students with disabling conditions remain a major group of underserved
and understimulated youth (Cline, 1999). The focus on accommodations
for their disabilities may preclude the recognition and development
of their cognitive abilities. It is not unexpected, then, to find
a significant discrepancy between the measured academic potential
of these students and their actual performance in the classroom
(Whitmore & Maker, 1985). In order for these children to reach
their potential, it is imperative that their intellectual strengths
be recognized and nurtured, at the same time as their disability
is accommodated appropriately.
of giftedness in students who are disabled is problematic. The customary
identification methods—standardized tests and observational checklists—are
inadequate, without major modification. Standard lists of characteristics
of gifted students may be inadequate for unmasking hidden potential
in children who have disabilities. Children whose hearing is impaired,
for example, cannot respond to oral directions, and they may also
lack the vocabulary which reflects the complexity of their thoughts.
Children whose speech or language is impaired cannot respond to
tests requiring verbal responses. Children whose vision is impaired
may be unable to respond to certain performance measures, and although
their vocabulary may be quite advanced, they may not understand
the full meaning of the words they use (e.g., color words). Children
with learning disabilities may use high-level vocabulary in speaking
but be unable to express themselves in writing, or vice versa. In
addition, limited life experiences due to impaired mobility may
artificially lower scores (Whitmore & Maker, 1985). Since the
population of gifted/disabled students is difficult to locate, they
seldom are included in standardized test norming groups, adding
to the problems of comparison.
addition, gifted children with disabilities often use their intelligence
to try to circumvent the disability. This may cause both exceptionalities
to appear less extreme: the disability may appear less severe because
the child is using the intellect to cope, while the efforts expended
in that area may hinder other expressions of giftedness.
following lists are intended to assist parents and teachers in recognizing
intellectual giftedness in the presence of a disability.
of Gifted Students with Specific Disabilities
Students with Visual Impairment
rate of learning
verbal communication skills and vocabulary
production or thought that may progress more slowly
than sighted students in some academic areas
in learning Braille
slower rate of cognitive development than sighted students
ability to concentrate
& Maker, 1985)
Students with Physical Disabilities
of compensatory skills
in finding alternate ways of communicating and accomplishing
store of knowledge
grasp of ideas
to set and strive for long-term goals
maturity than age mates
sense of humor
development that may not be based on direct experience
difficulty with abstractions
limited achievement due to pace of work
(Cline, 1999; Whitmore & Maker, 1985; Willard-Holt,
Students with Hearing Impairments
of speech-reading skills without instruction
to function in the regular school setting
grasp of ideas
performance in school
range of interests
ways of getting information
of problem-solving skills in everyday situations
on grade level
in concept attainment
sense of humor
of manipulating environment
in solving problems
language abilities (different symbol system)
(Cline, 1999; Whitmore & Maker, 1985)
Students with Learning Disabilities
abstract reasoning ability
mathematical reasoning ability
visual memory, spatial skills
sense of humor
ability in geometry, science, arts, music
problem-finding and -solving skills
with memorization, computation, phonics, and/or spelling
of metaphors, analogies, satire
of complex systems
failure to complete assignments
with sequential tasks
variety of interests
(Baum, Owen, & Dixon, 1991; Silverman, 1989)
indicates that in many cases, a child is diagnosed with ADHD when
in fact the child is gifted and reacting to an inappropriate curriculum
(Webb & Latimer, 1993). The key to distinguishing between the
two is the pervasiveness of the "acting out" behaviors.
If the acting out is specific to certain situations, the child's
behavior is more likely related to giftedness; whereas, if the behavior
is consistent across all situations, the child's behavior is more
likely related to ADHD. It is also possible for a child to be BOTH
gifted and ADHD. The following lists highlight the similarities
between giftedness and ADHD.
of Gifted Students Who Are Bored
attention and daydreaming when bored
tolerance for persistence on tasks that seem irrelevant
many projects, see few to completion
of judgment lags behind intellectual growth
may lead to power struggles with authorities
activity level; may need less sleep
restraining desire to talk; may be disruptive
rules, customs, and traditions
work, forget homework, are disorganized
sensitive to criticism
not exhibit problem behaviors in all situations
consistent levels of performance at a fairly consistent pace
(Cline, 1999; Webb & Latimer, 1993)
of Students with ADHD
persistence on tasks not having immediate consequences
shift from one uncompleted activity to another
poor delay of gratification
adherence to commands to regulate or inhibit behavior in social
active, restless than other children
interrupt or intrude on others (e.g., butt into games)
adhering to rules and regulations
lose things necessary for tasks or activities at home or school
appear inattentive to details
sensitive to criticism
behaviors exist in all settings, but in some are more severe
in task performance and time used to accomplish tasks.
(Barkley, 1990; Cline, 1999; Webb & Latimer,
to Ask in Differentiating between Giftedness and ADHD
the behaviors be responses to inappropriate placement, insufficient
challenge, or lack of intellectual peers?
the child able to concentrate when interested in the activity?
any curricular modifications been made in an attempt to change
the child been interviewed? What are his/her feelings about
the child feel out of control? Do the parents perceive the child
as being out of control?
the behaviors occur at certain times of the day, during certain
activities, with certain teachers or in certain environments?
for Students with Dual Exceptionalities
to identifying and nurturing the gifts of students with disabilities
implies specific changes in the way educators approach identification,
instruction, and classroom dynamics.
students with disabilities in initial screening phase.
willing to accept nonconventional indicators of intellectual
beyond test scores.
applying cutoffs, bear in mind the depression of scores that
may occur due to the disability.
NOT aggregate subtest scores into a composite score.
with others who have similar disabilities.
more heavily characteristics that enable the child to effectively
compensate for the disability.
more heavily areas of performance unaffected by the disability.
the child to participate in gifted programs on a trial basis.
aware of the powerful role of language; reduce communication
limitations and develop alternative modes for thinking and communicating.
high-level abstract thinking, creativity, and a problem-solving
great expectations: these children often become successful as
adults in fields requiring advanced education.
for individual pacing in areas of giftedness and disability.
challenging activities at an advanced level.
active inquiry, experimentation, and discussion.
options that enable students to use strengths and preferred
ways of learning.
intellectual strengths to develop coping strategies.
in strengthening the student's self concept.
disabilities/capabilities and their implications with the class.
participation in all activities; strive for normal peer interactions.
acceptance; model and demand respect for all.
answer peers' questions.
a child with a disability the same way a child without a disability
celebration of individual differences.
students with disabilities must be provided with appropriate challenges.
The personal and societal costs of not developing their potential
cannot be overstated.
R.A. (1990). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: A handbook
for diagnosis and treatment. New York: Guilford Press.
S.M., Owen, S.V., & Dixon, J. (1991). To be gifted & learning
disabled. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.
S., & Schwartz, D. (1999). Diverse populations of gifted children.
L.K. (1989). Invisible gifts, invisible handicaps. Roeper Review,
M.L., Elliott, J.L. & Ysseldyke, J.E. (1998). Testing students
with disabilities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
J.T. & Maker, C.J. (1993). ADHD and children who are gifted.
ERIC EC Digest E522.
J.R., & Maker, C.J. (1985). Intellectual giftedness in disabled
persons. Rockville, MD: Aspen.
C. (1994). Recognizing talent: Cross-case study of two high potential
students with cerebral palsy. Storrs, CT: National Research Center
on the Gifted/Talented.
with permission from:
ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC)
The Council for Exceptional Children
1110 N. Glebe Rd.
Arlington, VA 22201-5704
Toll Free: 1.800.328.0272