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Overview of the Gifted Learning Disabled Child

Learn about Giftedness with Learning Disabilities


Updated December 16, 2011

Any one exceptionality in a child can present unique challenges for parents and educators. It is especially challenging to meet the needs of children who are twice-exceptional, that is, those who have more than one exceptionality, such as gifted children who also have a learning disability. Educators and parents must strive to meet both sets of needs of these students who are advanced in some ways and significantly delayed in others.

Because of their giftedness, these children can serve as models for schools. For example, they can provide advanced skills and insights for other students. However, because of their learning disability, they will also need specialized instruction and accommodations to address the specific skill deficits they may have. In the best-case scenario, these children would receive the services of gifted/talented certified teachers as well as teachers who are certified in special education. Both teachers should have opportunities to collaborate with each other and the child’s regular education teachers to effectively meet the child’s needs and to provide an appropriately supportive learning environment.

Common characteristics of gifted children include:

  • Advanced thinking skills
  • Advanced vocabulary
  • Above average ability to remember information
  • More interest in adult issues than age level issues
  • Excellent ability to maintain attention to complex tasks or texts
  • Above average creative thinking
  • Ability to express ideas in an advanced manner
  • Exceptional problem-solving skills
  • Needs to be challenged to maintain interest
  • A dislike of “busy” work and excessive practice of skills already mastered
  • Emotionally sensitive, inquisitive, and having strong opinions
  • May not be interested in pleasing the teacher
Children are typically identified as gifted as the result of exceptionally high intelligence and/or achievement test scores as well as criteria such as teacher observation and parental reports. Although their potential for success in school is very high, they may also have struggles with learning and achieving. This is especially true when they also have a learning disability. Common characteristics of gifted and learning disabled students include:
  • Low levels of tolerance for frustration
  • Low self-esteem
  • Severe skill deficits in one or more subject areas in contrast to exceptional talent in other areas
  • Difficulty with motivation
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Emotional sensitivity over skill deficits because of awareness of the implications of those weaknesses
  • Failure to complete tasks, especially in the area of weakness
  • Poor problem-solving and thinking skills in the area of weakness
  • May have behavior problems
Gifted and learning disabled children are at risk for not having their strengths and weaknesses accurately identified because of the complexity of their needs. For example, while they may have an excellent understanding of complex ideas, they may not be able to express their thoughts effectively in writing or verbally. They may be exceptional readers and writers but have limited math skills. They may be advanced in math but unable to read at grade level or write effectively with accurate mechanics or content. Other problems such as memory or attention deficits may also be present.

Helpful Strategies for Serving Gifted Learning Disabled Children:

  • Ensure that the children have opportunities to work with teachers who have training and skills in both their areas of strength and their areas of weakness. It is helpful to ensure that these teachers have the opportunity to collaborate with each other and any regular education teachers the students may have to ensure there is communication about the students’ needs.
  • Have a thorough evaluation of the child’s strengths and weaknesses, which should include intelligence testing, achievement testing, observations from parents and teachers, adaptive behavior, assessment of any problem behaviors, and when appropriate, input from the child.
  • Provide learning experiences that challenge the child and enable him to learn through multiple teaching modalities. Provide opportunities for hands-on learning and multisensory experiences.
  • Allow the student to make choices of learning activities when possible.
  • Use the student’s personal interests in the curriculum.
  • Provide advanced learning opportunities with supports designed by special education teachers to ensure that the child has access to higher levels of learning with adequate support for his specific skill deficits.

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