Gifted But Learning Disabled: A Puzzling Paradox

Posted on May 05, 2010

A study was conducted at Kennedy-Kreiger Institute in Maryland with 26 kids, this ages 8-12. Thirteen of the kids were on the autism spectrum (with high functioning autism) and thirteen were kids with neurotypical development. They were taught a series of finger taps, viagra 60mg in which they were required to touch their thumbs to their forefingers, mind middle fingers, ring fingers, and little fingers, and while they were performing this exercise, their brain activity was measured using a functional MRI. What the researchers found was that during the exercise, the regions of the brain associated with movement showed increased activity in both groups of kids; in fact there was a little more activity in that part of brain with the kids on the autism spectrum. But the part of the brain, the part of the cerebellum, in particular that stores motor activity and commits it to memory, essentially did not have as much increased activity in the group of kids on the autism spectrum. These findings may mean that kids with AS don’t transfer motor activities from the region of the brain that directs deliberate execution of a motor task to the cerebellum, where motor skills become automatic, or habituated, requiring no forethought. And, this would tell us a great deal about why handwriting seems very, very laborious to some kids.

Cleric speed then, or the rate at which kids perform handwriting, can be affected as well. Adults often have a somewhat rigid expectation of how much written work should be assigned, so it can be difficult to adjust our ideas about the level of production that we want to see, especially in a school setting. Parents and educators must be flexible about this and work with individual kids in adjusting requirements in this area.

We can address this issue in many simple ways in a classroom setting:

1)    Get kids on keyboards as early as kindergarten or first grade. Since we know that keyboards are the vehicle by which we all do the majority of our communicating nowadays, it makes sense for kids to have access to this vital tool as early as possible.

2)    Once kids begin to master keyboarding basics, allow them to produce their class work and homework on a computer. There are software programs that teach everything from keyboarding itself (for schools without computer labs or instructors) to reading comprehension, basic math, algebra, calculus, spelling, and other areas of written language. Of course, software programs should never be used as the primary method for teaching a skill, but they should be used extensively with kids with AS as a principal means for producing work and taking tests.

3)    Allow other kids to take notes and record class and homework assignments for kids with AS. One simple solution is to provide NCR paper in the classroom and to assign a peer to use it to take notes or copy assignments from the board on a daily basis. The peer tears off the top sheet, hands it to his partner with Asperger Syndrome and everyone has a copy of the information. Easy and low tech.

4)    Rethink the traditional approaches to teaching handwriting and the requirement for lots of practice of this skill. In contrast to other academic tasks, it truly does not appear to improve with practice, and again, this may be related to the fact that with some kids, the brain doesn’t seem to store some types of motor function in the cerebellum. If that’s the case, no matter how much practice is required, the skill will not become automated or more fluent.

5)    If we are reconsidering teaching handwriting beyond a very basic knowledge of letter formation, it means also thinking carefully about whether it is something that should be included as an IEP goal.

6)    Finally, we need to reassess where our efforts go in terms of occupational therapy services. Instead of viewing these services as strictly related to the improvement of  handwriting, we must consider how they can help kids to improve keyboarding skills and other fine and gross motor skills. This is going to require a shift in our thinking, but we’re up to it!

Author: Melisa Genaux, Consultant

Editors note: Melisa Genaux is one of Utah’s autism experts, and her video contribution can be seen on the Utah Autism DVD.

I teach students with significant disabilities in grades K-4. My students come from low income, recipe rural families. Many of my students in recent years have been diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, buy communication disorders, and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) including deficits in social skills, motor skills, language pragmatics, peer relations, visual motor acuity, sensory areas, proprioceptive ability, verbal communication, and non-verbal communication.

Due to a variety of behavior problems, poor fine and gross motor skills, inability to understand the rules or goals of the game, inability to follow directions, and/or a reaction to an overstimulating environment, my students do not participate in team or individual sports. These students participate in P.E. activities with their general education classrooms, but they have difficulties because it is too loud, the pace is too quick, they need one-on-one instruction, and they get distracted by other students.

My students are fortunate that the Wasatch County School District participates in the skiing and horseback riding instructional programs offered by the National Ability Center located in Park City. We also have frequent special needs swimming time at our school district’s pool. I wanted the ability to teach additional physical skills in a one-on-one situation in the controlled environment of my classroom.

