Compensation Strategies Used by High Ability Students with Learning Disabilities

Sally M. Reis
University of Connecticut

Lilia M. Ruban
University of Houston

Research for this report was supported under the Javits Act Program (Grant No. R206R00001) as administered by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education. Grantees undertaking such projects are encouraged to express freely their professional judgment. This report, therefore, does not necessarily represent positions or policies of the Government, and no official endorsement should be inferred.


Recent research has provided fascinating examples of the problems faced by high ability students with learning disabilities, as well as the compensation strategies they used to address and overcome the challenges associated with specific learning disabilities (Reis, McGuire, & Neu, 2000; Ruban, McCoach, McGuire, & Reis, in press). For example, Reis et al. (2000) found that these students offered received content remediation that they did not need, rather than instruction in compensatory strategies, in their elementary and secondary school learning disabilities programs. Many academically talented young people with learning disabilities never qualify for programs for gifted and talented learners and fail to succeed in school but those who do learn strategies that help them to succeed, despite their learning problems.

In this chapter, current research about compensation strategies is discussed, as are the strategies used by successful high ability college students who have learning disabilities. When these students do succeed in challenging academic environments, it is because they have learned to compensate for their deficits as well as to develop their gifts and talents. The use of these compensation strategies is essential for academic success, especially in the areas of study and performance strategies, self-regulation and time management strategies, opportunities for counseling, self-advocacy, and the development of an individual plan using metacognition and executive functions. Of particular note is the emerging understanding of the role that self-regulation plays in the successful academic performance of students with learning disabilities. The importance of academic self-regulation to achievement in this population cannot be understated, as self-regulated learning (SRL) is “a pivotal construct in contemporary accounts of effective academic learning” (Pintrich, 1995, p. 173). A synthesis of research in different fields such as giftedness, learning disabilities and academic self-regulation provides insights into the nature and idiosyncrasies of academic self-regulation among high ability students with learning disabilities (Ruban, 2000; Ruban et al., in press).

Only two studies have identified compensation strategies used by successful students with LD in a college environment and whether college students with learning disabilities (including high ability students with LD) use similar or different learning and study strategies to succeed in a challenging learning environment, as compared to their non-disabled peers (Reis et al., 2000; Ruban, 2000). Few studies have investigated the question of how different populations of college students acquire self-regulated learning strategies and study skills, and how and in what contexts they choose to use them in their academic work (Pintrich & De Groot, 1990; Wolters, 1998). This chapter will provide a summary of the limited research conducted on the self-regulated learning strategies and compensation strategies used by high ability students with learning disabilities who succeed in challenging academic settings.

Compensation Strategies Used by Successful High Ability Students With Learning Disabilities

Hannah and Shore (1995) suggested that the study of gifted students with learning disabilities (GLD) provides deep insights into the nature of giftedness and the combination as well as interaction of exceptionalities. According to these researchers, an increasing interest in the study of these twice exceptional students is particularly noteworthy, especially due to the fact that giftedness and learning disabilities until recently have been studied separately from a cognitive perspective. In reviewing the relatively limited research in this area, Hannah and Shore (1995) concluded that research has been conducted primarily in the following three areas: case studies (Baum, 1984; Rosner & Seymour, 1983; Suter & Wolf, 1987); comparisons of test performance of GLD students to that of populations of gifted and LD students (Barton & Starnes, 1989; Suter & Wolf, 1987); and educational programming options (Baum, 1984, 1988; Baum, Owen, & Dixon, 1991; Suter & Wolf, 1987). Baum and Owen (1988) found that some high ability students with learning disabilities had unique characteristics related both to persistence and individual interests, and also demonstrated lower academic self-efficacy (Bandura, 1986) than their peers who had not been identified as gifted and learning disabled. Baum and Owen also found that 36% of the students in their study who had been identified as possessing a learning disability simultaneously demonstrated behaviors associated with giftedness. Hannah and Shore’s (1995) study showed that, in terms of metacognitive knowledge and strategy use, gifted students with learning disabilities performed in a manner that was more similar to their gifted peers than their peers who had learning disabilities, providing support for the hypothesis that a strong relation exists between metacognition and giftedness.

