Learning Disabilities, Communication Disorders and Giftedness

Abstract

This paper addresses the issues of learning disabilities, communication disorders, and giftedness among children. Definitions, characteristics, and causes of these phenomena are exposed; the educational needs of kids in question are discussed; and, finally, the problem of dual diagnosis and its prevalence among these children is considered. The study concludes that the mentioned adverse conditions can result from genetic or environmental factors, or be acquired due to injury or disease, whereas giftedness is thought to have a hereditary predisposition, but needs to be properly developed.

It is also stressed that all three categories of children have special educational needs, whereas kids with the combination of factors pose even a bigger challenge to educators. The study is based on a review of scholarly literature, namely, six scholarly articles and four books. The paper provides a brief, but a general overview of the problems. Further, a more detailed study of the issues is recommended for those interested in the topic.

Introduction

Both children who suffer from various adverse conditions and kids who have exceptional abilities require special educational approaches to be able to fully develop their potential. This paper looks into the issues of learning disabilities, communication disorders, and giftedness among children, exposing their nature and providing guidelines for the education of such kids. The issue of dual diagnosis, a combination of two negative conditions, as well as the combination of giftedness and an adverse factor, is also addressed.

Characteristics, causes, and definition of learning disabilities, communication disorders, and giftedness

The term “learning disability” refers to a state in which a person experiences difficulties while trying to learn by using typical means of education. Examples include “disorders of listening, thinking, talking, reading, writing, spelling, or arithmetic” (Wong, Graham, Hoskyn, & Berman, 2008, p. 8). Importantly, people suffering from learning disabilities may be able to use other means of studying successfully. The causes of learning disabilities are not always precisely known, but usually, they are attributed to medical or natural causes. These include abnormalities related to genes and chromosomes, environmental factors (physical health, mental conditions, lifestyle, etc.), and so on (Atherton & Crickmore, 2011).

Communication disorders are disorders that render a person unable to properly use speech, audition, or language in general. These conditions can be a result of heredity, as well as of damage acquired through the course of life (due to diseases and injuries) (Haynes, Moran, & Pindzola, 2006). Examples vary from simple stuttering, i.e. repetition of some sounds, to complete inability to use language, e.g. aphasia. Various sensory impairments, such as deafness or muteness, also lead to communication disorders.

There is no universally-accepted definition of giftedness, but usually, it is indicated by a high g (index of general cognitive ability, which is a value that summarizes a person’s ability to perform at various cognitive tasks); other definitions relate giftedness to a high IQ score (Thompson & Oehlert, 2010, p. 298, 301). Okamoto, Curtis, Jabagchourian, and Weckbacher (2006) suggest the mental development of gifted children does not differ immensely from that of non-gifted children of the same age; children only differ in their skill at performing tasks. Thompson & Oehlert (2010) claim that intellectual giftedness might be a result of genetic factors; however, without proper learning effort, giftedness will not develop.

The educational needs of the students with learning disabilities, communication disorders, and giftedness

It is quite obvious that students with learning disabilities, communication disorders, or giftedness all have special educational needs to be able to develop successfully.

Students who have learning disabilities might suffer from inappropriate teaching approaches, which may exacerbate their problems (Westwood, 2008). Such children have specific needs depending on the nature of their disability. For instance, children with reading disorders need to be given materials in forms other than printed text, e.g. various audio and visual materials.

Haynes et al. (2006) stress that children with communication disorders require increased attention from educators and specialists; speech-language pathologists provide habilitative and rehabilitative services for such children. The curriculum for these kids needs to make an increased focus on metalinguistic issues, i.e. problems related to the use of language and its correlation to other aspects of life, the ability to “making conscious judgments about one’s language” (Haynes et al, 2006, p. 386). Needless to say, curriculums must be adapted to enable children to absorb and understand information despite their impairments.

Gifted children also need special educational approaches, for their potential, if not properly addressed, might not develop and be wasted. Cross and Coleman (2014) claim that giftedness is only expressed in particular contexts, and these contexts need to be identified and developed (p. 100). For such students, “creativity becomes a driving force in the birth of the highest levels” of understanding the domain that they are perceived to be gifted in (Cross & Coleman, 2014, p. 100).