Grant Request

In December, I wrote a grant requesting funds that would be used to buy a Nintendo Wii game system and accessories. I wanted to use the system to promote kinesthetic learning, physical activity, and social interaction between children with cognitive and social disabilities and their typical peers. The Nintendo Wii Game System and accessories would be used to help children with severe disabilities such as ASD, social disabilities, and cognitive disabilities, reach their IEP goals in all areas.

I was awarded a mini-grant from the Qwest Foundation for Education for $501.80 in order to integrate this innovative technology into my classroom. I purchased a Nintendo Wii video game system, Wii Fit Plus with Balance Board, Wii Sports, a sports accessory kit, and the Active Life Extreme Sports Challenge with mat.

Physical Education

Children with ASD typically have a hard time with fine and gross motor skills and coordination. Frequently they have a hard time listening to instruction and imitating another person’s actions. During P.E. or other physical activities my students generally require physical prompting and intensive verbal instruction. This type of instruction makes them stand out from their peers more than necessary, and cannot always be conducted during regular P.E. time. The Wii Sports games mimic real life sports movements, which helps increase hand-eye coordination, fine and gross motor skills, and teaches the basic movements of the sports. The Nintendo Wii is perfect for this application because I can easily present instruction in many skills on an individual basis without much specialized equipment.

Implementation

After purchasing the Nintendo Wii system, I invited each student to my classroom to create a Mii character. During this process I learned just how effective the Wii is at teaching fine motor and coordination skills. The students each had to focus on the television screen and pinpoint the exact feature button they desired. This required fine motor skills and extreme hand-eye coordination. Most students needed hand-over-hand assistance to help guide the controller. Just the process of creating the Mii characters emphasized how much help my students need with their fine and gross motor skills.

Now that each student has a Mii, we have started playing Wii Play, Wii Sports, and Wii Fit Plus games. Wii Play teaches all the motions necessary to use the controller for the games. For most of my students, I stand with them, ready to offer physical assistance in guiding the controller to the television screen. I give initial instruction, then withdraw to see how they do independently.

The balance board is the perfect platform for teaching the motions for the physical activities of Wii Fit. I had to stand behind several students and touch their shoulders, hips, or arms to indicate whether they should lean left or right to complete an exercise. Helping students learn to Hula Hoop is quite entertaining! Wii Sports has been a little harder for some students to succeed with. The bowling game requires a series of button pushes before you let go of the ball, which is a hard concept to grasp. We have started practicing with a real bowling game in the classroom in addition to the video game. It will be interesting to see what skills my students acquire as they are introduced to more video games and actual sports, especially when we begin playing the Extreme Sports Challenge game.

Conclusion

My students with severe cognitive and physical disabilities, those diagnosed with ASD, and their typical peers can now participate in active games together to encourage social interaction in a safe and controlled environment. In addition to helping my students practice better social interaction, this activity helps provide general education students with a better understanding of the social skills challenges associated with ASD and related social and intellectual disabilities. When students with severe disabilities have positive attention from their peers their positive behavior and desire to interact with others increases, resulting in a more harmonious school setting.

Brief video presentations available online at: www.updc.org/510/video

Author: Chris Bordy, Educator, Wasatch County School District

I teach students with significant disabilities in grades K-4. My students come from low income, more about rural families. Many of my students in recent years have been diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, what is ed communication disorders, and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) including deficits in social skills, motor skills, language pragmatics, peer relations, visual motor acuity, sensory areas, proprioceptive ability, verbal communication, and non-verbal communication.

Due to a variety of behavior problems, poor fine and gross motor skills, inability to understand the rules or goals of the game, inability to follow directions, and/or a reaction to an overstimulating environment, my students do not participate in team or individual sports. These students participate in P.E. activities with their general education classrooms, but they have difficulties because it is too loud, the pace is too quick, they need one-on-one instruction, and they get distracted by other students.

My students are fortunate that the Wasatch County School District participates in the skiing and horseback riding instructional programs offered by the National Ability Center located in Park City. We also have frequent special needs swimming time at our school district’s pool. I wanted the ability to teach additional physical skills in a one-on-one situation in the controlled environment of my classroom.

Grant Request

In December, I wrote a grant requesting funds that would be used to buy a Nintendo Wii game system and accessories. I wanted to use the system to promote kinesthetic learning, physical activity, and social interaction between children with cognitive and social disabilities and their typical peers. The Nintendo Wii Game System and accessories would be used to help children with severe disabilities such as ASD, social disabilities, and cognitive disabilities, reach their IEP goals in all areas.

