What is Dual and Multiple Exceptionality?

Dual and Multiple Exceptionality (DME for short) is not a new term. Yet there is still relatively low awareness about it and what it means amongst families or professionals. Despite this, it is estimated that about 60,000 pupils at school may fit into the definition of DME, although this figure might be an underestimate. This page summarises what DME is, explores some of the characteristics of DME, outlines the kind of challenges facing children and young people with DME can have, and suggests some of the ways in which parents, carers and professionals can support a DME child at home and in school.

A quick summary

Think of one group of children with one or more special educational needs and/or disabilities. Then think of another group with High Learning Potential (sometimes called high ability or gifted and talented), with strengths and abilities in one or more areas. As you can see below, the area where they cross over in the middle represents those children and young people who have both SEND and HELP. They have Dual or Multiple Exceptionality, or DME for short.

Simply put, these children have high ability in one or more areas whilst facing one or more challenges in areas connected to their special educational needs and/or disabilities. DME is called by different names in different countries. Common ones are Twice Exceptional (2e), Gifted with Learning Difficulties or Differences (GLD) and neurodiverse. However, phrases such as ‘Bright and Quirky’ and ‘Differently Wired’ are also growing in popularity

A child who has both SEND and HLP together can face a number of challenges, not least that:

  • Their special educational needs and/or disabilities are supported, whilst their abilities are not seen or considered;
  • Their high ability masks their special educational needs and they are seen as lazy or lacking in motivation when they do not perform to the expected level;
  • Their abilities and needs ‘cancel each other out’ and they are seen as an average pupil with neither SEND nor HLP.

This lack of identification or misdiagnosis of a pupil can lead to social, emotional and behavioural problems including poor self-esteem, anxiety and depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, emotional outbursts and behavioural challenges which can increase in severity over time.

It was such a relief to find out that something called DME existed and is recognised by others. It helped me to understand what was going on and to adapt our own behaviour as parents. We were fairly clear ourselves about our child’s intelligence. The confusing bit and what we didn’t understand as parents were their disabilities.” Parent

How to identify a child or young person with DME

It is not easy to spot a child or young person with DME. Often their abilities mean they can hide (or mask) their SEND, and their SEND can mask their abilities. This can make them appear ‘average, with flashes of brilliance,’ and as a result, teachers and parents have few clues about the child’s true abilities or special educational needs.

What should you look for in a child with DME? The list below is not exhaustive; every child is an individual with different ways of coping or behaving, different responses to abilities and struggles, and different levels of resilience. Nonetheless, it is useful to observe and build up a picture of the child or young person in four key areas:

  • Their intellectual strengths – their expertise in one or more areas, their active imagination, their creativity;
  • Their academic difficulties – issues like poor handwriting, difficulties with simple tasks (whilst making more complex tasks look easy), poor performance under pressure, difficulties completing tasks with a series of steps;
  • Emotional issues – including extreme emotional outbursts over relatively minor issues, unrealistically high or low self- expectations, low self-esteem, poor social skills;
  • Behavioural issues – possibly disruptive in class, overcompensating for difficulties (e.g. by becoming the class clown), often off-task, can be disorganised, unmotivated, show extremes of behaviour or be withdrawn.


Record what you see your child do (and talk to their teacher if they go to school) and seek advice from an organisation such as Potential Plus UK about assessing and supporting your child to be the best they can be.

What can parents or carers to support their child with DME?

Every family is unique and has their own ways of doing things. What works for one family may not work for another. However, across the world, researchers agree that parents (and carers) are important. Where parenting works well, it can have a positive impact on every aspect of a child’s wellbeing, learning, achievement levels and behaviour at home, at school and elsewhere. In other words, parents and carers matter. There are some elements of parental support that will be important for every child and some which may have a greater impact on a child because of their DME.

A parenting action plan at home would include things such as:

  • Being a positive role model – being the best you can be as a parent and modelling the behaviour you want your child to learn
  • Speaking up for your child with others, whether they are friends, family or teachers and giving them the skills to speak up for themselves positively
  • Communicating with your child sensitively, listening to them and helping them to understand their concerns
  • Problem solving with your child and improving their resilience by helping them problem solve for themselves
  • Tackling your own anxiety so that your child can learn how to tackle theirs
  • Encouraging your child to be the best version of themselves they can be. This is particularly important for children with DME as they are often highly sensitive and lack self confidence on their own strengths.
  • Praising effort and helping to formulate alternative strategies to tackle problems or setbacks whilst focusing on what a child has learnt rather than what they have achieved can help give your child a ‘growth mindset’ rather than one where they question their own ability when they struggle in aspects of their learning.
  • Adapting your personality and behaviour around your child so that you can understand how they will act and behave in certain situations whilst helping to address trigger points before they become problems. For example, sometimes DME comes across to others as a child being lazy and not trying when they are seen as having the ability to succeed. In fact, they could be working really hard just to appear ‘average’. Turning this on its head and addressing what makes them motivated to learn whilst praising the effort they put in can help to transform a child with DME.
  • Recognising your own perfectionism Many children and young people with HLP and DME are perfectionists and can become demotivated when the results of their work fail to match their own (often impossibly) high expectations of what they are capable of achieving. Many parents and carers can also be perfectionists, expecting the highest grades from their child and pushing them to achieve. Tackling perfectionism positively in the family can help both you and your child to be the best you can be, even when that is not perfect
  • Regulating your emotions
  • Enthusing your child’s learning
  • Developing positive relationships with your child’s professionals.