Newer theories of intelligence (Gardner, 1983, 1993, 1999; Sternberg, 1981, 1995, 1997) and expanded conceptions of giftedness (Renzulli, 1978; 1986) suggest that the talents and abilities of some students are not accurately measured by the instrumentation currently used. Learning disabilities in high ability students with learning disabilities are difficult to identify (Baum, 1984; Baum & Owen, 1988; Baum & Olenchak, 2002; Reis, Neu, & McGuire, 1995), as they often perform extremely well in some areas and poorly in others. Some will never be identified as gifted because their high abilities mask their disabilities or their learning disabilities mask their talents, resulting in average or below average school performance (Baum, et al., 1991; Tannenbaum & Baldwin, 1983). Students with learning disabilities identified as gifted using traditional methods may demonstrate different profiles, as some display problems in school from a young age, while others encounter frustration only when the material and content become increasingly more challenging (Baum et al., 1991; Daniels, 1983; Whitmore & Maker, 1985). Some students with severe reading problems, for example, develop excellent auditory memories that enable them to memorize books and passages, and this ability helps them to mask their inability to read until late in elementary school (Reis et al., 1995). Accumulated research evidence supports the contention that gifted students with learning disabilities represent a very heterogeneous group of students, which makes it difficult to make canned generalizations about this unique population (Baldwin, 1999; Hannah & Shore, 1995; Olenchak, 1994; Reis et al., 2000).

Researchers report that some high ability students with learning disabilities can be quite productive in nonacademic settings (Baum, 1984; Fox, Brody, & Tobin, 1983; Reis et al., 1995; Schiff, Kaufman, & Kaufman, 1981; Whitmore, 1980). Baum (1984) investigated the use of an enrichment program based on the Enrichment Triad Model (Renzulli, 1977) that was successfully implemented for gifted students with learning disabilities, and suggested four educational implications that could guide the development of special programs for this population. First, these students need focused attention on their gifts and talents—rather than the usual singular focus on their disabilities. Second, talented students with learning disabilities thrive in a supportive environment in which their individual abilities are valued and appreciated. Third, students need to obtain a unique set of strategies to compensate for their learning problems in addition to the content instruction they so often receive. Finally, gifted students with learning disabilities must understand their unique pattern of academic and learning strengths as well as weaknesses in order to learn to compensate for these discrepancies. More recent studies provide evidence that disruptive behaviors of high ability students who have learning disabilities improve or even disappear when these students participate in talent development programs designed to identify and nurture their special gifts and talents (Baum & Olenchak, 2002; Baum, Owen, & Oreck, 1996; Baum, Renzulli, & Hébert, 1994; Olenchak, 1994, 1995).

A conflict exists between these types of remedial strategies used in special education and the academic needs of high ability students with learning disabilities, as high ability students with learning disabilities do not respond favorably to the remedial approach of special education, such as the repetition of basic skills to ensure mastery (Baum, 1984; Baum & Owen, 1988; Daniels, 1986; Jacobson, 1984; Reis et al., 1995; Whitmore, 1980). Current research has found that successful adults with learning disabilities emphasize their potential to achieve rather than focusing on their deficits caused by their disability (Reis et al., 1995; Gerber & Reiff, 1991). Factors such as persistence, self-confidence, the will to conquer adversity, and strong character have been cited as contributing to the success of individuals with disabilities (Gerber & Reiff, 1991; Maker, 1978; Reis et al., 1995). Gerber and Reiff (1991) studied highly successful adults with learning disabilities from 24 states and Canada and identified several themes associated with career success, of which the most prevalent was the desire and effort to gain control of one’s life. They found a correlation between higher degree of control and an increased likelihood of success in life. Other themes that emerged from extensive interviews with adults studied by Gerber and Reiff included the desire to succeed; goal-orientation; reframing or reinterpreting the disability in a positive sense; persistence; goodness of fit between strengths, weaknesses, and career choice; learned creativity or divergent thinking; and a social ecology of support systems, including family and friends. Learning how to premeditate or conquer their learning disability was not a major factor in the lives of these successful adults; rather they learned to compensate for their disability and move forward.

