Understanding the Intersection of Queerness and Twice-Exceptionality

By Julia Rutkovsky, LMSW.


As the queer movement continues to grow, and rates of Twice-Exceptional identification continue to rise, the intersection of queerness and Twice-Exceptionality cannot be ignored. Exploring how these identities interact can help us to support our Twice-Exceptional students, children, and friends in ways that we have never before.


Before I jump in, I’d like to define some terms:

  • Queerness refers to anyone who identifies as non-heterosexual or non-cisgender. The Queer umbrella contains multitudes, and for Twice-Exceptional people and neurotypicals alike, gender and sexuality can be fluid throughout the lifespan.

  • Twice-Exceptional (2e) refers to those who are gifted who also have a learning, social, or emotional challenge. While Twice-Exceptionality does not require a specific diagnosis, it is important to note that the incidence of Autism and ADHD in Twice-Exceptional people is higher than that of the general population.

Queerness and Giftedness

Terry Friedrichs, Ph.D., Ed.D. reports that approximately 30% of gifted children are LGBTQ+. Gifted children are thinking on a higher level about concepts that other children do not typically think about. They may meet developmental milestones earlier or be perceived as “precocious” when talking with older children or adults. Gifted kids are able to consider and question the validity of things other children may deem “normal” or “just how it is,” and might be more comfortable with diversity and ambiguity than same-aged peers (Wexelbaum, R & Hoover, J, 2014). Gender and sexuality, being socially constructed, seem ripe for the type of questioning and divergent thinking that gifted kids thrive on. Their propensity for curiosity and exploration make them more likely to experiment with different identities and question their own. Queerness has a rich history and intersectionality that requires intelligence and critical thinking skills to truly understand and explore, and while many adults can explore such a thing at one time or another, gifted kids are able to understand the nuances of gender and sexuality much younger. As gifted people grow older, they are likely better able to understand the fluidity of gender and sexuality than their neurotypical peers. Within queerness comes different definitions of relationships and sex that require high level thinking and communication skills to navigate successfully. Being Queer and gifted can feel isolating. Children, teens and adults who fall into these categories may feel misunderstood, lonely, and have difficulties finding the support they need to navigate their diversity.


Queerness, ADHD, ASD

The National LGBT Health Education Center suggests that neurodiverse individuals are much more likely to identify as LGBTQ+ than neurotypicals. A recent study shows that 24% of gender non-confirming individuals have Autism (Warrier et al., 2020). Another study found that 75% of people with gender dysphoria have ADHD (Yildirim 2017). Eileen T. Crehan, Ph.D. reports that while percentages vary, Autistic people are two to three times more likely to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual, according to multiple recent studies. Given that ADHD and Autism are so prevalent in the 2e community, the overlap between these diagnoses and queerness is important to consider.


Autistic people may struggle to intuit social norms. In learning social skills later in life or by rote, they have room for more questioning about why those norms exist, and if they want to adhere to them or not. Autistic people and people with ADHD are often much more capable of divergent thinking, which allows them to deconstruct heteronormativity and cisnormativity in ways that neurotypicals can’t.


There’s a certain “quirkiness” in common between these groups that allows for a large amount of overlap. Queer people, those with ASD, ADHD, and those who are Twice-Exceptional are all often labeled as “different,” “abnormal,” or “weird.” As children grow up, they begin to experience their gender and sexuality more consciously. Queer and Twice-Exceptional people may already identify as different, which opens the door for them to be different in multiple ways.


Working with Queer and Twice-Exceptional People

The intersection between disability, queerness, and giftedness cannot be ignored without invalidating a person’s identity. As clinicians and educators, it is essential to both understand and validate all parts of the people we work with. In working with Twice-Exceptional children and adolescents, it is essential to discuss issues of gender and sexuality at their level, which may be higher than that of their same-age peers. Topics that they may be “too young,” or “too immature” to handle are exactly the topics they crave to discuss. As clinicians and educators, shying away from these topics only encourages them to search for information in places where we cannot control the accuracy of what they learn.


As parents, you have two choices. You can affirm your child’s identity, be a support system and someone who learns and explores alongside them, fostering a stronger and healthier relationship with your child, or you can prove to them that you don’t understand them. I have worked with hundreds of queer kids, and never once has a parent’s disapproval made them less queer. Twice-Exceptional kids will explore their gender and sexuality, regardless if they identify as queer later in life, and that’s perfectly developmentally appropriate. As queerness becomes more accepted and more frequently discussed, gifted children now have more language to discuss their identities than in the past.


We have only just scratched the surface on how queerness and Twice-Exceptionality intersect. As we continue to learn more about how these communities overlap, and how best to support them, what we do know is that unconditional acceptance has never impacted someone negatively. We must remain curious and allow our clients to define their own identities to us. Our queer and Twice-Exceptional clients should not be burdened with the work of educating us, nor should they be subjected to assumption or invalidation.


Sources

Warrier, V., Greenberg, D.M., Weir, E. et al. Elevated rates of autism, other neurodevelopmental and psychiatric diagnoses, and autistic traits in transgender and gender-diverse individuals. Nat Commun 11, 3959 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17794-1


Wexelbaum, Rachel & Hoover, John. (2014). Gifted and LGBTIQ 1 : A Comprehensive Research Review. International Journal for Talent Development and Creativity. 2.

Yildirim, Burcu. “Gender Dysphoria and Attention Problems: Possible Clue for Biological Underpinnings.” Taylor & Francis, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24750573.2017.1354417.


Yildirim, Burcu. “Gender Dysphoria and Attention Problems: Possible Clue for Biological Underpinnings.” Taylor & Francis, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24750573.2017.1354417.