I was awarded a mini-grant from the Qwest Foundation for Education for $501.80 in order to integrate this innovative technology into my classroom. I purchased a Nintendo Wii video game system, Wii Fit Plus with Balance Board, Wii Sports, a sports accessory kit, and the Active Life Extreme Sports Challenge with mat.

Physical Education

Children with ASD typically have a hard time with fine and gross motor skills and coordination. Frequently they have a hard time listening to instruction and imitating another person’s actions. During P.E. or other physical activities my students generally require physical prompting and intensive verbal instruction. This type of instruction makes them stand out from their peers more than necessary, and cannot always be conducted during regular P.E. time. The Wii Sports games mimic real life sports movements, which helps increase hand-eye coordination, fine and gross motor skills, and teaches the basic movements of the sports. The Nintendo Wii is perfect for this application because I can easily present instruction in many skills on an individual basis without much specialized equipment.

Implementation

After purchasing the Nintendo Wii system, I invited each student to my classroom to create a Mii character. During this process I learned just how effective the Wii is at teaching fine motor and coordination skills. The students each had to focus on the television screen and pinpoint the exact feature button they desired. This required fine motor skills and extreme hand-eye coordination. Most students needed hand-over-hand assistance to help guide the controller. Just the process of creating the Mii characters emphasized how much help my students need with their fine and gross motor skills.

Now that each student has a Mii, we have started playing Wii Play, Wii Sports, and Wii Fit Plus games. Wii Play teaches all the motions necessary to use the controller for the games. For most of my students, I stand with them, ready to offer physical assistance in guiding the controller to the television screen. I give initial instruction, then withdraw to see how they do independently.

The balance board is the perfect platform for teaching the motions for the physical activities of Wii Fit. I had to stand behind several students and touch their shoulders, hips, or arms to indicate whether they should lean left or right to complete an exercise. Helping students learn to Hula Hoop is quite entertaining! Wii Sports has been a little harder for some students to succeed with. The bowling game requires a series of button pushes before you let go of the ball, which is a hard concept to grasp. We have started practicing with a real bowling game in the classroom in addition to the video game. It will be interesting to see what skills my students acquire as they are introduced to more video games and actual sports, especially when we begin playing the Extreme Sports Challenge game.

Conclusion

My students with severe cognitive and physical disabilities, those diagnosed with ASD, and their typical peers can now participate in active games together to encourage social interaction in a safe and controlled environment. In addition to helping my students practice better social interaction, this activity helps provide general education students with a better understanding of the social skills challenges associated with ASD and related social and intellectual disabilities. When students with severe disabilities have positive attention from their peers their positive behavior and desire to interact with others increases, resulting in a more harmonious school setting.

Brief video presentations available online at: www.updc.org/510/video

Author: Chris Bordy, Educator, Wasatch County School District
This year Washington County School District (WCSD) has placed the issue of increasing students’ understanding of mathematics at the forefront of student achievement, click to include improvement of students’ performance on statewide math assessments. Approximately one-half of Utah’s students with disabilities do not achieve a proficient score in the area of math. In the last two years, cheapest district and statewide assessment results indicated that less than half of WCSD secondary students with disabilities received a proficient score. This trend was not just seen with students with disabilities. Our general high school students were not making proficient marks in Algebra and Geometry. One of our district’s goals is to develop and implement a plan to increase the number of students moving from non-proficient to proficient in Algebra and Geometry in grades 10-12.

Washington County School District chose to respond to the issue of our secondary students experiencing difficulty in learning and understanding mathematics through a collaborative effort with the special education department. With the support of the secondary administration staff and the special education department, ailment this year our district is providing monthly study groups for high school math teachers (special education, algebra, geometry) to improve and enhance their skills and provide them with research-based strategies and interventions to use in their classrooms. WCSD has a successful Professional Learning Community (PLC) approach to on-going staff development. Our PLC model focuses on a standards-based approach to personnel development rather than a program or curriculum specific approach that builds upon on-going study groups that learn from and support each others’ professional growth and contributions.

