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Dual Exceptionalities

By — Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), Division of Learning Disabilities (DLD)
Updated on Mar 8, 2010

Gifted students with disabling conditions remain a major group of underserved and understimulated youth (Cline, 1999). The focus on accommodations for their disabilities may preclude the recognition and development of their cognitive abilities. It is not unexpected, then, to find a significant discrepancy between the measured academic potential of these students and their actual performance in the classroom (Whitmore & Maker, 1985). In order for these children to reach their potential, it is imperative that their intellectual strengths be recognized and nurtured, at the same time as their disability is accommodated appropriately.

Assessment

Identification of giftedness in students who are disabled is problematic. The customary identification methods-standardized tests and observational checklists-are inadequate, without major modification. Standard lists of characteristics of gifted students may be inadequate for unmasking hidden potential in children who have disabilities. Children whose hearing is impaired, for example, cannot respond to oral directions, and they may also lack the vocabulary which reflects the complexity of their thoughts. Children whose speech or language is impaired cannot respond to tests requiring verbal responses. Children whose vision is impaired may be unable to respond to certain performance measures, and although their vocabulary may be quite advanced, they may not understand the full meaning of the words they use (e.g., color words). Children with learning disabilities may use high-level vocabulary in speaking but be unable to express themselves in writing, or vice versa. In addition, limited life experiences due to impaired mobility may artificially lower scores (Whitmore & Maker, 1985). Since the population of gifted/disabled students is difficult to locate, they seldom are included in standardized test norming groups, adding to the problems of comparison.

In addition, gifted children with disabilities often use their intelligence to try to circumvent the disability. This may cause both exceptionalities to appear less extreme: the disability may appear less severe because the child is using the intellect to cope, while the efforts expended in that area may hinder other expressions of giftedness.

The following lists are intended to assist parents and teachers in recognizing intellectual giftedness in the presence of a disability. Characteristics of Gifted Students with Specific Disabilities

Gifted Students with Visual Impairment

  • Fast rate of learning
  • Superior memory
  • Superior verbal communication skills and vocabulary
    • advanced problem-solving skills
    • Creative production or thought that may progress more slowly than sighted students in some academic areas
    • Ease in learning Braille
    • Great persistence
    • Motivation to know
    • Sometimes slower rate of cognitive development than sighted students
    • excellent ability to concentrate
      (Whitmore & Maker, 1985)
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