The Challenge of Giftedness/LD: Frustration, Creativity, and Resilience

gifted/LDThe most frustrated kids I know fit the giftedness/LD profile. They have exceptionally advanced abilities in some areas (aka, ‘giftedness’) and problems in other areas (aka, ‘learning disabled,’ or ‘LD’).

It can take a long time before parents and teachers figure out the giftedness/LD situation, if they ever do. By then, too often, the child hates school, and is deeply unhappy. Her self-esteem is non-existent, she’s having trouble making friends, she feels like nothing’s good in her life. She’s on track for leaving school as quickly as she can, and she may or may not find career fulfilment.The giftedness/LD combination usually shows up in one of these patterns:

  1. The giftedness masks the learning problems. Parents and teachers see the child as capable, but lazy or noncompliant: ‘If Sammy worked harder, he could be a straight-A student.’
  2. The giftedness and learning problems mask each other. Parents and teachers see the child as average in her abilities. The child is frustrated and unhappy, but people attribute that to psychological or emotional problems, rather than a combination of two exceptionalities at war with each other.
  3. The learning disabilities mask the giftedness. Parents and teachers focus all their attention on remedying the child’s learning problems. The child’s giftedness is invisible and ignored. School is unremitting drudgery.

When I encounter kids with giftedness/LD profiles in my private practice, it’s usually because of parents’ or teachers’ concerns about learning problems. The nature and extent of the giftedness is a big surprise to everyone, especially the child. That being said, there is usually someone in the child’s life—one of the parents, a grandparent, or a neighbour—who has suspected giftedness.

If you have an unhappy and frustrated child in your life, and you think it might be caused by the giftedness/LD combination, you can help him or her thrive by following these recommendations:

  1. Look for areas of enjoyment. Regardless of the cause, a child who is frustrated and unhappy needs to find activities that make him feel good. If he enjoys movies, take him to movies. Get him books and other materials on movies and film-making. Give him opportunities to develop these areas further.
  2. Support the child in developing her interests into competence. A child who experiences herself as competent in one area that matters to her is better able to manage frustrations in other areas. She’s also far likelier to succeed academically and in relationships.
  3. Emphasize the child’s strengths and NOT her weaknesses. The child with giftedness/LD should NOT be in a class for kids with learning problems, unless the teacher is ready, willing, and able to work with giftedness, too. The child can begin to work on areas of weakness once she’s feeling confident and motivated, which will happen as she develops her strengths.
  4. Provide the latest in technological aids. Most kids with giftedness/LD have problems doing their written work. Sometimes that’s because of handwriting issues, sometimes it’s about spelling (usually it’s both), and sometimes it’s something else. Regardless, give the kid a laptop, teach him how to type proficiently, allow him to use the spellcheck function, and allow him to do all his school assignments on it, from first grade on. The polished look of the finished product can be a motivator. There are always new gadgets and devices being developed—stay up to date on what might be helpful, and get your child to help in the search.
  5. Find extracurricular activities he can shine in. Children with giftedness/LD often enjoy debating clubs, or toastmasters groups—activities where the emphasis is on spoken language skills, and not on writing. Activities like this can also lead to friendships based on competence and shared interests.
  6. Look for activities that use imagination, creativity, and higher-order thinking skills. Creativity and divergent thinking often accompany giftedness/LD.
  7. Help her develop good coping skills. A child with giftedness/LD needs to develop self-awareness and good strategies for handling stress. (There’s more on that in the references below.)
  8. Monitor the child’s progress, and give him frequent feedback. Let him know where and how he’s succeeding, and make sure he doesn’t get too far off track.
  9. Support her in connecting to her dreams. Many of the most successful people—Albert Einstein, Robin Williams, Thomas Edison, and lots more—have or had the giftedness/LD profile.
  10. If the child is still having problems, get her assessed. It’s easier to target remediation if you know where the child’s strengths and particular weaknesses are.

Most children with a giftedness/LD profile experience terrible frustrations until their giftedness and their specific learning problems are identified. Once they—and their parents and teachers—understand the uniqueness of their learning profile, they can thrive. Once you get through the frustrations to the other side, giftedness/LD can be an extraordinary gift of creativity and resilience.

For more on this topic:

Being Smart about Gifted Education


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