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Finding the Twice Exceptional:

Identifying Bright Students with

Learning Difficulties
Julie Ferguson Pace, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
Diagnostic and Counseling Center
Center for Talented Youth
Johns Hopkins University
Possible signs of Learning Problems
in Bright Students
Widely different test scores
Unexplained differences
between test scores and
classroom performance
Frequently gets into trouble
at school (uncooperative,
Difficulty organizing work,
belongings, or self
Slow, laborious handwriting

Written language difficulties
Has great difficulty with
puzzles, gets lost easily,
gets disoriented in new
Works extremely slowly;
class work seems to take
much more effort than it
Trouble interacting with

Common Learning Difficulties
Seen in Bright Children
Writing, Writing, Writing
Graphomotor struggles
Automatic Retrieval
Revising, Editing, Attending to detail
Integrating multiple skills at once (working
Mental effort
Common Learning Difficulties in
Bright Children, continued
Executive dysfunction and attention control
Mental effort, initiation weaknesses
Focus issues
Working memory difficulties
Attention to detail
Planning and time management
Keeping track of materials
Breaking down assignments into manageable

Common Learning Difficulties in
Bright Children, continued
Fluency: accuracy and speed
Mental effort, focus issues
Saliency determination
Barriers to identification:
Barrier 1:
The Gifts hide the disability
The hard workers: disability may not
catch up with them until a later time
The underachievers: gifts and
behavior/attitude can obscure the fact
that there is a disability

Barrier 2:
The Disability masks the Gifts
May be a larger group than people
The issue of depressed IQ scores
Meeting the needs of these students
can be challenging
Barrier 3:
Gifts and Disabilities mask each other
Most likely to fall through the cracks
Hard to identify; may be performing at
grade level
Other barriers:
Different identification pathways for
gifted and LD
Lack of knowledge that these issues
can co-exist
Easy to misunderstand; to see as lazy
Purpose of Assessment
Understand the nature and scope of the
Determine underlying causes
Identify strengths as well as
Develop an action plan
Provide understanding
Many potential underlying causes
Auditory Processing Deficits
Phonological processing, receptive language, auditory
discrimination, auditory memory
Visual Processing Deficits
Visual discrimination, attention to visual detail, visual-spatial
processing, visual-motor integration, visual memory
Short-term memory, long-term memory, working memory,
automatic retrieval
Visual, auditory
Social behaviors, skills, awareness

The Attention Controls
(Levine, 2001)
Mental Energy Control System
Mental Effort
Processing Control System
Saliency Determination
Depth/Detail of Processing
Mental Activation
Focal Maintenance
Satisfaction Level
Production Control System

Levine (2001). Developmental Variation and Learning Disorders. Cambridge: Educators Publishing Service.

Diagnosis: The good and the bad
Diagnoses are useful because they:
Can link students to appropriate services
Can provide a way for families to link to
Can provide a useful way for others to
understand what some of the issues might
be for a student

Children with the same label can be
exceptionally different from one another
Each child has different strengths,
weaknesses and needs
Need to look deeper than just the
diagnosis to really understand a child:
this is what assessment is for
Diagnosis: Reading Disorder
What can lead to reading problems?
Adam: Phonological Weaknesses
Lisa: Orthographic Weaknesses
Kate: Working Memory Problems
Mark: The issue of attention
A good evaluation
Includes a measure of overall ability, as well
as specific targeted measures to examine
specific cognitive abilities
Includes broad overview of achievement as
well as targeted measures to examine
problem areas
Screens for social/emotional problems
Gathers information from outside sources:
parents, teachers, observations, etc. Ask
questions in multiple ways!
What makes a good GT/LD
Having an awareness that these kids do
Going in with an open mind; being
Paying attention to observations and
gut feelings
Using alternative assessments as

A good
is more than
Assessment vs. Testing
Summary scores can be misleading
Do more than simple achievement
The special problem of assessing
The importance of observations
Observations > Numbers
Jack, Sally, Kate all have WISC-IV
FSIQ scores between 130-140.

Jack: WJ Reading Fluency Score = 91
Sally: WJ Reading Fluency Score = 89
Kate: WJ Reading Fluency Score = 93
Observations > Numbers
Data is valuable, but observations are crucial
Children can get the same score for different
Does a child struggle to achieve a certain
What strategies does a child use, or not use?
What is his/her learning style?
What is the childs perspective on his/her
Flexibility is key
Things are not always what they seem
Keep an open mind
Be willing to switch gears
Key Points in Identifying Bright
Students with Learning Difficulties
Avoid composite scores alone; use scatter
Recognize average performance can be
Remember observations are crucial!
Consider including less conventional ways of
evaluating ability
Remember that a learning disability can
depress IQ scores
More Key Points
Education and communication
Openness to implementing strategies
even when a child doesnt strictly meet
the criteria for LD services