The Danger of Twice Exceptional Students Undiagnosed

There are various streams in schools here in Singapore, each catering to students who progress at different pace. The first stream (Express) allows students to complete their secondary education in four years. The middle stream (Normal (Academic)) allows students to complete their secondary education in five years. The final stream (Normal (Technical)) prepares them for technical education. You might probably think that those who are considered brighter would be found only in the first stream, but sometimes there are anomalies.

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I had encountered a few students in the middle stream with divergent thinking, and while speaking to them, I realised that they were very bright. They thought deeply about their favourite topics. Some could tell me about hot global issues while others had creative ideas either nihilistic or environmentally friendly.

Perhaps these students did not do well in their primary school education, because of certain subjects. Out of these students, some had various learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, ADHD or autism. However, I am inclined to think that they could be twice exceptional. The level of maturity in their discussions was far beyond many students in the first stream. They found lessons extremely boring, because due to the general weaknesses in the language of their classmates, they were forced to sit through hours and hours of lessons in skills they had mastered long ago.

It is a common misconception that gifted students in Singapore could only be found in top schools, or sieved out by a national screening test at 10 years old for giftedness. While most of them would be found in top schools, there are many more that are languishing in average classes in less challenging streams. They go through life not knowing how intelligent they are, and are only constantly told they are lazy, misbehaving, rude or stupid. If their parents know how intelligent they are, perhaps they could focus on their strengths. Perhaps they are acting up in classes because they are bored stiff. Dyslexia, ADHD/ADD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and many other issues affect how they behave and learn.

Some could be gifted, but never discovered by their parents, and with other learning disorders, they may be branded troublemakers in school. The danger comes when they overstep certain boundaries. One Singaporean sixteen-year-old, Amos Yee (, is currently having a brush with the law, after his outspoken rants on video offended many people. Based on his writings (with expletives included), he is definitely gifted as many of his thoughts (though not all) made sense. He had very few friends, because most of his schoolmates, while in a pretty high achieving school, could not reach his intellectual level. He probably has a sensory disorder that made him want to wear pyjamas to court, because they are comfortable. In the end, he compromised and wore a t-shirt and a pair of pants, which was still not formal enough, and resulted in his estranged father resorting to violence to get him do his way.


Image taken off a video rant by Amos Yee on Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Perhaps the boy might have Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), which makes him want to argue with adults or people in authority. He had breached his bail terms, by deliberately posting on his blog despite being told not to do so. His parents refused to bail him out. He refused to comply with the terms. What this boy needs is counselling, and not a jail term. Why should he be put in remand, together with thieves and molesters, before his sentencing? He is a minor! Of course, should he continue what he is doing, he is going to get into more serious trouble. Since I am not a psychologist, I cannot diagnose him, but I suppose the court would order a psychological report.

What is ironic is that this twice exceptional teenager had chosen to rant about Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore who had just passed away, who was also twice exceptional. No matter what political views we may have about him about his methods and certain policies, he had definitely transformed Singapore. This gifted man had dyslexia. He was probably one of the few twice exceptional people who found success.








It is sad that many more undiagnosed twice exceptional children go under the radar. Some of them get diagnosed only for learning disabilities, and receive intervention measures to cope with those. Some do not get diagnosed for anything, because their giftedness had compensated for other learning disabilities, but they suffer from low self-esteem and other issues such as existentialism and never quite fitting in. Parents and teachers should be more aware of these issues and not just think these children are difficult. Should these children ever get into trouble, people should not straight away jump to conclusions and think that they have poor upbringing, or deserve to be jailed or slapped, or even killed, like what some netizens are clamouring for in the Amos Yee case.

This is part of Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page’s blog hop on twice exceptional kids. Click on the image below to read other blogs in May’s blog hop.


Gifted Characteristics Of Lee Kuan Yew


Singapore has lost our founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, on 23 March 2015 at 3.18am. Much had been mentioned about how our former prime minister had transformed Singapore from a village to a metropolis. While we all know that he was extremely intelligent, even with Dr Henry Kissinger, Former US Secretary of State mentioning that, it was not explicitly stated that Mr Lee was exceptionally gifted. That means his intelligence quotient would put him at 99.99% of the population.


As I went through his achievements, his habits, his thoughts and more through the daily deluge of articles about him, I realised that he must have been exceptionally gifted, or even profoundly gifted. He had high verbal and linguistic intelligence, and always demanded accurate and precise meanings of words. He had an extensive vocabulary, and would use them to great effect, especially when talking to politicians and academics. One such example was, “If they could not turn in a profit, “we should have no compunction in closing a service down“, he warned when talking about setting up of Singapore Airlines.”

When it came to speaking to the common man, he was able speak to the their level. He was able to code-switch easily. Apart from that, he was fluent in other languages, such as Malay, Mandarin and other Chinese dialects. In fact, during one fateful speech in Kuala Lumpur in May 1965, he spoke Malay so well that some of the Alliance members realised that he could speak better than them. He also spent decades in mastering Mandarin, hiring tutors to coach him.

It must be noted that he suffered from mild dyslexia. It affected his learning of Mandarin. It could have turned out to be a blessing in disguise for him, because many dyslexics are good communicators, as they use that to compensate for the reading difficulties. They also see problems differently from others, due to the way their brains process information. This could also have meant that he could tackle our problems from another perspective. Due to him being exceptionally gifted, it had also managed to mask his issues. He would be what we call twice-exceptional.

When he was in secondary school, he would constantly be looking for verbal sparring partners. He enjoyed arguments, according to Robert Kuok, a Malaysian tycoon who was his former classmate. Mr Richard Hu mentioned that despite not being trained in finance and economics, Mr Lee more than made up for that with ‘an acute mind with the ability to calculate implications, as well as by reading widely’. Mrs Jean Marshall, widow of Mr David Marshall, first Chief Minister of Singapore, said that he was ‘an exceptional speaker’, and ‘a master of silence and the pause’.

He also had a sense of humour. Once he asked a lady who was pursuing her PhD whether she had a boyfriend. She replied she did not have. He told her that she would have a more satisfying life if she had a boyfriend. In closing, he encouraged her to have both a marriage and her PhD.

Apart from these, he was obsessed with Singapore. Many gifted people are obsessed with various topics, choosing to learn their pet topics at depth. Mr Lee? He had both breadth and depth.

Economics? Check.
Foreign affairs? Check.
History? Check.
Education? Check.
Environment? Check.
Culture? Check.

Much had been mentioned about his red box, where Mr Heng Swee Keat mentioned how work would arrive in that box and he and the other staff would have to get to work immediately.

It was also revealed that he had high naturalistic intelligence, as he would even be interested in all sorts of tree and plants when he travelled overseas and he would find out whether they would be suitable for Singapore. It was also revealed that he knew the latin names of the trees and plants. He was also quite involved in success of the Singapore zoo.

He could not keep his mind off from thinking. Even when he was doing physiotherapy, he was actually thinking about matters and brought that up during a parliament sitting when he was 85 years old. Another politician, K Shanmugam, mentioned that he would call people up at 3am just to discuss matters.

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Perhaps he is what I call a grandmaster in chess, someone who has thought through many moves ahead, and had anticipated the opponent’s possible moves. Check out more characteristics of gifted individuals.


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