Our district’s professional development for special educators and general educators has extensively incorporated the core curriculum. However, an informal survey of programs within the district showed that we are lacking curricula strategies and interventions in the area of mathematics for struggling students and/or students with disabilities that align with the general curriculum. Our teachers need professional development in mathematics in order to select, modify, and adapt appropriate instructional material as well as deliver appropriate instruction to these students. We know that effective instructional approaches for students with learning disabilities include a combined approach of explicit and systematic instruction and strategic instruction (Swanson & Hoskyn, 2001). Other research indicates that programs which have strong components of concrete-to-representational-to-abstract (CRA) or programs with supplemental CRA activities and sequence of instruction are effective models of instruction for students with learning disabilities (Witzel, Mercer, Miller, 2003; Cass, Cates, Smith, Jackson, 2003).

Research is an important tool to develop practices that help improve the skills and understanding of a subject for both our educators and students. The first part of each study group involves looking at current research and literature and discussing with their colleagues if the literature highlighted for that session is applicable to their students and classroom. For example, one session was spent on looking at dissimilar learner and mathematics instruction and how important it is to match abilities and characteristics to instructional strategies. It has been determined that the most effective pedagogical approach designed to benefit these dissimilar learners are multidimensional and systematic (Sherman, Richardson, Yard, 2005). After the groups read and discuss selected passages/articles the rest of the session is spent on introducing research-based strategies and activities that would provide the teachers with multiple teaching approaches to aid in student learning.

These study groups involve the use of Kagen structures for the method of delivery of new information to teachers along with modeling specific strategies and structures that the teachers can use in their classrooms. The strategies and activities introduced during that session is supported with materials such as manipulatives needed for those activities so that the teachers can go back and immediately implement them into the classroom instruction. The modeling of Kagen structures is to show the benefit and how easy the teachers can implement these strategies in their teaching. For example, when presenting new material to the teachers, the math coordinator uses the 10/2 method; she lectures or models/demonstrates something and at the 10 minute mark she gives the teachers 2 minutes to process that new information using a variety of cooperative learning structures (e.g., think-pair-share, round rally). The 10/2 strategy will give the learner processing time and assist them in making a connection or personalize the learning experience to something already known which aides in the processing of new information.

Before they leave each study group session they have to commit to implementing something they have discussed/learned and then they will report back on what they did and how it worked at the next month’s meeting. Teachers leave each session with materials such as Algebra Lab Gear and lessons and strategies that they can go back and immediately use in their classrooms the next day. The materials are a huge reinforcement for teachers to attend and participate. Those not at the session do not receive the materials. It was a struggle at the beginning to have teachers out of the classroom spending valuable teaching time being involved in these monthly study groups; however, it did not take more than two sessions before the teachers were seeing the benefits and value.

Authors: KerriLee Brownell, Special Education Program Coordinator and Kristine A. Cunningham, Math Coordinator, Washington County School District

References available upon request from the Utah Personnel Development Center
This year Washington County School District (WCSD) has placed the issue of increasing students’ understanding of mathematics at the forefront of student achievement, illness to include improvement of students’ performance on statewide math assessments. Approximately one-half of Utah’s students with disabilities do not achieve a proficient score in the area of math. In the last two years, drug district and statewide assessment results indicated that less than half of WCSD secondary students with disabilities received a proficient score. This trend was not just seen with students with disabilities. Our general high school students were not making proficient marks in Algebra and Geometry. One of our district’s goals is to develop and implement a plan to increase the number of students moving from non-proficient to proficient in Algebra and Geometry in grades 10-12.

Washington County School District chose to respond to the issue of our secondary students experiencing difficulty in learning and understanding mathematics through a collaborative effort with the special education department. With the support of the secondary administration staff and the special education department, this year our district is providing monthly study groups for high school math teachers (special education, algebra, geometry) to improve and enhance their skills and provide them with research-based strategies and interventions to use in their classrooms. WCSD has a successful Professional Learning Community (PLC) approach to on-going staff development. Our PLC model focuses on a standards-based approach to personnel development rather than a program or curriculum specific approach that builds upon on-going study groups that learn from and support each others’ professional growth and contributions.

Our district’s professional development for special educators and general educators has extensively incorporated the core curriculum. However, an informal survey of programs within the district showed that we are lacking curricula strategies and interventions in the area of mathematics for struggling students and/or students with disabilities that align with the general curriculum. Our teachers need professional development in mathematics in order to select, modify, and adapt appropriate instructional material as well as deliver appropriate instruction to these students. We know that effective instructional approaches for students with learning disabilities include a combined approach of explicit and systematic instruction and strategic instruction (Swanson & Hoskyn, 2001). Other research indicates that programs which have strong components of concrete-to-representational-to-abstract (CRA) or programs with supplemental CRA activities and sequence of instruction are effective models of instruction for students with learning disabilities (Witzel, Mercer, Miller, 2003; Cass, Cates, Smith, Jackson, 2003).

