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Expert Q&A

What are the rights of children who are gifted and also have learning disabilities?

Our son is 13 and going into 8th grade. He was JUST diagnosed with a reading disorder, writing disorder, and significant deficits in memory and processing. He was also given the label of having developmental dyslexia which was written as a medical diagnosis. It was also written, however, he did not meet clinical criteria for a specific learning disabilities. I thought dyslexia was a specific learning disability? Is the criteria he would have to be failing?

The issue is he is also a “gifted” kid with an IQ close to 132 and gets A’s and B’s with 2 C’s recently in math, though math was a strength area. He was also diagnosed with auditory processing disorder three years ago. He has had an SST folder at school with maybe two accommodations that are rarely followed. We told the school we would have him evaluated privately by a neuropsychologist. Depending on the findings, we would have an SST meeting or an eligibility for special services meeting.

His evaluation had a 30 point discrepancy in reading and a 21 point discrepancy in writing. The school considered them average scores! The school tabled the eligibility meeting and concluded it was just an “SST” meeting because summer is here. They asked us to call the first day of school to set up an eligibility meeting. I say it is pretty clear cut they will try to say he is not eligible. Without an IEP already written at the beginning of the school year, will we have to wait another whole year? Should we ask for the eligibility meeting for late summer before school starts in August?

We have been frustrated as we have been trying to have help for him the past 4 years. His grades are beginning to drop; numerous F papers but enough A’s to counteract. Our state also has testing that require him to PASS to move on to the next grade (8th to 9th) and H.S. exit graduation tests to get a diploma. He tests poorly due to memory and processing deficits. Help! Thank you.


Dear Tracey,
Your question addresses the rights of your child who is gifted but has significant learning disabilities. Your school district has taken the position that because your child is overall receiving passing grades and achieving at a level comparable to other children, your child is not entitled to special education services. This question occurs frequently and is a difficult one.

Many school districts choose to set their eligibility criteria based on the child’s not only displaying a discrepancy on performance relative to their intellectual potential, but also requiring that the child display an impairment in relation to the average population. Under the old LD criteria, the U.S. Department of Education has previously stated that this position is inappropriate and that a child should be considered for eligibility based on significant discrepancy in relation to their own potential not in comparison to other children. However, you should also be aware that the discrepancy formula has been discredited.

Schools will now be looking at a broader range of criteria for determining if a child is eligible for LD services. In particular, school districts will be looking at a whether a child’s problems were due to inadequate instruction as opposed to a processing deficit. This procedure will involve the provision of targeted research based intervention to see if they made progress. In the absence of such intervention, the school could not use this as a basis for denying your child eligibility. On the other hand, IDEA 2004 also expanded the focus on developmental and functional difficulties in addition to academic difficulties.

It will be important for you to high-light the various ways that your child is experiencing difficulty as evidence of the impact of the diagnosed learning disabilities on their academic functioning. You and your clinician should gather information about the child’s difficulties with reading, writing, completion of work, timeliness and the like in order to substantiate that the problems they are having have had a functional impact on them, even if they are still able to get passing grades. Under the new IDEA 2004, there may actually be a greater basis for eligibility than there was under the old discrepancy formula.

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