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Twice Gifted: The curse of the intelligent child

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Skiing at VallecitoWhat does twice-gifted look like?

In an article about gifted children with learning disabilities, I felt as if I were reading about my son.  The author described the following characteristics of a learning disabled gifted student:

has difficulty dealing with sequential tasks but has superior abstract reasoning;                      

– exhibits creativity and insight but often appears distracted,

– may have an advanced vocabulary but can rarely complete assignments

To be clearly superior in some areas and truly challenged in others is crazy making.

from Characteristics of Gifted Children with Learning Disabilities, Written by:  Mayflor Markusic, Edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch, Updated Oct 27, 2010

Written by Don't give up

March 14, 2012 at 12:19 am

What is a learning disability (LD)?

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learning disabilities plural of learn·ing dis·a·bil·i·ty

Noun:  A condition giving rise to difficulties in acquiring knowledge and skills to the normal level expected of those of the same age.  http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Learning+disabilities

Look for a dictionary definition of learning disabilities and most are quite similar to that cited above usually leaving me to wonder:  “What the heck are they talking about?”

Perhaps a better definition is that provided by the particularly good website of the organization ld online:

What is a Learning Disability?

“A learning disability is a neurological disorder. In simple terms, a learning disability results from a difference in the way a person’s brain is “wired.” Children with learning disabilities are as smart or smarter than their peers. But they may have difficulty reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling and/or organizing information if left to figure things out by themselves or if taught in conventional ways.”  http://www.ldonline.org/ldbasics/whatisld

I really just throw these in here as a place to start thinking about the blog title question and to introduce you to a great resource on learning disabilities.

I recently found my favorite, and, I think, the best definition of a learning disability on the website for the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET).  If you take a moment to think about it, these are the folks in the field working day in and day out with people who have some characteristic(s) that makes a typical classroom setting a less than optimum learning environment.  Without question, these “typical classroom settings” can be excellent and have exceptional teachers; it is the student who needs some different approach to learning.  This is the realm of the special education teacher. They know what they’re talking about.

Here is NASET’s definition of learning disabilities:

Definition of Learning Disabilities

“Learning disability (LD) is a general term that describes specific kinds of learning problems. A learning disability can cause a person to have trouble learning and using certain skills. The skills most often affected are reading, writing, listening, speaking, reasoning, and doing math. Learning disabilities vary from person to person…

LD is a group of disorders that affects people’s ability to either interpret what they see and hear or to link information from different parts of the brain. These limitations can show up in many ways: as specific difficulties with spoken and written language, coordination, self-control, or attention. Such difficulties extend to schoolwork and can impede learning to read, write, or do math…”  (Blogger’s note:  An example of a learning disability which is relatively well known is dyslexia, a reading disability.)

“A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to receive, process, store, and respond to information. The term learning disability is used to describe the seemingly unexplained difficulty a person of at least average intelligence has in acquiring basic academic skills. These skills are essential for success at school and work, and for coping with life in general. “LD” does not stand for a single disorder. It is a term that refers to a group of disorders.

Interestingly, there is no clear and widely accepted definition of learning disabilities. Because of the multidisciplinary nature of the field, there is ongoing debate on the issue of definition, and currently at least twelve definitions appear in the professional literature. There are several technical definitions offered by various health and education sources. Overall, most experts agree on the following descriptions:

  • Individuals with LD have difficulties with academic achievement and progress.
  • Discrepancies exist between a person’s potential for learning and what that person actually learns.
  • Individuals with LD show an uneven pattern of development (language development, physical development, academic development, and/or perceptual development).
  • Learning problems are not due to environmental disadvantage.
  • Learning problems are not due to mental retardation or emotional disturbance.
  • Learning disabilities can affect one’s ability to read, write, speak, spell, compute math, and reason. They also can affect a person’s attention, memory, coordination, social skills, and emotional maturity.
  • Individuals with LD have normal intelligence, or are sometimes even intellectually gifted.
  • Individuals with LD have differing capabilities, with difficulties in certain academic areas but not in others.
  • Learning disabilities have an effect on either input (the brain’s ability to process incoming information) or output (the person’s ability to use information in practical skills, such as reading, math, spelling, etc.).

Research suggests that learning disabilities are caused by differences in how a person’s brain works and how it processes information. Children with LD are not stupid or lazy. In fact, they usually have average or above average intelligence, but their brains process information differently.  A learning disability affects the way kids of average to above average intelligence receive, process, or express information. Even if the person learns to compensate and, in effect, overcomes the disorder, the difference in brain processing lasts throughout life.

Important Point to Note

Knowing that a child has a learning disability tells you only that the child is experiencing some difficulty processing information. You must learn much more about the child before you can determine how much difficulty, the type of difficulties, and/or the impact the disability has on specific academic subjects or tasks.”         http://www.naset.org/2522.0.html

This may seem like a lot of information.  It’s really the tip of a very large iceberg.  I have read extensively in books, websites and journal articles over more than a dozen years and have talked to and, in essence, interviewed scores of individuals about learning disabilities.  All this in an effort to understand a couple of things:  why our son was having significant difficulties in school and what a psychologist meant when he told us that our son had a problem with “planning”.  (The psychologist said:  “Planning is planning.” Actually, there’s really quite a bit more to planning.  It’s a type of learning disability.  Look for my upcoming blog about executive function.)  I think I’m beginning to understand what a learning disability is.

