Just the FAQs
The term gifted LD is sometimes a bit confusing because 'gifted' and 'LD' are often thought of as being very different terms, if not completely opposite. By definition, a learning disability is diagnosed when a student is experiencing an 'information processing weakness' which significantly interferes with his or her ability to learn. The term 'gifted' generally applies to a person with highly developed (well above average) abilities in at least some areas (intellectual, musical, artistic, etc.). In terms of academics, 'gifted' usually refers to a student's intellectual potential or learning aptitude. So, simply put, a gifted LD student is someone who is highly intelligent (and is expected to achieve well in school) but struggles in school due to some form of processing difficulty.
Yes and no. Yes, there are probably quite a few students who fit the profile of gifted LD. However, such students are rarely referred or identified for possible special education services. This is because teachers (who make the vast majority of referrals for special education assessment) tend to limit their referrals to those students who are 'failing'. Gifted LD students rarely 'fail' although they are notorious 'underachievers'. Often the teachers and parents of gifted LD students view their underachievement as a sign of disinterest, boredom, or just a lack of motivation. Even the students themselves eventually begin to believe that their problem is simply motivational.
Eventually (usually by high school) a gifted LD student's declining skills will sometimes become significant enough for teachers to take notice and make a referral. In other cases someone with a special interest in the student (parent, teacher, counselor, etc.) will become aware of the great discrepancy between this student's 'intelligence' outside of class and his 'skills' inside the classroom and make an appropriate referral. Such students are often highly creative, inventive, and philosophical when they are not in a learning situation. Even in class these students often have a deep understanding of the underlying concepts of a lesson but struggle when it comes to memorizing the specific facts and details. At home, they may be able to solve very difficult puzzles or problems but have trouble sitting down to do homework or organizing their thoughts for a report.
No. First, it is often very difficult to accurately assess a gifted LD student's true intellectual potential. This is because certain parts of intelligence tests are assessing the exact processing areas which are causing the learning difficulties in the first place. Although the resulting pattern of highs and lows across subtests may help to identify an area of processing difficulty, this often results in a deflated estimate of this student's true overall intellectual potential. Second, gifted LD students are very good at 'covering up' and 'compensating for' their learning difficulties. In spite of their real processing problems, such students often are able to get through a short-term testing situation without revealing the significance of their daily struggles. So, it is quite possible for a gifted LD student to go through a formal assessment and not be found eligible for special education services.
There is no definite answer to that question. When a student's learning disability is so severe that specialized instruction is needed, then special education services would certainly appear to be appropriate. In addition, when a student is identified as having a special education need, he or she is entitled to certain modifications or accommodations within the classroom and/or during testing (such as reduced assignments, extended time, etc.) which can be very helpful. However, in most cases, gifted LD students are able to cope quite well with standard classroom expectations, especially if they have a good understanding of their disability and are working hard to compensate for their own difficulties. Often, with just a little push in the right direction, gifted LD students can develop learning strategies which are far better than anything which a special education teacher might provide. In other words, these students often have the ability to 'take care of themselves' if they are just given a good, clear understanding of what their real underlying problem is.
Yes. First of all, the vast majority of mainstream teachers are very sensitive to the special needs of individual students and will frequently provide modifications and accommodations when a legitimate need is presented. Unfortunately, many gifted LD students try to conceal their learning problems by acting lazy, disinterested, or unmotivated. Teachers are naturally reluctant to provide help to someone who doesn't seem to care anyway. In these cases it is very important for the student (with parental support) to admit to his or her difficulties and work with the teacher to come up with an appropriate plan. There also may be tutorial services available within the school which could help strengthen lagging skills. But again, the student must be willing to admit the need for help. If a gifted LD student is actually 'diagnosed' with a disability but is not eligible for 'special education' services (in other words, when he has the 'processing' difficulties of an LD student but is not 'underachieving' enough to meet criteria or to demonstrate a 'need' for special education service) he may be eligible for a mainstream alternative called a 'Section 504' plan. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 guarantees the right to an appropriate education (including necessary accommodations) for any student with a disability. School personnel can help to determine if a student meets the requirements of Section 504. This can be especially helpful for gifted LD students who may need extra time for testing or alternative ways of demonstrating their knowledge and understanding.