Research is an important tool to develop practices that help improve the skills and understanding of a subject for both our educators and students. The first part of each study group involves looking at current research and literature and discussing with their colleagues if the literature highlighted for that session is applicable to their students and classroom. For example, one session was spent on looking at dissimilar learner and mathematics instruction and how important it is to match abilities and characteristics to instructional strategies. It has been determined that the most effective pedagogical approach designed to benefit these dissimilar learners are multidimensional and systematic (Sherman, Richardson, Yard, 2005). After the groups read and discuss selected passages/articles the rest of the session is spent on introducing research-based strategies and activities that would provide the teachers with multiple teaching approaches to aid in student learning.

These study groups involve the use of Kagen structures for the method of delivery of new information to teachers along with modeling specific strategies and structures that the teachers can use in their classrooms. The strategies and activities introduced during that session is supported with materials such as manipulatives needed for those activities so that the teachers can go back and immediately implement them into the classroom instruction. The modeling of Kagen structures is to show the benefit and how easy the teachers can implement these strategies in their teaching. For example, when presenting new material to the teachers, the math coordinator uses the 10/2 method; she lectures or models/demonstrates something and at the 10 minute mark she gives the teachers 2 minutes to process that new information using a variety of cooperative learning structures (e.g., think-pair-share, round rally). The 10/2 strategy will give the learner processing time and assist them in making a connection or personalize the learning experience to something already known which aides in the processing of new information.

Before they leave each study group session they have to commit to implementing something they have discussed/learned and then they will report back on what they did and how it worked at the next month’s meeting. Teachers leave each session with materials such as Algebra Lab Gear and lessons and strategies that they can go back and immediately use in their classrooms the next day. The materials are a huge reinforcement for teachers to attend and participate. Those not at the session do not receive the materials. It was a struggle at the beginning to have teachers out of the classroom spending valuable teaching time being involved in these monthly study groups; however, it did not take more than two sessions before the teachers were seeing the benefits and value. References available upon request from the Utah Personnel Development Center
This year Washington County School District (WCSD) has placed the issue of increasing students’ understanding of mathematics at the forefront of student achievement, rx to include improvement of students’ performance on statewide math assessments. Approximately one-half of Utah’s students with disabilities do not achieve a proficient score in the area of math. In the last two years, approved district and statewide assessment results indicated that less than half of WCSD secondary students with disabilities received a proficient score. This trend was not just seen with students with disabilities. Our general high school students were not making proficient marks in Algebra and Geometry. One of our district’s goals is to develop and implement a plan to increase the number of students moving from non-proficient to proficient in Algebra and Geometry in grades 10-12.

Washington County School District chose to respond to the issue of our secondary students experiencing difficulty in learning and understanding mathematics through a collaborative effort with the special education department. With the support of the secondary administration staff and the special education department, page this year our district is providing monthly study groups for high school math teachers (special education, algebra, geometry) to improve and enhance their skills and provide them with research-based strategies and interventions to use in their classrooms. WCSD has a successful Professional Learning Community (PLC) approach to on-going staff development. Our PLC model focuses on a standards-based approach to personnel development rather than a program or curriculum specific approach that builds upon on-going study groups that learn from and support each others’ professional growth and contributions.

Our district’s professional development for special educators and general educators has extensively incorporated the core curriculum. However, an informal survey of programs within the district showed that we are lacking curricula strategies and interventions in the area of mathematics for struggling students and/or students with disabilities that align with the general curriculum. Our teachers need professional development in mathematics in order to select, modify, and adapt appropriate instructional material as well as deliver appropriate instruction to these students. We know that effective instructional approaches for students with learning disabilities include a combined approach of explicit and systematic instruction and strategic instruction (Swanson & Hoskyn, 2001). Other research indicates that programs which have strong components of concrete-to-representational-to-abstract (CRA) or programs with supplemental CRA activities and sequence of instruction are effective models of instruction for students with learning disabilities (Witzel, Mercer, Miller, 2003; Cass, Cates, Smith, Jackson, 2003).

