Being Gifted vs. Having a Learning Disability

When evaluating a student’s potential for learning, many educators often focus on IQ (intelligence quotient) to determine if a child is gifted and/or possess a learning disability. However, students that fall into either category often require a similar level of support.

What is the definition of gifted?  There is no uniform definition and those that exist are equally diverse. Definitions of giftedness allow for the framework of educational programs in our schools and since no state has the same definition, programs for gifted students will vary as well.   Basically, gifted students are those who display or have evidence of high achievement capabilities in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership or specific academic fields.

Much like gifted students, those diagnosed with learning struggles or disabilities often possess above average levels of intelligence, but they find it difficult to perform at a level their potential would otherwise indicate.  They may have problems completing their work or communicating in a crowded classroom. Some require and do obtain special accommodations to overcome their learning challenges. Others, because of their intellectual prowess, plod along working harder than their peers to be successful.

What is the definition of a learning disability?  In general, the term means a measured deficit in one or more basic psychological processes involving the understanding or use of language, spoken or written, that when present, affects the ability to listen, think, verbalize, read, write, spell or do mathematics.

A learning disability is neurologically based.  As the brain is made up of millions of neural pathways and,  in individuals with learning disabilities, the brain’s synapses fail to communicate efficiently.  These “glitches” can result in difficulty with reading, comprehension, writing and/or arithmetic.  Common names for learning disabilities include Dyslexia, Auditory Processing Disorder, Dyspraxia, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia.

With the advent of functional MRI’s and brain imaging, the causes of learning disabilities are becoming better understood.  The research is showing that there is low brain activity in certain parts of the brain that affects an individual’s ability to process language necessary for learning.  The research is also showing improvement in those areas once brain training interventions are utilized.

Much like students that have learning disabilities, gifted students also face their own academic and social challenges. Often these students have problems coping with being labeled as gifted and will underachieve on purpose. Signs that a gifted student is underachieving include lack of interest in school, turning in incomplete homework and earning lower grades.  Please note, lack of interest in school can also be caused by a student being bored and not adequately challenged.

Many gifted children also feel pressure to live up to the expectations of their parents, teachers and even themselves. As a result, gifted students will deal with their unique abilities in different ways. Some will avoid being a part of advanced-level groups or programs, while others use their abilities to excel in academics and extracurricular activities.

At first glance, gifted children may seem vastly different than those possessing a learning disability. However, many students with learning disabilities are gifted in intelligence. At Learning Strategies, we will design a program and provide a learning environment that fosters success and supports each student’s unique learning challenges and strengths.