Often it is assumed that a learning disability only impacts a student's schoolwork. That simply is not the case. And with gifted LD students, the issues outside of school can be every bit as frustrating as their academic struggles. Gifted LD students often have rather unusual and outstanding talents in many areas including art, music, creativity, and even sports. But the same issues which impact their academic success can also affect their ability to demonstrates some of their 'talents'. Most gifted LD students are great 'thinkers' but really have difficulty learning and remembering detailed information. So when they attempt to pursue a creative interest, the 'details' often get in the way. Gifted LD students often attempt to jump straight from an 'idea' to the finished 'product', bypassing all of the important steps in between. For example, in the area of music, often an LD student is able to play an instrument at a rather high level 'by ear' but really struggles when forced to actually read the notes. As with reading words, reading musical notes is often a very slow and tedious process for the gifted LD student. A similar issue exists in the area of general creativity or inventiveness. A gifted LD student may come up with a great 'idea' but has considerable difficulty following all of the steps necessary to transform the 'dream' into reality. In sports, an LD student may be a gifted athlete who simply has difficulty remembering the plays, signals, codes, or the rules which may be used. In any of these cases, the learning disability can make it very difficult, if not impossible for a gifted student to really demonstrate all of his or her talents. And because it can be very difficult, or even embarrassing to admit to anyone that they are experiencing a problem, such a student will often just 'give up' rather than asking for help or taking time to work through the problem.
Gifted students, in general, tend to have a very deep awareness of and appreciation for situations around them. They also are often quite sensitive and 'feel' things rather deeply. This often results in considerable concern about world issues and some apprehension about the future. Gifted LD students, in particular, are also naturally very frustrated by the inconsistency in their skills and abilities. At one moment they may feel 'brilliant' while at the next moment they may feel 'stupid'. These students are constantly having their self-esteem challenged both within and outside of school. Over time, these constant challenges will often lead to lack of self-confidence, fear of failure, and generalized feelings of uncertainty and/or apprehension. Such students may become anxious and/or depressed by their difficulties and simply avoid or withdraw from challenging situations. Other students may look for alternative (and sometimes negative) ways of demonstrating their intelligence to others - perhaps using their creativity to create challenges of their own. Sometimes these students become somewhat 'obnoxious' in their efforts to be sure others appreciate their intelligence. In any case, it is very important for parents and teachers to understand and appreciate the special frustrations faced by gifted LD students. With understanding, many of the potential emotional and/or behavioral issues may become much less significant.
As a parent, if you think that your child may fit the classification of 'Gifted LD', there are several ways in which you could proceed. First, you may wish to simply discuss your concerns with the teacher and/or other school personnel. You may find that others have observed the same things and share your concerns. Or you may get additional information which will either support your concerns or lead you in a different direction altogether. If you think that there may be a need for special education intervention, you might wish to pursue a formal evaluation to determine if your child may qualify for some form of special education support. This can either be done by the public school (at no expense to you) or you can choose to pay for a private assessment outside of school. But keep in mind that there may be some reluctance by the school staff to perform an assessment if your child is not really viewed as 'underachieving' in the classroom. In this case you may need to provide supporting documentation about why there really may be underachievement in spite of his/her average to above average classroom performance (i.e. excessive time spent on homework, tutoring outside of school, extra support from parents, etc.). Finally, you may wish to simply discuss your concerns with your child and come up with your own intervention plan. Gifted LD students (and their parents) are often very resourceful once they have a basic idea of where to start.
Return to the LDinfo Web Site to find out about any of the following topics (and more):
Learning disabilities - what is a learning disability (LD or SLD)?
Dyslexia: Dyslexia is a reading disability or reading disorder
Dysgraphia Dysgraphia is a writing disability or disorder
Dyscalculia Dyscalculia is a math disability or disorder
What is an attention deficit disorder (ADD, AD/HD, ADHD)?
Gifted LD: Can a student be gifted and LD?
Emotional/Behavioral issues and LD: Do LD students experience behavior problems or depression?
Section 504: What is a Section 504 plan?
What is special education?
What is processing?
What is a severe discrepancy?
What is a nonverbal learning disability (nonverbal LD or NLD)?
What is a central auditory processing disorder (CAPD)?
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