What should teachers and other professionals know?

Positive relationships between pupil, parent/carer and professional are important for everyone. However, professionals also need to be aware of the specific challenges associated with DME as a result of the child’s special educational needs and/or disabilities, High Learning Potential and how both of these interact. Getting this right can make a real difference to everyone involved in supporting children with DME. To this end, it would be useful for teachers and other professionals to:

  • Be aware of DME, what it looks like in the classroom and at home
  • Be able to identify a pupil with DME and the kind of behaviours and actions which they can present both in the classroom and in the home environment
  • Start with using the child’s HLP to overcome their learning difficulties not the other way round. For example, using repetition of the basic building blocks a child needs to learn before moving onto higher level concepts can be a recipe for disaster. More of the same can frustrate a child with DME at best. It is often more rewarding for the pupil with DME to tackle the problem in reverse, giving them higher level work and using it as a hook to put the basic building blocks in place.
  • Adapt the tools you use with pupils with SEND and those they use with pupils with HLP to inspire their DME pupils to use their intelligence to learn. One example is not being frightened of using complex language and descriptions but giving this context and then using the work to address any challenge the pupil faces
  • Explain the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ to pupils with DME can help them to understand the context within which they are working which can promote learning.
  • Understand that a child or young person with DME can present very differently at home than at school. This can work both ways; a child who is quiet and studious in the classroom and who seems no cause for concern can be a child who is out of control at home exhibiting poor behaviour, meltdowns or worse; like a pressure cooker exploding which has been kept in check at school. Likewise, a child who is the class clown or who exhibits behavioural problems at school can seem an angel at home when they can learn what they want at their own pace with no expectations placed on them. This makes it vital for both professionals and parents to listen to each other, accept the different descriptions of the same child and work together to problem solve solutions.
  • Develop a positive relationship with parents and carers. Reinforce this with a transparent communication process and open-door policy. Many parents or carers do not come into school until they are absolutely desperate to sort out a situation. By then they are looking for a sympathetic ear, a chance to talk about their concerns and a speedy resolution. Sometimes this desperation can result in parental outbursts and negative behaviour. Recognise this possibility and listen to the parent and carer and work positively with them to problem solve their concerns
  • Be honest about what can or can’t be done. Supporting pupils with DME does not have to be resource intensive. In fact, supporting DME effectively can save resources. For example, where DME goes unrecognised or is misdiagnosed for other things it can result in a range of behavioural, social and emotionally problems which are more resource intensive to tackle than addressing the DME would have been in the first place. Notwithstanding, if the school is not able to put provision in place, it is better to be honest and to work with the parents on what can be done.
  • Pilot approaches to DME in the classroom and beyond, some of which may work for all children such as differentiated learning tasks in class or at home that the child can choose from themselves through to open invitations to all pupils to attend out of school activities and seeing who shows up and is enthusiastic about the event.
  • Think out of the box. Explore the pace and content of learning both inside the classroom and outside and question how you can adapt an exercise or piece of homework to test what the pupils know rather than what they can do. Could they record their homework in a song? On a Powerpoint presentation? On a video? Do you want to test their handwriting or their knowledge? Is it better for your pupil with DME to write three lines on what they did in the Summer or 2 pages on fossils or Harry Potter?
  • Look for DME in unexpected places. The brightest child is not necessarily the one sitting at the front to the class listening to your every word. They may be the class clown or the one whose behaviour deteriorates easily or the one who has a wicked sense of humour or is sarcastic and questions everything. Keep an open mind and adapt your behaviour towards them
  • Become a DME champion. Understanding and implementing individual, classroom and whole school approaches towards DME, believing in and speaking up for the pupils with DME and celebrating their differences can have a real impact on these children’s self-confidence, wellbeing, performance and achievement levels in the long-term and is well worth the investment.


Dual and Multiple Exceptionality is a complicated issue, and this page does no more than scratch the surface. The key message is that parents, carers and professionals need to take a holistic view of the child and use their strengths to address those areas in which they struggle in school and at home. There is growing support out there for families and professionals and a small number of support bodies in existence in the UK who have the knowledge and expertise in helping adults as well as the children and young people themselves to navigate the minefield of DME.