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Dyslexia and Giftedness
Q: My seven-year-old is having problems in reading and was tested for dyslexia. His math ability is excellent. His vocabulary is incredible, and I know he is most likely to be gifted, like his two older brothers, who are also dyslexic. The stories he makes up can take you places you never dreamed of. What I'm concerned about is that the test for the gifted program comes up at the end of second grade. With his reading problems, my son might not get a chance to take the test, and if they do let him, the reading part will bring his score down.
A: As you have experienced, dyslexia and giftedness can coexist in the same child. When children are identified as both gifted and dyslexic, it is appropriate to provide services in both areas.
The simplest analogy I can provide for this is one from medicine. If you showed up at your doctor's office with a broken leg and pneumonia, would the doctor choose to treat the pneumonia but not set the broken leg? Of course not! Both conditions merit treatment, and both dyslexia and giftedness require intervention as well.
Do contact your school about having your youngest child tested. At that time, ask to make an appointment with the psychologist or other professional doing the testing. (In some schools, the counselor coordinates testing.) Share your family history and indicate that you believe this child may be both gifted and dyslexic, and that, if so, you would like to see him receive services for both issues. Once the testing is completed, the school will usually hold a school building-level committee meeting (or other type of team meeting) to decide on the most appropriate interventions for your child. Specialists from gifted education, regular education, and special education should be present, as should you and the person who did the testing. Together, you can develop an effective educational program that addresses both strengths and weaknesses.
Two books you might find interesting are The Gift of Dyslexia: Why Some of the Smartest People Can't Read and How They Can Learn by Ronald D. Davis and Eldon M. Braun, and The Pretenders: Gifted People Who Have Difficulty Learning by Barbara P. Guyer.
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Rita Culross is Associate Dean, College of Education, and Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Curriculum and Instruction at Louisiana State University. Culross has served as the consulting school psychologist for a public school elementary gifted program, and has written a book and several journal articles on gifted education.