Thanks for reading!

Written by Don't give up

February 25, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Accessing untapped talent, mining precious gifts

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Specific learning abilities require specific instruction

For how long have individuals with untold/untallied intellectual gifts been allowed to fall through the cracks, slip through our fingers, not share their talents with the world because we have neglected to provide them with the educational services that they need?  Special education services that exist and are available to all who are able to access them.  What’s the missing link?

As a resident of Salt Lake City, I have excellent access to The Sundance Film Festival that erupts in our vicinity every January.  It’s hugely exciting and I rarely take advantage of it.  This year, with my focus on my son’s unidentified and misunderstood learning needs, I was keenly interested in a film that looks at the learning disability known as dyslexia.  “The D Word:  Understanding Dyslexia” shows what dyslexia is, how it impacts the lives of those who are dyslexic and how Kyle Redford and others have dealt with the challenge of being dyslexic. As the understanding of invisible, intellectual learning disabilities has clearly become imperative for me, I had no difficulty getting a seat to view the movie.  What I saw was a student, approximately my son’s age, who struggled during his pre-secondary educational career with a learning disability, finally get the specific instruction he needed to learn.  The instruction was based on the way his brain is wired.  And his experience is so similar in so many ways to that of my son’s.

Synergy in full swing, an op-ed in the New York Times Sunday Review on February 5 (“The Upside of Dyslexia,” by Annie Murphy Paul) shows that while individuals with dyslexia clearly struggle with reading, they also can be intellectually gifted learners.  In education, this is known as being “twice-exceptional”:  students who are superior in some areas of educational performance while struggling in others.   As identified by Eide and Eide in “The Mislabeled Child” (2006), intellectually gifted individuals with learning disabilities often suffer very acutely because their extreme intelligence does not help them make sense of their significant challenges yet they are highly aware of having difficulties.

“Individuals identified as intellectually gifted may also have LD (learning disabilites).  Although twice-exceptional individuals may appear to be functioning adequately in the classroom, their performance may be far below what they are capable of, given their intellectual ability. As a consequence of the students’ ability to compensate for their LD-related challenges until the volume or intensity of work or assessment and grading procedures pose barriers to demonstrating their learning or accomplishing required tasks, educators often overlook these students until late in their academic careers….students with LD require instruction and support that are differentiated in ways that address their specific learning needs.

Common misunderstandings can result in policies and practices that create barriers to appropriate services for individuals with LD. Some misconceptions are clearly mistaken and harmful (e.g., individuals with LD are lazy, or students with LD simply need greater motivation to succeed).”

(From:  Learning Disabilities: Implications for Policy Regarding Research and Practice: A Report by the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities March 2011.  Learning Disability Quarterly, Nov2011, Vol. 34 Issue 4, p237-241, 5p)

Fortunately, there is substantive research and understanding of the kids out there with superior intellectual capabilities coupled with significant learning deficiencies.  There are also comprehensive diagnostic evaluations to identify their talents and disabilities.  Why then are we not yet able to meet the educational needs of these students?  In my experience, the disconnect is between the testers and the schools.  Once the strengths and limitations of a twice-exceptional student have been identified, someone must be able to take the test findings and provide an appropriate learning environment for the student.  A school counselor or academic advisor may be the person who can bridge that gap.

Assouline, Nicpon and Huber make a great case for developing the role of the school counselor to include understanding of twice-exceptionality and to “act as agents of change. For example, integrate twice-exceptionality into professional development goals and collaborate with other support staff to provide pertinent in-service for school personnel.”  (The Impact of Vulnerabilities and Strengths on the Academic Experiences of Twice-Exceptional Students: A Message to School Counselors. By: Assouline, Susan G., Nicpon, Megan Foley, Huber, Dawn H., Professional School Counseling, 10962409, Oct2006, Vol. 10, Issue 1)  We have all of the tools needed – the studies, the testing, the counselors, the educators – to make a difference for these kids.  We must develop the skills of an agent to coordinate the efforts of the test providers and our educators.

We know so much and we can do so much more both to staunch the suffering and to mine the gifts.

Written by Don't give up

February 24, 2012 at 1:47 am

Developing a New Paradigm: An Educational Imperative

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The critical role of the learning specialist

For our educators to meet the needs of our students, it is imperative that specialists be available to interpret academic and intelligence evaluations both in public and private schools.  To suggest that students undertake these evaluations without follow-up or corrective intervention, is unconscionable.  When no action is taken to remediate for learning challenges identified by testing, the student is open to unnecessary harm:  intellectual and emotional.  The student is left to flounder without understanding of why he is unable to be successful in school and is subject to ridicule, frustration, depression and despair.  Through the federal government, excellent resources are available for students with learning disabilities.  We must provide the means, in every school, for these students to have access to these resources.

