It's not unusual for a child to be both gifted and learning disabled (LD). In fact, I think that all children are gifted, each shining brightly in some way, yet many encounter difficulty in school at some point.

Several years ago, at the recommendation of one of my son’s teachers who hoped he’d qualify for gifted instruction, I took my then-eight-year-old child to an educational psychologist for an evaluation. The Ph.D. counselor confirmed what I believed then and still believe about my child: he is brilliant. But, according to standardized measurements, my son is gifted in verbal skills but lacks ability in hands-on performance.

The psychologist told me that this differentiation, extreme in my son's case, appears in just 1% of the population. Until this point (with my family as my reference), I thought this discrepancy was normal: you were either good with words or handy with tools, or rarely, both. My perception of "normal" changed dramatically in this moment.

I got a bargain in the psychologist’s fee ($175 several years ago, which included testing, interpretation, and written evaluation). We received a gifted designation, and the offer of an LD designation along with tips for dealing with his cognitive profile, if needed. I also got an understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses as I'm certain that my profile is very much like my son's. From this point, I learned to provide guidance to my child as he progressed, armed with these insights and decades of experience in being good with words, lousy with things.

Here are tactics for navigating school, no matter what designation your child has (or hasn't) received:

  • Determine your child’s particular strengths and nemeses, and approach new tasks, projects, etc., accordingly.
  • Figure out which teachers know how to tap each student's individual strengths and affinities. Very often, these teachers have experience in providing differentiated instruction and hold certifications in gifted instruction. Whether you are able to get your child assigned to these teachers (they'll be the ones in high demand), understanding how your child is being taught will help solve problems that may occur during the school year.
  • Don’t stress about earning good grades. Instead, stress mastery of key concepts, finishing homework, and doing projects.
  • Determine whether tests are gateways (requiring that students achieve a certain competency level before moving to the next grade) or general assessments (simply measuring performance in a certain area but not impacting promotion). Focus on passing the gateways and making progress in areas that are regularly assessed.
  • Accept extra help. Many kids could benefit from tutoring on an ongoing basis, and even top-performing students can benefit from assistance in certain areas on an as-needed basis. chools often offer these services at no charge, sometimes as part of a formal program or simply based on request for help with certain concepts.

Now that my son is in high school, he regularly attends tutoring sessions offered by all teachers before and after school; teachers have advised parents that they simply don't have time to provide illumination during class time so that extra sessions are often needed for students at all levels.

  • Let your child figure out and then engage his or her own learning strategies. One child may find that reading supplementary materials is helpful; another may discover that asking questions before tackling a new assignment is useful. Learning how to learn is probably the most essential tool for success in school.
  • Don’t expect kids to figure out certain things on their own; what intuition tells some people is completely lost on others.
  • Encourage reading, especially on topics that hold your child’s interest. Knowing things (nearly anything!) helps them to make the connection between what they already know and what teachers are teaching; the more connections, the more learning.
  • Resist pushing, but encourage your child to try new activities; again, more connections will equal more learning and deeper knowledge.
  • Coach your kids on how to handle difficult situations. Some, fortunately few, teachers don't understand that things don't always come easy for smart kids. Instead, they mistakenly attribute lack of results to lack of effort.

When children become teens and enter high school, they may not receive adequate support for disabilities and disorders from schools, according to a national poll on children's health. Learning to navigate school — when kids are younger and stakes are lower — can yield tremendous benefits later.