Nature’s Incongruity

By Martha Gonzalez Ferraro

The concept of being both learning disabled and gifted and talented appears to be an incongruous pun of nature.  The paradox of two such diverse conditions being found in the same individual is so seemingly absurd that, for many years, the co-existence of these was not even considered.  Research has shown, however, that approximately 4% of children identified with learning disabilities can be found to be gifted – a percentage equal to that found in the normal group!

Simply identifying gifted individuals presents great difficulties; the situation is compounded in attempts to find individuals who are both learning disabled and gifted.  Why is this so?

Individually administered IQ tests (the most accurate) are very costly; the majority of the pupils with learning disabilities who are also gifted perform at grade level (or slightly above); many individuals with learning disabilities who are gifted (because of their giftedness) are able to mask areas of incompetence by developing coping mechanisms; and, all too frequently, an obviously bright child, due to processing irregularities, is misdiagnosed as being emotionally handicapped because of apparent socialization problems.  Children with learning disabilities, in general, (even those with slightly below average intelligence) are able to perceive that they are different and will frequently try to disguise their feelings of inadequacy in various ways.  The child with learning disabilities who is also gifted, having a greater ability to perceive these differences, will be even more likely to adopt coping mechanisms.  In addition, the child must also deal with the differentness of being gifted!

For instance, the child will claim that a school assignment is too dumb or will purposely complete it sloppily; may adopt the role of class clown; may use proficiency in verbal skills to conceal areas of disability; will often avoid challenging situations that are actually within the scope of the child’s abilities for fear of having a positive self-image threatened.

In their perplexity over the dichotomy of their abilities, some children with learning disabilities who area also gifted may hide their failure to achieve in some areas by becoming experts in their areas of high functioning or by the use of verbal intellectualism.

To preserve their delicate hold on a positive self-image, many of these children will project their own weaknesses by focusing their attention on the shortcomings of the school system, school programs, instructors, parents, etc.

In conjunction with the need to mask areas of disability, many children with learning disabilities who are also gifted show an inability to accept success.  If they succeed at a given task, they know that a new, more difficult task will follow.  In anticipation of future failure, many children with learning disabilities who are gifted will revert to past negative behaviour patterns in order to protect their own self-images.  Some may even simply refuse to do the work assigned.  (I did not try; therefore, I did not fail.)

In addition, because of difficulty in processing socialization cues, a child with learning disabilities who is gifted may not distinguish between positive and negative attention, and as a result of this incapacity, will often evoke negative attention: again, reinforcing feelings of inadequacy.

The unique problems presented by the difficulties inherent in the identification, education, and self-actualization of children with learning disabilities who are gifted, obviously, requires the need for extensive program adjustments in order that they fully develop to their maximum potential.  Such programs must focus on developing areas of strength while offering remediation in areas of disability.

Paul R. Daniels, a noted researcher, lists three basic options in program planning for this population of students:

1.  Self-contained class for children with learning disabilities who are gifted (with multi-grade grouping to be cost effective);

2.  Regular gifted class placement with pull-out program to a regular classroom (or the reverse, depending upon the present functioning level of the child);

3.  Regular class or gifted class placement (depending upon functioning level) with a pull-out program to a remedial program for children with learning disabilities who are gifted.

Daniels notes the need for:

1.  A teacher who has the appropriate training and personality to meet the unique needs of the children;

2.  A wide range of teacher discretion formulating a program that the teacher feels best meets the needs of the individual child;

3.  A frequent evaluation of the child in order to ascertain any changes in his/her needs as progress is made.

Research has shown that most children with learning disabilities have concentration disorders.  Hence, a multi-sensory approach to instruction is valuable – not only for overcoming a particular handicap, but also because the employment of three or more senses forces increased concentration.

In certain cases, rather than attempting to correct a disability through remedial instruction, it may be more appropriate to use alternative means of instruction.  For children with learning disabilities who are gifted and who cannot read on a level consistent with their abilities, tapes, lectures, audio-visual materials, etc., may be more suitable and highly effective as compared to the use of restrictive remedial programs.  Many times, the area of disability cannot be corrected and the remedial program will merely compound a child’s feelings of frustration and failure.

It would appear, then, that the most productive program would be one in which the child with learning disabilities who is gifted would receive needed skills instruction in those areas which can be improved and would receive appropriate counselling in order to understand that such seemingly tedious programming is necessary in order to enable him/her to function at a higher level.  The child would be placed in a program aimed at developing the gifted potential in those areas in which he/she can function successfully.

Reprinted with permission from LDA Newsbriefs

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