Gifted Children with Learning Disabilities: Dual Exceptionalities

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The Dilemma of Identifying Giftedness

The dilemma of identifying giftedness lies in the fact that a disability is more noticeable and apparent than superior intellect. This is made complicated by observations that the gifted child attempts to compensate for the learning disabilities, masking the presence of both special conditions. At the same time, the disability often precludes further examination of the child’s intellectual capacity.

However, the definition of giftedness does not necessarily refer to an absence of disability. The presence of one with the other results in a phenomenon called “dual exceptionality.” In such cases, the special education’s aim is to accommodate the disability while helping the child develop to his/her full intellectual potential. The first step towards this aim is to first identify the giftedness beyond the disabilities. Here are the observed characteristics.

Gifted Students with Learning Disabilities

The characteristics described here are not intensive. But if these were observed in a child, it would be prudent for parents and teachers to investigate further and have the child undergo giftedness testing.

  • Learning disabled gifted students – has difficulty dealing with sequential tasks but has superior abstract reasoning; exhibits creativity and insight but often appears distracted; may have an advanced vocabulary but can rarely complete assignments

  • Visually impaired gifted students – may appear to be slow in some academic areas but has superior memory and concentration; learning the Braille is effortless

  • Physically disabled gifted students – typically demands perfection from the self but demonstrates extraordinary and creative problem solving skills

  • Hearing impaired gifted students – will sometimes have slow concept attainment but has superior reasoning abilities; will independently develop speech-reading skills

What Can Special Education Teachers Do?

For special education teachers who are dealing with children who have dual exceptionalities, the first thing to do is to implement changes in the way that special education instruction is delivered. Teachers will need to nurture the giftedness as well as make accommodations for the disabilities. If signs of giftedness are observed, it is recommended to provide giftedness testing. Then, the following actions are suggested:

  • Obtain the scores of the subtests and not just the composite score of the whole test. There should be discrepancies among scores of subtests.

  • Compare the child’s scores with others who have the same learning disabilities. More weight should be given to subtests that will not be affected by the disability.

  • Consider having the child temporarily join a giftedness program and monitor his/her performance

  • In teaching, there should be emphasis on higher-level thinking skills, such as problem-solving skills, creativity, and abstract reasoning.

  • Allow the child to pace his/her learning. The child should cultivate self-direction while the teacher is providing advanced challenging activities

  • The teacher should encourage the child to create a better self-concept. With higher confidence, the gifted child can develop to his/her full potential despite the disability.

Lastly, the teacher should have an unwavering commitment to help the child who has a dual exceptionality. What is found here are merely suggestions and the teacher may discover more appropriate ways in helping the gifted child.