Now imagine what happens when a person is exceptionally gifted in a particular area such as math, reading, instrumental music or art but shows significant and unexpected weakness in other areas of learning. And now imagine what happens when a person has extraordinary knowledge and accelerated capacity to learn across many areas of content while having pronounced areas of weakness in others, such as reading, spelling or math computation. Unfortunately, what happens most often is frustration! Read on.
Learning Disabilities and Giftedness...Together?
Use the words "LD" and "reading" in the same sentence and people are likely to shake their heads knowingly. Try the terms "LD" and "math" together and there's a good chance the listener will have a realistic picture of a student who struggles with numerical skills. Put "LD" and "gifted" in the same sentence and be prepared for puzzled looks, even signs of disbelief.
Some parents and practitioners believe that giftedness belongs in it's own "special" category and that students who qualify as 'gifted and talented' and who still struggle with learning are victims of school systems that don't acknowledge their special gifts, keeping them shackled to an unchallenging curricula and creating barriers to learning, rather than recognizing their potential and designing ways to accelerate their learning. If we accept that "exceptional children" are those who are so sufficiently different from "typical" children that they need special educational adaptations to realize their potential, perhaps including giftedness as an educational handicapping condition is not so far off the mark!
Giftedness is Not a Handicapping Condition...or is it?
Almost half of the states nation-wide recognize giftedness as a category of educational need (not necessarily through special education services), and the types of services and supports available to these students is even more varied than those afforded to students who qualify for 'typical' special education services. Add LD to the mix and the landscape becomes even more confusing. Services for children with learning disabilities are covered under federal law (IDEA 2004), but this law does not address giftedness.
There is no comparable federal legislation that addresses the rights and responsibilities of children who are both gifted and disabled. Whether through discrepancy-model approaches or, more recently, RTI approaches, school systems effectively identify and provide services to students with learning disabilities whose learning progress is found to be significantly lower than their ability level.
Except for those whose progress is so delayed that they are unable to compensate for (or mask) their disability, students with LD who are also gifted rarely meet the criteria for special education services. And when they finally are identified as eligible for special education help, they are often already in the later grades, swamped with the demands of content area instruction and lagging behind in grades and assignments because of the intensity of their work load. Reluctant to 'double label' these students, school districts are often at a loss as to what, if any, special services to provide.