They Are and What to Do for Them
by Sue Douglass Fliess
She has a vocabulary two levels
above her peers, but cannot calculate 4 + 6. He can read a symphony but cannot
hold a pencil to write his own name. Are they gifted or learning disabled? The
answer is, both.
Gifted children with learning
disabilities (GT/LD) are known as "twice exceptional." Contrary to
popular belief, it’s actually a common issue. What is uncommon is recognizing
that the child is twice exceptional in the first place.
Until fairly recently, finding a kid
marked both “gifted” and “learning disabled” was extremely rare. Mostly because
no one was looking for it. In the school environment, where kids are routinely
put on a track marked “honors” or “remedial,” “special needs” or “college
prep,” evaluators rarely looked for combination children. They didn’t expect a
gifted child to have dyslexia, or realize the child with ADHD might also be
brilliant at calculus.
Sally Reis, principal investigator
for the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University
of Connecticut, says that “identifying GT/LD children is very hard because they
look to the rest of the world like average achievers. Their superior gifts may
be compensating for and masking their learning disability.” And in turn, their
disabilities may disguise their giftedness.
In fact, although estimates say that
as many as 20 percent of students have some form of learning difference,
most twice exceptional children are never identified. Parents and educators
tend to throw all their strength at “curing” the disability, dismissing the
hidden talents they discover along the way. When they do recognize giftedness,
they expect kids to “work harder” or “pull it together.” Reis says, “It’s like
saying to a blind person, if you really work hard at seeing, you’ll be able to
So how can we help a child we
suspect is twice exceptional? The first step is diagnosis. Qualities and
symptoms will differ, depending on the disability holding them back, but here
are a few signs common in GT/LD children:
- An outstanding talent or ability
- Discrepancy between expected and actual achievement
- Difficulty getting along with peers
- Low self-esteem
- Evidence of underachieving
- The appearance of laziness and an inability to focus or
One of the main problems for twice
exceptional children is the fact that today’s schools are very heavily focused
on reading and writing. Unfortunately, these are two of the most common
problematic areas for gifted children with learning disabilities. Quite often
it is difficult for them to learn and excel in a heavily linguistic and
auditory school environment. There are several things, according to Reis, that
parents can do to help them.
For a child struggling with reading
- Supplement his reading assignments with multimedia
materials if available. For example, have him watch the DVD of the novel,
in addition to reading it.
- Tape-record reading material for her to listen to while
she reads the printed text of assigned books. Or, if you can find it, buy
- Include high interest selections from magazines and
newspapers in line with your child’s reading assignments.
- Have her paraphrase material orally.
- When possible, modify the reading material. For
instance, select shorter books for book reports or books with larger
- Avoid reading situations which might make him
uncomfortable, like reading aloud in a group.
For a child with writing challenges
- Encourage him to keep a daily journal in which writing
and spelling is not corrected.
- Teach her to use available strategies for spell-checking.
- Encourage the use of concept mapping (a technique for
visualizing the relations between concepts, in which, for example a
"tree" or "plant" might be connected with labeled
- Tape-record writing assignments.
- Make sure she proofreads her work.
- Change the format of the materials from which he copies
(for example, photocopy his assignment so it has larger print).
- Use a frame or window to cover all material except the
sentence, problem, or question at hand.
Twice exceptional children don’t
need to be "fixed." They’re not broken. They simply need your
guidance as to how best to forge ahead. Recognizing your child’s strengths in
other areas and focusing your attention on those gifts will empower the child
to make his or her rightful contribution to society. These children are bright,
sensitive, creative individuals who have a historical track record of achieving
greatness in the world. After all, if it weren’t for them, there’d be no
Symphony No. 9, no sunshine of your life. These kids are here to stay. Signed,
sealed, delivered, they’re yours.