I just got off the phone with a good friend of mine. She and I were celebrating her daughter’s test results – not because of the diagnosis, but because of the knowledge that the testing brought. Her daughter has a learning disability and the diagnosis unlocked information, insight, and understanding about who she is, why she has struggled, and how she can compensate with the disability.
Her daughter has always been very smart – that has never been a question. But, she has sometimes struggled with so-called ‘basic things’. For example – she would have a complex, detailed conversation but struggle with spelling tests. Some things just seemed ‘too hard’ or took ‘too long’ to learn. She worked very hard but didn’t always produce a commensurate result for her hard work. This was very discouraging – and many kids give up. After all, if you have done your best work and can’t get a good result, why try?
I could completely understand – I have identical twin boys who are dyslexic (a visual processing learning disability). This shows itself in their inability to efficiently process information. They can do the work – it just takes longer to get the information in and out. They, as 8th graders, could do college sophomore level math logic problems, but struggled to remember that six times three is eighteen. They were first tested as 2nd graders when one of them said that he must be stupid because reading was ‘too hard’. We could see that he was trying and working hard – but something seemed to be blocking him.
The key to breaking through this confusing situation was getting them tested for giftedness. Before the testing there was a lot of speculation by many people, including school staff, as to ‘why’ they were brilliant at some things and struggled with others. It is one of the common misconceptions about gifted kids – no, they aren’t usually brilliant at everything and their development is asynchronous. So, when they are unsuccessful or struggle in an area, they often get labeled as lazy or stupid – nothing could be further from the truth. The testing of my sons showed that they were gifted AND had a learning disability. We also learned their learning strengths, their learning challenges, and their best learning style. The testing expert translated all of this into how best to parent and teach them, and how to coach their schoolteachers.
While my husband and I gained knowledge, my sons gained affirmation. No – they weren’t stupid. Yes, they were brilliant in some areas and struggled in other areas – and here is why. My friend’s daughter said, ‘I am really not crazy!’ No, she isn’t crazy. She is a normal, typical gifted young woman who has a learning disability. She also learned, as did my sons, what helps them learn better – called accommodations in the school vernacular. These accommodations aren’t rocket science – more multi-modal teaching, more items presented visually vs. verbally, more written information presented ahead of when it is needed, more time allowed for testing, etc. My sons had two superior teachers in Middle School who provided these accommodations. One of the teachers remarked, ‘I really don’t see their learning disability.’ My husband responded, ‘Right – because you are teaching to that disability. When you do that, it seems like the disability disappears.’
My sons, who understand how they learn best and ask for that, are taking this into account and asking different questions as they interview potential colleges. Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colorado specializes in teaching to students with learning disabilities. They are using their ability and success in their student marketing campaigns. It translates into – ‘Come to our school because we understand who you are, what you need, and how you learn best. We provide it so you can be successful.’ Ft. Lewis makes it easy for students to get extra time in testing, to hire an editor so that the brilliant words are actually spelled correctly, to purchase written notes from the ‘neat note taker in the class’, etc.
So, if you are seeing a smart child show brilliance in some areas, but struggle in others, or seeing them really try but it seems ‘too hard’ – get them tested. Schools sometimes offer ‘gifted testing’ but these tests typically mimic the real tests; and schools have to provide accommodations if the child scores high on the test. This can create a conflict of interest for the school to have a student score well. So, non-school related, independent organizations and testers, who specialize in testing students of that age, are recommended. These testers have additional skills to maximize the comfort and efforts of the student during the test.
For my sons and my friend’s daughter, or other kids like this, this isn’t something than can be cured. Their learning disability will always be with them – it is the way their brains are wired. But, they can cope – and with the right support, the learning disability’s impact lessens. Additionally, with testing, they will know who they are, that they aren’t crazy, and what they need to be successful – even better – they will be able to ask for it.