Research is an important tool to develop practices that help improve the skills and understanding of a subject for both our educators and students. The first part of each study group involves looking at current research and literature and discussing with their colleagues if the literature highlighted for that session is applicable to their students and classroom. For example, one session was spent on looking at dissimilar learner and mathematics instruction and how important it is to match abilities and characteristics to instructional strategies. It has been determined that the most effective pedagogical approach designed to benefit these dissimilar learners are multidimensional and systematic (Sherman, Richardson, Yard, 2005). After the groups read and discuss selected passages/articles the rest of the session is spent on introducing research-based strategies and activities that would provide the teachers with multiple teaching approaches to aid in student learning.

These study groups involve the use of Kagen structures for the method of delivery of new information to teachers along with modeling specific strategies and structures that the teachers can use in their classrooms. The strategies and activities introduced during that session is supported with materials such as manipulatives needed for those activities so that the teachers can go back and immediately implement them into the classroom instruction. The modeling of Kagen structures is to show the benefit and how easy the teachers can implement these strategies in their teaching. For example, when presenting new material to the teachers, the math coordinator uses the 10/2 method; she lectures or models/demonstrates something and at the 10 minute mark she gives the teachers 2 minutes to process that new information using a variety of cooperative learning structures (e.g., think-pair-share, round rally). The 10/2 strategy will give the learner processing time and assist them in making a connection or personalize the learning experience to something already known which aides in the processing of new information.

Before they leave each study group session they have to commit to implementing something they have discussed/learned and then they will report back on what they did and how it worked at the next month’s meeting. Teachers leave each session with materials such as Algebra Lab Gear and lessons and strategies that they can go back and immediately use in their classrooms the next day. The materials are a huge reinforcement for teachers to attend and participate. Those not at the session do not receive the materials. It was a struggle at the beginning to have teachers out of the classroom spending valuable teaching time being involved in these monthly study groups; however, it did not take more than two sessions before the teachers were seeing the benefits and value.

Authors: KerriLee Brownell, Special Education Program Coordinator; Kristine A. Cunningham, Math Coordinator; Washington County School District

References available upon request from the Utah Personnel Development Center
(ERIC Digest #E479)

How can a child learn and not learn at the same time? Why do some students apply little or no effort to school tasks while they commit considerable time and effort to demanding, health troche creative activities outside of school? These behaviors are typical of some students who are simultaneously gifted and learning disabled. For many people, viagra order seek however, the terms learning disabilities and giftedness are at opposite ends of a learning continuum. In some states, because of funding regulations, a student may be identified and assisted with either learning disabilities or giftedness, but not both.

Uneasiness in accepting this seeming contradiction in terms stems primarily from faulty and incomplete understandings. This is not surprising, because the “experts” in each of these disciplines have difficulty reaching agreement. Some still believe that giftedness is equated with outstanding achievement across all subject areas. Thus, a student who is an expert on bugs at age 8 may automatically be excluded from consideration for a program for gifted students because he cannot read, though he can name and classify a hundred species of insects. Many educators view below-grade-level achievement as a prerequisite to a diagnosis of a learning disability. Thus, an extremely bright student who is struggling to stay on grade level, may slip through the cracks of available services because he or she is not failing.

Who Are the Learning Disabled/Gifted?

Recent advances in both fields have alerted professionals to the possibility that both sets of behavior can exist simultaneously (Baum and Owen, 1988; Fox, Brody, and Tobin, 1983; Whitmore and Maker, 1985). Children who are both gifted and learning disabled exhibit remarkable talents or strengths in some areas and disabling weaknesses in others. They can be grouped into three categories: (1) identified gifted students who have subtle learning disabilities, (2) unidentified students whose gifts and disabilities may be masked by average achievement, and (3) identified learning disabled students who are also gifted.

Identified Gifted Students Who Have Subtle Learning Disabilities. This group is easily identified as gifted because of high achievement or high IQ scores. As they grow older, discrepancies widen between expected and actual performance. These students may impress teachers with their verbal abilities, while their spelling or handwriting contradicts the image. At times, they may be forgetful, sloppy and disorganized. In middle school or junior high, where there are more long-term written assignments and a heavier emphasis on comprehensive, independent reading, some bright students find it increasingly difficult to achieve. Concerned adults are convinced that if these students would only try harder, they could succeed.