Specific Compensation Strategies

Little has been written about compensation strategies for gifted students with learning disabilities in elementary and secondary schools. Crux (1991) referred to the compensation strategies as a broad class of learning strategies that “describe study, cognitive, spatial, memory, or learning strategies” (p. 7), and explained that students with learning disabilities use compensation strategies because they provide effective methods for processing information when thinking, remembering, storing and making sense of old and new information. She found variations in the characteristics of compensatory methods and strategies, which was understandable, as the purpose of these strategies is “to provide ways of compensating for a learning problem” (Crux, 1991, p. 5). Baum et al. (1991) suggested that successful high ability students with learning disabilities who are able to work in their interest areas use compensation strategies as a way to address their disabilities. Since so many intervention programs at the K-12 settings have focused on remediation approached that have been shown to be ineffective for high ability students with learning disabilities, an effective model for considering compensation strategy service delivery systems can be found in the education of university students with learning disabilities (Shaw, Brinckerhoff, Kistler, & McGuire, 1991). The postsecondary framework requires that students gain the autonomy seldom learned in elementary or secondary special education programs. At the postsecondary level, more colleges and universities provide services for an increasing number of students with learning disabilities who are pursuing higher education (Mangrum & Strichart, 1997). In some university settings, students participate in a program to learn to understand their specific learning needs and gain assistance in utilizing compensatory strategies to circumvent academic disabilities and become independent and successful learners in academically challenging college or university settings (Brinckerhoff et al., 2002; McGuire et al., 1991; Vogel & Adelman, 1993).

Compensation Strategies Taught in Successful University Programs: Study Strategies and Skills
In one study documenting the specific activities of university students with learning disabilities, McGuire et al. (1991) found that the areas most commonly addressed in a successful university program for students with learning disabilities, included study strategies, course-related performance strategies (e.g., reading comprehension and written expression), counseling, and self-advocacy training. Study strategies and specific skills to compensate for the learning disability emerged as the primary need of university students with learning disabilities, including specific types of note-taking strategies, time management, test-taking preparation, and library skills. Note-taking strategies are seldom taught in the regular university curriculum, yet were found to be critical for the organization of information delivered in classes.

Time management was the most frequently occurring objective among study strategies in successful university programs for students with learning disabilities (McGuire et al., 1991). The use of one-month organizers and semester overview calendars was consistently modeled and further enhanced in weekly, and sometimes daily meetings that included discussions about how to maximize the use of time. Successful time management depends on students’ abilities to self-monitor their activities and make appropriate decisions, and self-monitoring of time management must also include understanding the need for extra time to complete academic tasks in the area of the specific disability.

Instruction in test-taking skills is rarely provided in students’ educational experience (Bragstad & Stumpf, 1987), but successful university students with learning disabilities must plan for test preparation. Learning specialists in university centers often model strategies for analyzing multiple choice questions, suggest methods to reduce test-taking anxiety, and help students to learn to use an error analysis approach to review tests and pinpoint reasons for incorrect answers. Strategies related to classroom performance, such as written expression, reading comprehension, and mathematical processes, are also taught by learning specialists in university learning disability programs (McGuire et. al, 1991). Written expression instruction helps students in the development of skills such as the organization of written assignments, proofreading, and sentence structure and mechanics.

Counseling and Self-Advocacy
Counseling for university students with learning disabilities can include academic, personal, and career concerns, and has been found to absorb one third of the learning specialists’ instructional time (McGuire et al., 1991; McGuire & Madaus, 1999). Academic counseling may help some students to consider balancing their academic course load in light of their learning strengths and weaknesses. If, for example, pace and depth in reading is a problem, students may be advised to adjust their selection of courses to avoid a class schedule in which overwhelming amounts of reading are required in every class. Students are also advised of the other more clinical counseling services available to them at the university, if personal counseling is required.

High ability students with learning disabilities often need guidance in understanding their profile of strengths and weaknesses in order to utilize appropriate strategies and advocate for academic accommodations (Tannenbaum & Baldwin, 1983). Self-advocacy requires an understanding of these strengths and weaknesses and the students’ skills in presenting their abilities as well as weaknesses in their communication with faculty. This self-awareness enables students to request for accommodations such as extra time on tests, alternative testing environments, or extensions for assignments. Self-monitoring is essential, as students use metacognition to both monitor and adjust for their individual areas of strengths and weaknesses (Brinckerhoff et al., 2002).

