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Gifted and LD
Q: My nine-year-old is gifted with a learning disability. This often allows him to mask his problem areas. How do I get teachers to realize he still needs help? After county testing, they have agreed he has a writing problem. However, I think he also has a reading problem. He's able to comprehend and read to himself books such as Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, etc. But he struggles to read easy readers out loud.
When he's tested for reading comprehension, he scores at a ninth-grade level. When he's tested orally, he struggles to hit a fifth-grade level. He also has a hard time with spelling -- he gets straight A's because he can memorize the words for the week's spelling test. A week later he has no clue how to spell them. He hates to write and is struggling to put things on paper, yet he has a great imagination and the words are there. He struggles with getting words off the board and onto the paper.
I know he needs more help, but I'm not sure specifically what to ask for. Teachers want to put if off as an attitude issue, but I know he's frustrated. Can you recommend a course of action?
A: I don't think there is anyone more difficult to get appropriate services for than the child who is both gifted and has a learning disability. Many of these children don't meet the "discrepancy" formula for the difference between age- or grade-appropriate achievement and actual performance, and they don't get the services they need. The behaviors you are describing, particularly the links between poor spelling and difficulties with reading "easy" books, are very common in children with learning disabilities.
I would suggest talking to your child's principal or guidance counselor and see if they might bring in someone to talk to the staff in general about learning disabilities. A good resource would be the Learning Disabilities Association (1-888-3200-6710) or the International Dyslexia Association (1-800-ABCD123). These organizations have branches throughout the United States where you can get more information about learning disabilities as well as professional referrals for help. Many branches also hold regular meetings and conferences that can be really eye-opening for professionals. You might also visit the website for Smart Kids with LD and subscribe to their newsletter. At the very least, you can share the information from this newsletter with your child's teachers.
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For more than 20 years, Eileen Marzola has worked with children and adults with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders, and with their parents and teachers. She has been a regular education classroom teacher, a consultant teacher/resource teacher, an educational evaluator/diagnostician, and has also taught graduate students at the university level. Marzola is an adjunct assistant professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Hunter College of the City University of New York. She also maintains a private practice in the evaluation and teaching of children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.