Reprinted from "Supported Education" issue of Visions Journal, 2003, No. 17, p. 27
Anxiety is the result of being both gifted and learning disabled — a concept that used to be considered an oxy- moron. The GOLD Program, at Prince of Wales Secondary in Vancouver, was established to help students with these characteristics be successful in high school. School becomes tolerable, though not openly enjoyable.
You, in the mental health professions, have seen many of the GOLD students. Often they stop attending school for a period of time in elementary school, sometimes they are diagnosed as ADHD, sometimes obsessive-compulsive, sometimes as Asberger’s Syndrome sufferers, but always anxiety is an unwelcome companion. For most students who are gifted with learning difficulties, a type of strangulation occurs. The gifted areas, which often involve absorbing knowledge through reading, listening or the media, provide easy access to stimulation, energy and new ideas — and the learning difficulties, often involving written output and organizational problems, block access to expressing this information and obtaining good grades. The result is frustration and hopelessness. The two together, the gifts with the learning difficulties, could be described as a double handicap.
The GOLD program provides at least one block of support time for students. During this block of time, which is about 75 minutes two or three times per week, we must accomplish a lot. Discussions — which can range from political topics, learning strategies, any new science regarding learning difficulties or problem solving — usually start the day. Next, agendas are checked to make sure students are organized regarding homework and tests. Some students then spend a small amount of time on remedial work and the remaining time is for subject support. Grade eight students are also taught English 8 so both enrichment and remedial work can be provided and the focus can be — much more than a ‘regular’ class — on the individual needs. Several students each year are taught math or English by the GOLD teacher, and some students have more than one support block.
All GOLD students have adaptations, a term used to provide allowances such as extra time, no marks off for spelling, or use of a computer to compensate for their learning difficulties. Adaptations are not changes to the prescribed learning outcome. Several students use a walkman (to aid concentration) during individual work time. As well, many students write tests in the GOLD room where they are comfortable.
The GOLD program benefits from good computer support, a flexible school environment, and many teachers who now understand this type of student. We are lucky to have a special education support person who provides much needed one-toone help and very often supervises our room at lunch, so students who choose to have a friendly, familiar place to lunch, chat and play games. Fortunately, we have many peer tutors who also provide much needed one-to-one help.
Some students leave the program after two years, others stay longer, and some are in the program for all of their high school years. When students exit the program, it is hoped that they
understand their strengths and weaknesses
have some knowledge of useful strategies both for academic achievement and stress management
have developed the ability to be a self-advocate.
Care, acceptance, understanding, trust, confidentiality, humour, structure and the willingness to ‘call a spade a spade’ are all essential ingredients to support this stimulating and deserving population of adolescents.