Academic Self-Regulation

According to Bandura (1997), one of the major advances in the study of lifelong cognitive development relates to the mechanisms of self-regulated learning in academic settings. Academic self-regulation refers to the process in which students activate and sustain cognitions, behaviors, and affects that are systematically oriented toward the attainment of goals (Schunk & Zimmerman, 1998; Zimmerman, 1989; 1998a, 1998b; Zimmerman & Schunk, 1989). Self-regulated learners are generally characterized as active learners who efficiently and effectively manage their learning with respect to metacognitive, motivational, and behavioral aspects (Zimmerman, 1989). Zimmerman identified the hallmarks of academic self-regulation to include: academic time management, practice, mastery of learning methods, goal-directedness, and a robust sense of self-efficacy. The construct of academic self-regulation has gained increasing attention in the last two decades, resulting in numerous studies conducted in a variety of settings with individuals representing different age and achievement groups and disability status (see, for example, Brinckerhoff et al., 2002; Schunk & Zimmerman, 1994, 1998) as well as several longitudinal studies (e.g., Vermetten et al., 1999).

Self-regulated learning is an important component for college students, with postsecondary settings placing greater emphasis on students’ self-directedness and independence. The term self-regulated learning describes “independent, academically effective forms of learning that involve metacognition, intrinsic motivation, and strategic action” (Perry, 2002, p. 1). In contrast to K-12 students, most college students have control over their own time management and schoolwork schedules as well as over how they structure their studying and learning activities (Pintrich, 1995). More generally, models of self-regulated learning provide a very useful description of what effective learners do in college courses (Pressley & McGormick, 1995). Educational researchers have devoted considerable attention to identifying aspects of instructional approaches that promote students’ development of academic self-regulation (Butler, 1998; Schunk & Zimmerman, 1998). Given research showing that focus on content remediation is not effective for students with learning disabilities (Deshler, Ellis, & Lenz, 1996), and even counterproductive for high ability students with learning disabilities (Baldwin, 1999; Reis et al., 2000), the current focus on fostering students’ regulation of their own leaning and motivation becomes particularly important (Butler, 1998; Policastro, 1993; Schunk & Zimmerman, 1998).

Self-Regulated Learning Strategies and Academic Achievement
A major component of academic self-regulation is self-regulated learning (SRL) strategies defined by Zimmerman (1989) as “actions and processes directed at acquiring information or skills that involve agency, purpose, and instrumentality perceptions by the learners” (p. 329). Zimmerman and Martinez-Pons (1986, 1988) identified 14 types of self-regulated learning strategies in high school students including such methods as organizing and transforming information, self-consequating, seeking information, and rehearsing and using memory aids. Students’ use of these strategies was highly correlated with their achievement and with teachers’ ratings of their self-regulation in a class setting. In fact, students’ reports of their use of these self-regulated learning strategies predicted their achievement track in school with 93% accuracy, and 13 of the 14 strategies discriminated significantly between students from the upper achievement track and students from lower tracks. The self-regulated learning strategies described by Zimmerman (1989) encompass three classes of strategies that all students use to improve self-regulation of their (a) personal functioning; (b) academic behavioral performance; and (c) learning environment (Bandura, 1986; Zimmerman, 1989).

An Interplay Among Self-Regualtion, Metacognition, and Executive Functions
Researchers have found significant differences in the use of study skills and learning strategies among low-, high-achieving students and students with learning disabilities, which, in turn, provides a strong link to their academic achievement (Pintrich et al., 1994; Schunk & Zimmerman, 1994, 1998). The apparent deficiency of students with learning disabilities in the process of learning has been examined by Sternberg and Davidson (1986) and Schiff et al. (1981), among the others. Extensive studies conducted at the University of Kansas by Deshler et al. (1996) corroborated other researchers’ findings that students with learning disabilities are either “strategy deficient” or “actively inefficient,” or, in other words, unable to spontaneously transfer the strategies they learned from previous contexts to new contexts (Wang & Pallinsar, 1989; Wong & Jones, 1992). As an example, the Strategic Intervention Model (SIM) developed at the University of Kansas (Ellis, 1990) is predicated on the idea that, if students become empowered with strategic approached to learning, then, in addition to learning skills, they will also learn why and when to apply these skills and monitor their implementation, as part of an important process referred to as executive functions (Bursuck & Jayanthi, 1993; Stuss & Benson, 1986).

