Identification And Accommodation

Gifted Students with Learning Disabilities: Identification and Accommodation

Many teachers tend to think about gifted and learning disabled students as being on opposite ends of a spectrum. Typically, students are identified as having a learning disability only after they have struggled academically or fallen below grade level in reading or math. Similarly, we think of gifted students as being academically successful across all subject areas and disciplines. Sticking with this narrow mindset, however, we may fail to recognize students who are both gifted and learning disabled and, without recognizing them as such, fail to appropriately assist and challenge the student to his or her full potential.

Student Categories

According to Susan Baum, we can think of the group of LD and gifted students in three categories. The first is comprised of students who are recognized as gifted but who also have subtle learning differences or disabilities. These students have often been identified as gifted from a young age, because of high test scores or IQ scores. They often struggle as they enter middle and high school and may begin to struggle academically or have difficulty with long-term or independent projects. For this group, their learning disabilities are often overlooked or are not diagnosed because of their gifted status. As a result, they often miss the chance to learn and use strategies and accommodations that may help them to succeed.

The second category of learners is made up of students who are both learning disabled and gifted but who are not recognized as either. These students often struggle to stay at grade level and their gifted abilities often work “overtime” to compensate for their learning difficulties. These students are often bored in subject areas in which they excel but are extremely frustrated in areas of difficulty.

The final category includes students who are identified as learning disabled but whose giftedness is unidentified. These students face the social stigma and labeling that all LD students face; in school, these students often have poor academic performance and low self-esteem surrounding their intellectual ability. These students are often extremely frustrated in the school setting and may behave disruptively as a result. Baum states that, ”Research has shown that this group of students is often rated by teachers as most disruptive at school. They are frequently found to be off task; they may act out, daydream, or complain of headaches and stomachaches; and they are easily frustrated and use their creative abilities to avoid tasks.”

Accommodations and Guidelines

These students often present challenges for teachers in the classroom because of the large discrepancy in skill level across various areas. However, Baum identifies three guidelines for educators to follow when designing curricula for these gifted LD students.

  1. Focus attention on the development of the gift: instead of focusing solely on remediation of the students weaknesses, allow the student to explore and exercise his or her talents.
  2. Create a welcoming environment that accepts values learning differences.
  3. Encourage the use of compensation strategies, including: the use of assistive technology, memory strategies, differentiated reading materials, graphic organizers and communication through a variety of media.

Baum, S. (1997) Gifted but Learning Disabled: A Puzzling Paradox. LD Online. Available online at:

This page was added by Terra White