The prevalence of dual diagnosis among children with learning disabilities, communication disorders, and giftedness

There also exists an issue of dual diagnosis among children with different disorders. The term “dual diagnosis” refers to a situation when issues such as learning disabilities or communication disorders are combined with another condition, such as mental health problems (O’Brien, 2002).

Alexander and Cooray (2003) present statistics that show the prevalence of mental health problems in persons who suffer from learning disabilities, according to different researches (p. s29). The prevalence of the dual diagnosis in the community setting varies significantly; from 25 to 50% of persons with full learning disabilities had an accompanying mental illness. However, one study recorded the rate of 5.06%, but the value of 25-50% is supported by a greater number of studies.

According to Pinborough-Zimmerman et al. (2007), among school-aged children who suffer from communication disorders and are getting speech therapy services, approximately 6.3% also suffer from another condition, such as behavioral or emotional problems, intellectual disability, or autism. These children require even more attention from educators and public health specialists to be able to minimize the negative consequences of the dual diagnosis.

An adverse condition can also be combined with giftedness. Westwood (2008) suggests that giftedness might often be combined with learning disabilities; it is stated, for instance, that approximately 30% of children who show giftedness might experience exceptional difficulties with reading (p. 4). Westwood (2008) also stresses the importance of identifying such problems in gifted children, because for them these conditions might be exceptionally hurtful, causing motivational, behavioral, and emotional problems (p. 5).

Conclusion

As we have seen, learning disabilities and communication disorders can often be caused by hereditary or environmental factors, as well as be a result of a severe injury or disease. Giftedness, on the other hand, is perceived to require some genetic predisposition, but is also highly dependent on the environment and cannot be fully realized without being adequately addressed. Students who suffer from learning disabilities or communication disorders require a special educational approach to be able to overcome their problems, whereas gifted children need creative and stimulating context to realize their potential.

Kids who happen to have a dual diagnosis are not a very rare phenomenon; their needs also must be addressed properly, which poses a substantial challenge to educators. The problems in gifted children also need to be identified as quickly as possible, because e.g. learning disabilities might be especially hurtful for kids who otherwise perform exceptionally well.

References

Alexander, R., & Cooray, S. (2003). Diagnosis of personality disorders in learning disability. British Journal of Psychiatry, 182(44), s28-s31. Web.

Atherton, H. L., & Crickmore, D. J. (Eds.). (2011). Learning disabilities: Towards inclusion (6th ed.). Web.

Cross, T. L., & Coleman, L. J. (2014). School-based conception of giftedness. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 37(1), 94-103. Web.

Haynes, W. O., Moran, M. J., Pindzola, R. H. (2006). Communication Disorders in the classroom: An introduction for professionals in school settings (4th ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

O’Brien, G. (2002). Dual diagnosis in offenders with intellectual disability: setting research priorities: a review of research findings concerning psychiatric disorder (excluding personality disorder) among offenders with intellectual disability. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 46(1), 21-30.

Okamoto, Y., Curtis, R., Jabagchourian, J. J., & Weckbacher, L. M. (2006). Mathematical precocity in young children: a neo-Piagetian perspective. High Ability Studies, 17(2), 183-202. Web.

Pinborough-Zimmerman, J., Satterfield, R., Miller, J., Bilder, D., Hossain, S., & McMahon, W. (2007). Communication disorders: prevalence and comorbid intellectual disability, autism, and emotional/behavioral disorders. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 16(4), 359-367.

Thompson, L. A., & Oehlert, J. (2010). The etiology of giftedness. Learning and Individual Differences, 20(4), 298-307. Web.

Westwood, P. (2008). What teachers need to know about learning difficulties. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research.

Wong, B., Graham, L., Hoskyn, M., & Berman, J. (2008). The ABCs of Learning Disabilities (2nd ed.). Burlington, MA: Elsevier Academic Press.