Written by Don't give up

February 24, 2012 at 12:12 am

In support of all learning abilities

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Durango Silverton Narrow GaugeKnowledge is power

My being “embedded” where my son lives stems from years of searching, frustration and heartache around his invisible challenges with school.  It hasn’t really been public until now as he was angry, checked out, unwilling to talk and did not want anybody to know that he was having a hard time.  Pieces of that changed at Christmas; he expressed his desire to go to and succeed in college but couldn’t understand why he just couldn’t do it.  He asked if I would come out to help him. It would require more testing and he was willing to do it.  Through the disabilities office at the local college, we found a learning specialist and a school psychologist who would administer a set of tests (like those he had already taken in elementary, middle and high school).  The difference this time is that this team was able to evaluate the test results, interpret them for and present them to us and suggest ways in which he can get help at school with his academic efforts and challenges.

Last night, the learning specialist and school psychologist clearly showed my son that, in addition to a keen intellect, he has two significant and manageable learning disabilities.  Top that off with a lifelong significant sleep disorder and it’s amazing that he’s hung in there for this long.  We celebrated!  As he said, he’s ditching science (too much memorization) for conceptual study because that’s where he ranks in the 99th percentile!  He totally got it.

Written by Don't give up

February 23, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Existing opportunity for people of all abilities

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“People with disabilities represent a critical talent pool that is underserved and underutilized,” said Shirley Davis, SHRM’s director of global diversity and inclusion. “There is an opportunity for HR and diversity professionals to really leverage programs like this ( the UCLA Leadership Institute for Managers with Disabilities). We hope that other universities will look at potential ways to build this into their curriculum.”

from Targeted Development for Managers with Disabilities, Pamela Babcock, 7/21/2010, The Society for Human Resource Management website: http://www.shrm.org/hrdisciplines/Diversity/Articles/Pages/ManagerswithDisabilities.aspx

Written by Don't give up

February 22, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Posted in Education

Federal civil rights laws and learning abilities

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Appropriate education is a Federal civil right

Remarkable opportunities already exist to provide all of our students access to an education “appropriate to their individual needs”.  These opportunities are specified by the laws summarized in:  A Guide to Disability Rights Laws, September 2005 by U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section.  The guide provides an overview of Federal civil rights laws that ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities.  Reproduction of this document is encouraged.  With laws already in place to provide appropriate education to all students, we must look at what rights these laws provide and if there is a disconnect between the provisions and the current conditions found in our educational systems.

Current civil rights provisions for individuals with disabilities

Two sections of the Disability Rights laws are of particular interest when considering appropriate education.  All learning abilities are already provided for by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004.  I have identified specific elements of these laws which apply to students with learning disabilities.

The following provisions of  Americans with Disabilities Act are applicable to and will be of interest to all parents, guardians and students:

  • To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability.  The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.
  • ADA Title II: State and Local Government Activities:  covers all activities of State and local governments regardless of the government entity’s size or receipt of Federal funding.
  • ADA Title III: Public Accommodations:  covers businesses and nonprofit service providers that are public accommodations, privately operated entities offering certain types of courses and examinations, privately operated transportation, and commercial facilities. Public accommodations are private entities… such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools
  • Courses and examinations related to professional, educational, or trade-related applications, licensing, certifications, or credentialing must be provided in a place and manner accessible to people with disabilities, or alternative accessible arrangements must be offered.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act makes the following provisions for all students:

  • Requires public schools to make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment appropriate to their individual needs.
  • IDEA requires public school systems to develop appropriate Individualized Education Programs (IEP’s) for each child. The specific special education and related services outlined in each IEP reflect the individualized needs of each student.

A point of particular interest which is not included in the summary of IDEA in the Guide to Disabilities Rights Laws is the provision of “Child Find” which specifies that public school districts are responsible for identifying all students with disabilities within their districts, regardless of whether they are attending public schools, since private institutions may not be funded for providing accommodations under IDEA.  What this tells us is that students with learning disabilities who attend private schools must also be identified.  With identification of a child’s learning needs, an appropriate physical learning environment can be determined.

Current conditions in the educational system

Current conditions for meeting the provisions of disabilities civil rights within our schools vary widely.  Disconnects exist in identifying impairments, covering activities related to impairments, providing examinations by all schools, and assuring that all students of all learning abilities be identified within their school districts whether they are attending public or private schools.  These rights are provided for in Federal civil rights legislation.  The opportunity to meet the learning needs of all students is available.  Further review of current conditions to identify where disconnects exist between the laws and practice is imperative to an equitable educational system.  A rudimentary reordering of resources withing our existing disabilities rights system can provide successful learning environments for all of our students.

Following is a link to the summaries of ADA and IDEA in Guide to Disability Rights Laws:  http://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm#anchor65310

Written by Don't give up

February 22, 2012 at 4:45 pm