Characteristics of Gifted Children with Disabilities
Silverman (1989) discovered that, when comparing lists of characteristics of underachieving gifted children and of gifted LD children, the key characteristics are identical, including evidence of lack of social skills, social isolation, unrealistic self-expectations, perfectionist tendencies, distractibility, frustration in response to school demands, low self-esteem, and failure to complete assignments. Both populations are usually identified by the discrepancy between aptitude and achievement. Silverman asked, “When we look at a student who won’t do the work, how do we know we aren’t actually seeing a child who can’t do the work?” (p. 37).
It seems increasingly possible that students who are LD and gifted either may be identified only for the LD class, with the giftedness masked by the learning disability, or may be using giftedness to compensate for the learning disability so successfully that both conditions go undetected and the student continues functioning at or near grade level.
The children within the group called gifted/learning disabled (GLD) show high verbal expressive ability and good conceptual understanding concurrently with significant academic underachievement, frustration, and lack of motivation (Crawford & Snart, 1994). Their metacognitive performance resembles that of gifted students more than that of LD students (Hannah & Shore, 1995), and fear of failure, inconsistent social skills, and fluctuating self-image are found to be other examples of the unique characteristics of this population (Vespi & Yewchuk, 1992). GLD students resemble gifted students in positive emotional characteristics and nongifted LD students in negative academic characteristics. They are primarily internally motivated, share gifted children’s trait of independence, and accurately interpret and use nonverbal communication. Like nongifted LD children, they show frustration and anxiety about academic tasks, avoid or hurry through such tasks, and have difficulty concentrating. However, they are not as rejected by their peers, nor have they learned helplessness.
Self-efficacy is a person’s perception of the ability of self to organize and complete an action. It is self-efficacy or belief in self that determines academic performance and career choice. It is this very quality that is found to be significantly lower in the GLD child. These children may fail easier items on a test and then pass far more difficult ones.
Twice-exceptional is a term used to identify students who are gifted and mildly to moderately disabled (LD, communication disordered, and/or behavior disordered). A project, jointly sponsored by the University of New Mexico, University’s Department of Special Education, and the Albuquerque Public Schools, was established to identify, serve, and evaluate the progress of twice-exceptional students (Nielsen, Higgins, Hammond, & Williams, 1993). The development of a detailed screening and identification model has led to high rates of referral and identification—over 80% of the children identified as exceptional were found to be gifted and learning disabled or communication disordered. The students attend general education, special education, and gifted education classes in a blended program design. Teachers are better prepared to meet the diverse needs of these children because of their ongoing training as part of the project.
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