The Role of Parents in Helping Gifted Children with Learning Problems

By VanTassel-Baska, Joyce | Parenting for High Potential, June 2007 | Go to article overview

The Role of Parents in Helping Gifted Children with Learning Problems


VanTassel-Baska, Joyce, Parenting for High Potential


As a gifted child who tested at 155 on a full-scale IQ battery at age 10, Heather has always done well in elementary school although she experienced some difficulty with math. In middle school she encountered stronger problems in math, but was tutored and received extra coursework in a university-based program in that subject. In high school, she handled coursework until precalculus, which she failed. Yet Heather is also a child who excelled in verbal areas, taking prizes for her writing, finishing in the top three in the regional spelling bee, and learning two languages at advanced levels by high school graduation. A diagnosis in high school found her to be both ADD and learning disabled, a situation overlooked earlier because her abilities masked her disabilities. There are many gifted children like Heather- unable to perform at levels approaching their ability in specific areas, unable to finish projects they have been assigned, and immobilized by anger and frustration over their inability to produce on demand. These children often are doomed to be unsuccessful in school and in careers unless they have strong parent advocacy at critical stages of the educational process.

Many of these children have characteristics like Heather's. They experience uneven capacities for academic work in all subjects, suffering from dyslexia, dysgraphia, or discalculia. They carry diagnoses that range from learning disabled to attention deficit disorder to depression to obsessive-compulsive disorder. They may be decidedly less advanced in social and emotional skills, often experiencing difficulties in peer relationships or social adjustment in school-related settings. They are plagued by feelings of low self-esteem and emotional outbursts that vent their feelings about the frustration of being both gifted and disabled.

Research on twice-exceptional learners has revealed several principles that parents may apply in working with their own children who may have learning problems. I will comment on the eight that I believe are crucial to understand and use with these learners throughout their educational journey.

1. Twice-exceptional learners need to have a personalized and tailored approach provided for their education to be successful and meaningful. This will clearly involve the use of tutors in both strength and weakness areas to provide the up-close attention to the progressive development of skills that is required for progress in learning to occur at optimal levels. Tutoring in a strength area may pave the way for accelerated learning and advanced opportunities at subsequent levels of schooling. Counseling may be essential to help these students frame their problems and articulate issues with a neutral third party. Mentorships can energize these children to believe in their capabilities to do well as adults.

2. These learners also need to experience kindness, reinforcement, and encouragement from those in their environment. Because these students often are bullied by peers and scape-goated by teachers as lazy and nonachieving, they require sensitivity in the individuals closest to them to keep going in a positive direction. Several studies have documented the role of a caring teacher in igniting the spark of interest and ability in such learners. The same studies also highlight the central role of parents in this process as well, nurturing bursts of talent and problem-solving outbursts of difficult situations.

3. Successful twice-exceptional students have commented on their need for accommodations at critical stages of their academic journey. For many, it is being allowed to take extra time on tests and projects. For others, it is being provided flexibility in assignments and procedures to be followed in creative production. Many of these children also require preferential classroom seating that reduces distractions and enhances attention and cuing by the teacher of time constraints or movement to a new activity. …

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