While increased effort may be required for these students, the real issue is that they simply do not know how! Because they may be on grade level and are considered gifted, they are likely to be overlooked for screening procedures necessary to identify a subtle learning disability. Identification of a subtle disability would help students understand why they are experiencing academic difficulties. More important, professionals could offer learning strategies and compensation techniques to help them deal with their duality of learning behaviors.

A word of caution is necessary at this point. A learning disability is not the only cause of a discrepancy between potential and achievement. There are a number of other reasons why bright children may be underachieving. Perhaps expectations are unrealistic. Excelling in science, for example, is no assurance that high-level performance will be shown in other academic areas. Motivation, interest, and specific aptitudes influence the amount of energy students are willing to apply to a given task. Social or emotional problems can interfere with achievement. Grades and school are simply unimportant to some students. Some youngsters have not learned how to study because, during primary grades, school was easy and success required minimal effort.

Unidentified Students. The second group of youngsters in which this combination of learning behaviors may be found are Gifted But Learning Disabled: A Puzzling Paradox those who are not noticed at all. These students are struggling to stay at grade level. Their superior intellectual ability is working overtime to help compensate for weaknesses caused by an undiagnosed learning disability. In essence, their gift masks the disability and the disability masks the gift. These students are often difficult to find because they do not flag the need for attention by exceptional behavior. Their hidden talents and abilities may merge in specific content areas or may be stimulated by a classroom teacher who uses a creative approach to learning. The disability is frequently discovered in college or adulthood when the student happens to read about dyslexia or hears peers describe their learning difficulties.

Identified Learning Diabled Students Who Are Also Gifted

These bright children, discovered within the population of students who are identified as learning disabled, are often failing miserably in school. They are first noticed because of what they cannot do, rather than because of the talent they are demonstrating. This group of students is most at risk because of the implicit message that accompanies the LD categorization that there is something wrong with the student that must be fixed before anything else can happen. Parents and teachers alike become totally focused on the problem. Little attention, if any, is paid to the student’s strengths and interests, other than to use them to remediate weaknesses.

Interestingly, these children often have high-level interests at home. They may build fantastic structures with plastic bricks or start a local campaign to save the whales. The creative abilities, intellectual strength and passion they bring to their hobbies are clear indicators of their potential for giftedness (Renzulli, 1978). Because these students are bright and sensitive, they are more acutely aware of their difficulty in learning. Furthermore, they tend to generalize their feelings of academic failure to an overall sense of inadequacy. Over time, these pessimistic feelings over-shadow any positive feelings connected with what they accomplish on their own at home. Research has shown that this group of students is often rated by teachers as most disruptive at school. They are frequently found to be off task; they may act out, daydream, or complain of headaches and stomachaches; and they are easily frustrated and use their creative abilities to avoid tasks (Baum and Owen, 1988; Whitmore, 1980). Since school does not offer these bright youngsters much opportunity to polish and use their gifts, such results are not surprising.

Curricular Needs

Although each of these subgroups has unique problems, they all require an environment that will nurture their gifts, attend to the learning disability and provide the emotional support to deal with their inconsistent abilities. Four general guidelines can assist professionals in developing programs that will meet the needs of these students.

Focus Attention on the Development of the Gift. Remediation of basic skills historically has been the single focus of efforts to serve students once they have been classified as learning disabled. Few opportunities exist for bright students with learning disabilities to demonstrate gifted behaviors. Research has shown that a focus on weaknesses at the expense of developing gifts can result in poor self esteem, a lack of motivation, depression and stress (Baum, 1984; Whitmore & Maker, 1985). In addition to offering remediation, focused attention on the development of strengths, interests, and superior intellectual capacities is necessary. These students need a stimulating educational environment which will enable them to fully develop their talents and abilities. Enrichment activities should be designed to circumvent problematic weaknesses and to highlight abstract thinking and creative production. Over the last 6 years, the state of Connecticut has funded a variety of special programs for gifted students who have learning disabilities. All the programs have emphasized the development of gifts and talents of these students. The results of the projects showed dramatic improvement in student self esteem, motivation, and productive learning behaviors. Improved achievement in basic skills for many students has been an unexpected bonus (Baum, 1988). In fact, according to Whitmore and Maker (1985), more gains are seen when intervention focuses on the gift rather than the disability.

Provide a Nurturing Environment That Values Individual Differences

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1962), individuals must feel that they belong and are valued in order to reach their potential or self-actualize. How valued can a student feel if the curriculum must be continually modified, or assignments watered down, to enable the student to achieve success?

