HomeBehind the Mask: The Dilemma of Gifted Students with Disabilities
girl_with_mask.jpgWho are gifted disabled children?
  • Gifted students with disabilities, also known as "twice exceptional" learners, have both 1. exceptional ability or potential AND 2. a disability.
  • According to the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), a "disability" can fit into the following categories:
    • Autism
    • Deaf-blindness
    • Deafness or hearing impairment
    • Developmental delay
    • Emotional disturbance (E/BD)
    • Intellectual disability
    • Multiple disabilities
    • Orthopedic impairment
    • Other health impairment
    • Specific learning disability (SLD)
    • Speech or language impairment
    • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
    • Visual impairment including blindness
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  • The United States Department of Education estimates that there are approximately 360,000 twice-exceptional students in America's schools (NAGC, 2009).
  • The first national conference on handicapped gifted children was held in 1976 (Yewchuk & Biddy, 1989).

What is the dilemma?
  • Gifted children with disabilities are frequently noticed only for their limiting characteristics, not for their gifts. Once a child has been labeled with a disability and special education programming focuses on the disabling condition, the specific intellectual, creative and artistic talents are obscured (Davis, Rimm, & Siegle, 2011).
  • For example, teachers of 60,000 students with disabilities in New York (in 1981) were requested to nominate their children for a gifted program . Not a single nomination was received (Yewchuk & Biddy, 1989). In 1989, 91% of Texas school districts did not include any students with disabilities in their gifted programs.
  • Often, disabled gifted students do not receive special education services either (IEPs - Individualized Education Programs, special education classes, reading teachers) because their intellectual gifts compensate for their disability and they function fairly well in the regular classroom. As a result, the child misses out on special remediation with his/her academic weakness and does not learn how to compensate for his/her condition (nor develop his/her special talents).
  • Legal cases related to twice exceptional students usually favor the school districts (Davis, Rimm, & Siegle, 2011).
  • Social rejection is another troubling issue for twice exceptional students. Several studies have shown that students with disabilities are not accepted by their average peers.
  • Teachers' expectations for students are immediately lowered when a student receives a disability label. Students feel inadequate in response to these lowered expectations (Davis, Rimm, & Siegle, 2011).
  • Social rejection and teachers' lowered standards lead to a lowered self-concept for the child. Since poor self image is a primary characteristic of underachievement, these gifted disabled students frequently perform beneath their abilities (Davis, Rimm, & Siegle, 2011).


So, the DILEMMA of gifted students with disabilities centers around three main ideas: they are largely unidentified, schools lack special programs to serve their unique needs, and low self-worth compounds their academic and social problems. We must find a solution and get behind the mask!!