What about gifted students with a disability?


As a Music Therapist and a Music Educator, I find myself drawn to articles written by music educators concerning students with disabilities in their classroom.  Although music therapy is a related service under IDEA, many school districts do not employ music therapists to work with their special needs students.  Often music educators are left to grapple with the how to teach these students with varying levels of training and experience.

Recently, Joseph Michael Abramo shared his research on “Gifted Students with Disabilities:  ‘Twice Exceptionality’ in the Music Classroom” in the June 2015 edition of the Music Educator’s Journal published by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME).  In this article, Abramo seeks to explain that there is such a term as “twice exceptionality” (2e), which occurs when you have a student possessing gifted traits and learning disabilities or other disability. This article seeks to suggest strategies to the music educator who finds they struggle with a student who possesses 2e traits, but also states that the suggestions can also benefit all students.

Examples of characteristics displayed by these 2e students: their strengths may include things like their ability to solve problems and think creatively, but their disability shows in their distractibility, work that is either incomplete or their ability to plan (executive functioning) is lacking.  As a Music Therapist, these traits remind me of individuals who have been diagnosed with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome.  Characteristics of autism focus on social skills, but these students can sometimes display 2e traits as well.  

As stated above, the author shares four strategies for music educators to use when working with 2e students.  They include an emphasis on integrative thinking and a de-emphasis on dispersive thinking.  In other words, help them see “the big picture”.  My clients who are overwhelmed by their inability to make music often cannot see their potential as a musician.  Secondly, allow the student to make choices.  I give all my clients the opportunity to make choices in their session.  Thirdly, help the student with their organizational skills, self-regulation and teach them how to compensate for their disability. Trained music therapists can adapt their music experiences to fit the need of the client.  Lastly, Abramo stresses the need to build a relationship with the student, especially if self-esteem and self –worth are suffering due to their inability to navigate between the world of their giftedness and disability.  

Clearly, the goal for all music educators as well as music therapists is to serve their student/client.  Parents of 2e students who participate in music at their school should seek to find a music educator using these suggestions or have the option to find a music therapist that can work with the music educator to provide the best experience possible.


Abramo, J. M. (2015). Gifted students with disabilities: “Twice exceptionality” in the music classroom. Music Educators Journal 101(4), pp. 62-69.

Stephanie Morris

Stephanie H. Morris, MM, MT-BC

Neurologic Music Therapist