Gifted and Learning Disabled

Pedro-An Expert Who Is a Poor Reader

Eight-year-old Pedro is an expert on bugs. He can name and classify a hundred species of insects. He has a huge personal collection that is displayed methodically in boxes all over his room. Narrow pins carefully inserted through the bodies of each insect hold them in place in neat rows on Styrofoam. Each insect is categorized according to type and color.
Pedro was automatically excluded from consideration for gifted programming at his school because he cannot read at grade level.

Janet-Big Difference between Expectations and Performance

Janet’s parents had her evaluated by a psychologist when she was four. On a widely accepted intelligence test she achieved an IQ score of 140. Her parents assumed that Janet would breeze through school with little effort, but as she advanced through the grades the discrepancies widened between expectations and actual performance.

Janet is very articulate, so her teachers are usually impressed with her ability to share her knowledge verbally. Her spelling and handwriting, however, are atrocious. She also has a hard time finishing assignments and getting notes to and from school. Her desk and notebook are a mess. Her teacher and parents are convinced that if she would only try harder, she would succeed.

Elizabeth-Identified As LD, but Has High-Level Interests At Home

Elizabeth is not doing well academically. She was identified as learning disabled in the first grade. Her parents and teachers focus on her difficulties learning at school. Her self-image is lacking and she is quite disruptive in class. She is frequently off task, does a lot of day dreaming, complains of headaches and stomachaches, and does everything possible to avoid her school work.

What her parents and teachers tend to disregard is her high-level interests at home. She has an incredible ability to build complicated structures with Lego bricks, and she recently started a neighborhood campaign to save endangered animals.

Discovering the Gifted, Learning Disabled Child

For many people the terms “learning disability” and “giftedness” are at opposite ends of a continuum. Many people still believe that giftedness is equated with outstanding achievement across all subject areas, but a person truly can be both gifted and have a learning disability. We call these children “twice-exceptional.”

Children who are gifted and learning disabled exhibit remarkable talents or strengths in some areas and disabling weaknesses in others. These children can be grouped into three categories:

� Identified gifted students who have subtle learning disabilities
This group of students is easily identified as gifted because of high achievement or high IQ scores, but as they grow older, discrepancies widen between expected and actual performance. Because they may be considered gifted, they are likely to be overlooked for the screening procedures necessary to identify a subtle learning disability.

� Unidentified students whose gifts and disabilities may be masked by average achievement
Many educators view below-grade-level achievement as a prerequisite to a diagnosis of a learning disability. An extremely bright student who is struggling to stay on grade level may have developed extraordinary compensation techniques and, therefore, not receive services for learning difficulties because he is not failing. Identification of a subtle disability would help students and adults understand why the student has to work so hard to stay at grade level.

� Identified learning disabled students who are also gifted
These children are first noticed because of what they cannot do, rather than because of the talent they demonstrate. Parents and teachers tend to focus on the problem, while paying little attention to the student’s strengths and interests. Often these children have high-level interests at home showing creativity, intellectual strength, and passion for hobbies.

Gifted, learning disabled children need an environment that will nurture their gifts, attend to their learning disabilities, and provide them with emotional support to deal with their inconsistent abilities.

Remediation of basic skills historically has been the single focus of efforts to serve students once they are classified as learning disabled. While it is very important to try to remediate basic skills, focusing on weaknesses at the expense of developing gifts can result in poor self-esteem, a lack of motivation, depression, and stress; therefore, in addition to offering remediation, it is essential to focus attention on the development of strengths, interests, and superior intellectual capacities.

Tips for the Parent

A word of caution: A learning disability is not the only cause of a discrepancy between potential and achievement. Bright children may underachieve for several reasons including (a) unrealistic expectations, (b) lack of motivation or interest, (c) social or emotional problems, or (d) poor study habits. It is important to get a correct diagnosis.

If your child does have a learning disability, be sure to keep an open dialogue with school personnel-especially with teachers and school psychologists. Know that they are trying to help.

Observe the effective methods that your child uses to learn for fun. Incorporate these methods into their school learning. Find ways to do work at home that blend with what is happening in the classroom. (i.e., If the class is studying dinosaurs, help your child learn about the subject in ways that fit into her own strengths.)

Spend time with your child and focus on activities that accentuate his strong points. Help your young person see that there are things at which she excels. She may never learn how to spell or read quickly, but there are things she can do quite well. Tap into creativity; help her find new ways to get information that do not frustrate efforts.

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