Wow, you can have learning difficulties AND be a gifted learning all in one amazing package. The brain and how it learns is really amazing! So now the question is: How do you identify a student that is gifted but also has learning difficulties?
It is difficult to describe or list typical characteristics of learning disabled gifted people because there are so many types of giftedness and so many possible learning disabilities. The biggest problem in identification is that a disability often masks or inhibits the expression of giftedness, so that it is difficult to tell whether a person’s abilities are outstanding enough to indicate giftedness. On the other hand, giftedness can often mask the learning disability because the person’s abilities can help him or her overcome or compensate for the disability.
Some weaknesses that are observed more frequently than others in these children are the following: poor handwriting, poor spelling, lack of organizational ability, and difficulty in employing systematic strategies for solving problems. More frequently observed strengths are in speaking, understanding and identifying relationships, vocabulary, knowledge of information related to a wide variety of topics, and observational skills. In general, thinking and reasoning processes are often not impaired, but the mechanics involved in writing, reading, mathematics computation, and completing academic tasks often present great difficulties.
To identify a student as learning disabled and gifted, one must consider a wide variety of information, including in depth assessment of both strengths and weaknesses. Evaluation should include individually administered intelligence tests, diagnostic achievement tests, evaluation of creative products by experts or teachers, peer evaluations of leadership ability, parent interviews, classroom observation of peer interaction and other performance, auditions (performing), tests of aptitude, and tests of creativity. In addition, tests of perceptual ability, visual motor coordination, and expressive ability can be used to pinpoint disabilities. One of the most frequently used indicators is a severe discrepancy between potential and performance.
After a variety of information has been collected, a committee of individuals familiar with the student (teachers, psychologists, parents, the principal) should review all information and decide whether the abilities are strong enough to indicate grandness and the weaknesses are low enough to indicate a learning disability. This is, of necessity, a subjective decision made with the best interest of the student in mind.
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What are the educational implications?
There is no single best solution for meeting the educational needs of the gifted learning disabled student. Individual decisions will be made based on numerous factors, including the particular strengths and weaknesses of the student, parental preferences, the type of gifted program, and logistical considerations (i. e., district size, location of special programs, transportation, etc. ). A program for gifted learning disabled students may take one of several forms:
primarily an enrichment program with the student receiving additional help for the disability;
a self-contained program which focuses on both strengths and
primarily a remediation program.
Educators concerned with making sure these students receive appropriate services must be creative in their search for solutions.They must work with both educators of the gifted and handicapped. Furthermore, a strong advocacy role will often be necessary. It is still difficult for many people to not only accept the existence of the gifted learning disabled child, but to also understand the need for special programming.
What are the major classroom problems and how can they be solved?
Regardless of the educational placement agreed upon, there may well be some major problems in the classroom setting because of the unique nature of the gifted learning disabled child.The interaction of giftedness with learning disabilities produces children who may be simultaneously frustrating and inspiring. Experimenting with a variety of teaching strategies is often the quickest way to find out what will work for a given child.
The following are some suggestions for the classroom teacher to experiment with.
For Academic Problems:
- Present material in a variety of ways (visually, orally, kinesthetically); have written material taped by parents, other students, or community helpers.
- Give students opportunities to share knowledge in different ways (taped reports, oral quizzes or tests, class demonstrations).
- Provide alternative learning experiences which are not dependent on paper and pencil or reading (puzzles, logic games, tangrams, math manipulatives).
- Place the child where the board and teacher can be easily seen.
- Give realistic deadlines for completing assignments (often longer than for others).
- Use contracts.