Volume 34, No. 8 September 2003

What makes a great teacher?

Who is learning disabled?


When talent masks learning disability
Print version: page 59

The possibility of no longer using intelligence tests to identify children with learning disabilities won't just affect low-performing students, argue some psychologists. The changes could result in schools failing to identify a particularly hard-to-diagnose population: gifted students with learning disabilities.

Many of these "multiexceptional" youth are already passed over for both gifted and academic support programs because their talents and disabilities often mask each other, says Nancy Robinson, PhD, a University of Washington psychologist who works with gifted children. For example, students who are highly intelligent could compensate for their reading problems by making good guesses.

That's why identification methods that look for intra-individual differences--comparing a child's oral-language and printed-language skills, for example--are more likely to catch a talented student with a learning disability than other methods that compare students' performance with benchmarks for normally achieving peers, says psychologist Julia Osborn, PhD, who works with gifted students in her private practice.

However, some gifted educators worry that new language in the draft version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act will encourage schools to drop identification methods that look for the intra-individual differences--and that even more gifted children will be missed.

"There are so many bright kids who aren't getting any help because they are achieving and reading at grade level when they are capable of much more," Robinson explains. "They'll often be missed because, by hook and by crook, they're able to get some meaning out of the printed word, although by no means are they reading at a level to support their advanced learning abilities."


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© 2003 American Psychological Association