope on the big day. Occasions like weddings can be quite stressful when you have sensitive and intense children, can’t they?
          I’m glad you’re on the FaceBook group. I’m feeling very neglectful right now that I haven’t been able to visit it for the last fortnight while I was in Spain, but I’m looking forward to catching up this week.
          Thank you again for taking the time to comment, it means a lot. I hope you’ll visit again!
          Lucinda xx

          1. Thanks Lucinda, no worries about delay in reply. I know how busy you must be, I don’t know how you find the time to fit everything in! I hope you had a great time in Spain.
            I enjoyed reading your article in HuffingtonPost, I can draw so many parallels with my own experience. Now that I’m in touch with people who understand and can help us I feel like I’ve turned a corner. It was nice of you to wish us well with the wedding, my eldest daughter getting married is a real milestone.
            I will continue to keep up with laugh, love learn and powerwood. I’m also following you on twitter.
            Thanks so much for your support, it really means a lot to me.
            Love Sharron xx

          2. Thank you for reading my Huffington Post piece and for your kind words, Sharron. 🙂 It’s so good to know we’re all in this together!

            I hope you’re having a lovely bank holiday weekend.

            Love Lucinda xx

          3. Hi Lucinda,
            Thanks for your reply. We had lovely bank holiday weather for a change, I hope you and your family enjoyed it too. I was looking at the photos of the Powerwood camp, it looks great. I hope we’ll be able to make it to a camp next year.
            We didn’t do much over the weekend because we’re saving ourselves for this weekend. We’re off to France till the end of the month , I’ve been looking forward to it for ages. It’s very rural and we’ll only have occasional access to the internet. When we get back we’re off again to Lindisfarne for my husband’s 50th birthday. Then of course we’ll be mad busy preparing for the wedding.
            So I won’t be online much at all from now until September. I wish you and everyone at Powerwood well, and hope everyone has a great time at the summer camp.
            Love and Best Wishes,
            Sharron xx

          4. Hi Sharron,
            It sounds like you have a lovely summer planned! Have a wonderful time in France and Lindisfarne, and I hope the wedding goes brilliantly. 🙂
            Love, Lucinda xx

  8. This is helpful thanks, I am English and I have found talking about giftedness as a support need impossible in this country and I have 2 or 3 friends with the same issue. The ridiculous thing is the council educational psychologist told me in some areas my son was in 99.3 highest percentage of the population, so it was not just me making it up. I have asked professionals if they know about DME issues, if there is another term they find more helpful, but they are just not comfortably with it and almost blank me. I have a very strong feeling these children are being diagnosed with autism if they are really struggling in school. When i ask what method are you using to differentiate between ASD and DME or to consider giftness as part of the equation,its not even a conversation that can be had. I would much rather be told well i don’t think DME is real and here is why……. It’s just a massive sense of discomfort that i get from anyone i try to talk about this issue.

    In this country it tends to be the hardworking and obedient children who get on gifted and talented list. Which is in the long run can be rubbish for them because they have been told they are super clever, then in later life they find this is not true, when in fact it was their great ability to work hard that should have been praised,

  9. Thank you, so much, for this post, it answers a big question that was forming in my mind. I have recently identified as 2E myself, at the age of 54! Having plunged the material with great gusto, as possibly one of the hugest epiphanies helping to make sense of my life to date, I have been utterly bewildered and often deflated to notice an absence of community or conversation about twice-exceptional here in my native UK. A couple of adult communities I have joined online, based on this theme, have not so far proved a “fit” because of cultural differences and the lack of feeling like I am moving any closer to finding local support or friendships. Reading what you shared about the three considerations (1) socio-economic factors stshed “against” such kids such as low-budget schooling, no quiet space or support at home to “grow” talents or explore defecits etc (ii) having unrecognised learning disabilities (yes!) and iii) having high levels of over-excitabilities, I realise I had all of these things “against” me and subsequently fell down the cracks, especially in adulthood.

    I became so convinced, at some subliminal level, that to expose either my gifts or my defecits was to guarantee relentless persecution that I spent decades hiding them away, camouflaging and portraying myself as vanilla or average (and often “cancelled out” to be that way by the handicaps that neutralised areas where I was exceptional!), in order to blend in and stay beneath the parapet.

    Even in my family, I realise there was a very fine line between doing well and seeming gifted, to the degree that I would feel cautioned/chastised or put in my place, like I was “getting too big for my boots”, if there was the slightest hint of exceptionality (I suspect both my parents carried a lot of fear around being “too different”, meaning you would get targeted, in British culture…) and so I languished for a lot of years, until I burned out utterly in my mid 30s, leading (at last) to all these realisations around 2E. I still live with profound over-excitabilities as well as peaks of exceptionality, but I have learned how to manage better.

    This hitherto “missing” factor around why it is simply not spoken about or embraced in the UK has been HUGE to understand in retrospect (thanks to you) because I then had to navigate my daughter’s 2E status all through school, with me as her only support (since I was the only one who saw it)…which also raked up a lot of my own childhood trauma around being invisible, misunderstood, unsupported and shut down. Thankfully, she is now a mostly thriving young adult, with my help, but those years were very, very hard, made posible only because of private schooling we could hardly afford and 2 particular teachers who, in hindsight, “got” both her deficits and her gifts and worked with me, instead of treating me (as was more typical!) as a neurotic parent when I indicated things were not nearly as plain sailing as they assumed from her performance in the classroom. As you mention, having such teachers on board is the only hope in the UK. I really hope, for those kids coming through now, that they get the understanding and support that was missing for us and that our culture can get over the obvious stigma attached to being different in these ways.

    1. Hi Helen, thank you so much for your kind words and your reflections on what I wrote. I only realised my own multi-exceptionality in the years since writing this post, so (at age 53 now) I resonate a lot with your words. (Especially plunging into things with gusto!) Thank you for your nuanced contribution to this important topic.
      I’ve been through several positive disintegrations over the last few years since I actively wrote on this blog but you’ve helped inspire me to pick it back up. I wonder if we are nearing a tipping point around neurodivergence and multi-exceptionality and it would be amazing to create some community here in the UK to help us all navigate and integrate this.

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