Currently, only certain abilities are rewarded by schools, primarily those that involve strong verbal proficiency. Indeed, according to Howard Gardner (1983), schools spend much of their time teaching students the skills they would need to become college professors. Success in the real world depends on skills or knowledge in other areas besides reading and writing.

A nurturing environment—one that shows concern for developing student potential—values and respects individual differences. Students are rewarded for what they do well. Options are offered for both acquiring information and communicating what is learned. The philosophy fosters and supports interdependence; students work in cooperative groups to achieve goals. Many types of intelligence are acknowledged. A well-produced video production about life in the Amazon is as valued as the well written essay on the same topic. In such an environment no child will feel like a second class citizen, and the gifted students with learning disabilities can excel.

Encourage Compensation Strategies. Learning disabilities tend to be somewhat permanent. A poor speller will always need to check for errors in spelling before submitting a final draft. Students who have difficulty memorizing mathematics may need to use a calculator to assure accuracy. Thus, simply remediating weaknesses may not be appropriate or sufficient for the gifted learning disabled student. Remediation will make the learner somewhat more proficient, but probably not excellent, in areas of weakness. For instance, students who have difficulty with handwriting will ultimately fare much better if allowed to use a computer to record their ideas on paper than they will after years of remediation in handwriting. The following list outlines suggestions for providing compensation techniques to help students cope with weaknesses typical of learning disabled students:

1. Find sources of information that are appropriate for students who may have difficulty reading. Some examples are visitations, interviews, photographs, pictorial histories, films, lectures, or experimentation. Remember, these children do not want the curriculum to be less challenging or demanding. Rather, they need alternative ways to receive the information.

2. Provide advanced organizers to help students receive and communicate information. Students who have difficulty organizing and managing time also benefit from receiving outlines of class lectures, study guides, and a syllabus of topics to be covered. Teach students who have difficulty transferring ideas to a sequential format on paper to use brainstorming and webbing to generate outlines and organize written work. Provide management plans in which tasks are listed sequentially with target dates for completion. Finally, provide a structure or visual format to guide the finished product. A sketch of an essay or science project board will enable these students to produce a well organized product.

3. Use technology to promote productivity. Technology has provided efficient means to organize and access information, increase accuracy in mathematics and spelling, and enhance the visual quality of the finished product. In short, it allows students with learning disabilities to hand in work of which they can feel proud. Preventing these students from using word processing programs to complete all written assignments is like prohibiting blind children from using texts printed in braille!

4. Offer a variety of options for communication of ideas. Writing is not the only way to communicate; all learning can be expressed and applied in a variety of modes. Slides, models, speeches, mime, murals, and film productions are examples. Remember, however, to offer these options to all children. Alternate modes should be the rule rather than the exception.

5. Help students who have problems in short-term memory develop strategies for remembering. The use of mnemonics, especially those created by students themselves, is one effective strategy to enhance memory. Visualization techniques have also proved to be effective. Resources are listed at the end of this digest.

Encourage Awareness of Individual Strengths and Weaknesses. It is imperative that students who are gifted and learning disabled understand their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses so that they can make intelligent choices about their future. If a goal that is important to such a student will require extensive reading, and, if reading is a weak area, the student will have to acknowledge the role of effort and the need for assistance to achieve success. “Rap” sessions, in which these students can discuss their frustrations and learn how to cope with their strange mix of abilities and disabilities, are helpful. Mentoring experiences with adults who are gifted and learning disabled will lend validity to the belief that such individuals can succeed.

Conclusion

In the final analysis, students who are both gifted and learning disabled must learn how to be their own advocates. They must ultimately choose careers that will accentuate their strengths. In doing so they will meet others who think, feel, and create as they do. One such student, after years of feeling different and struggling to succeed, was finally able to make appropriate decisions about what he truly needed in his life. He was an outstanding amateur photographer who loved music. He had also started several “businesses” during his teenage years. In his junior year at college he became depressed and realized that he was totally dissatisfied with his coursework, peers, and instructors. He wondered whether he should quit school. After all, he was barely earning C’s in his courses. His advisor suggested that he might like to create his own major, perhaps in the business of art. That was the turning point in this young man’s life. For the first time since primary grades, he began to earn A’s in his courses. He related that he finally felt worthwhile. “You know,” he said, “finally I’m with people who think like me and have my interests and values. I am found!”

Reference available upon request from the Utah Personnel Development Center