Research has suggested that the use of metacognition can help talented students process information more efficiently and academic self-regulation to learn more effectively (Hannah & Shore, 1995; Shore & Dover, 1987; Sternberg, 1981). Several case studies of gifted students with learning disabilities poignantly illustrated the frustration between understanding complex information and having a disability in the regular processing of information mode (Baum et al., 1991, 1996; Whitmore & Maker, 1978). As Hannah and Shore (1995) aptly noted, “their giftedness suggests metacognitive strength, their learning disabilities suggest metacognitive weakness” (p. 96).

Academic Self-Regulation: Differing Views
Some differences in views on academic self-regulation exist among the researchers. According to Zimmerman and Paulsen (1995), some investigators treat self-regulation as an idiosyncratic set of skills that each student must develop personally as he or she progresses through school. In particular, Crux (1991) argues that each student with learning disabilities needs to develop a personalized set of compensation strategies whose functionality depends on the utility of a particular strategy in certain contexts and circumstances. Other researchers assume that a common, or standard set of self-regulatory skills exists used by a general population of students (Pintrich & Garcia, 1991; Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons, 1986, 1988). Recent research (Schunk & Zimmerman, 1994, 1998) has shown that a common set of self-regulatory skills does exist, that these skills are highly predictive of students’ academic success, and that these skills can be taught. Strategies described by Zimmerman (1989) are standard SRL strategies that arguably all academically successful students use. Reis et al. (2000), however, described a set of specific compensation strategies that included some similar and some different strategies to those identified by Zimmerman (1989). Reis et al. (2000) defined compensation strategies to include “study strategies, cognitive or learning strategies, compensatory supports, environmental accommodations, opportunities for counseling, and the development of an individual plan incorporating a focus on metacognition and executive functions” (p. 124). In another recent study, Ruban (Ruban, 2000; Ruban et al., in press), found empirical evidence supporting the previous research by Reis et al. (2000) suggesting that a specific set of strategies is used primarily by students with LD, and that these compensatory strategies differ from the larger set of standard self-regulated learning strategies used by a general population of students.

Motivation in Using Self-Regulated Learning Strategies as a Function of their Utility
In addition to monitoring and controlling cognitive and metacognitive strategies, self-regulated learners also actively manage other important aspects of their classroom learning (Wolters, 1998). In particular, according to the social cognitive theory of academic self-regulation, students regulate the motivational, affective, and social determinants of their intellectual functioning as well as the cognitive aspects (Corno, 1989; Corno & Kanfer, 1993; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Sansone et al., 1992). In fact, Bandura (1997) contended that the cognitive aspects of self-regulated learning cannot be viewed separately from the motivational aspects. For example, a student may have adaptive cognitive and metacognitive skills, but they will exert little influence on academic performance if he or she fails to use them or fails to find personal utility in them. Personal utility refers to students’ personal and informal assessment of the usefulness of a particular learning strategy or method in their own academic work. Simply put, if students do not find ways to internalize a particular learning strategy and apply it consistently in their courses, they will not use it (Garner, 1990; Nolen & Flaladyna, 1990). As a consequence, motivation, characterized as a student’s willingness or desire to be engaged and commit effort to completing a task, is an important component of classroom learning that students may choose to self-regulate (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Sansone et al., 1992; Wolters, 1998).

Research on Academic Self-Regulation and the Use of Compensation Strategies by High Ability Students with Learning Disabilities

Accumulated research findings have afforded a rich base for understanding the nature of human exceptionality, including giftedness and learning disabilities. Importantly, a study of dual exceptionalities (e.g., gifted students with learning disabilities, and/or ADHD) has made significant strides in the last decade. Researchers studying academic self-regulation have conducted studies in both K-12 and postsecondary settings. It appears that designing studies that make avail of the accumulated knowledge gained by the cross-fertilization of different although related fields can provide rich insights into the study of such complex phenomena as giftedness, learning disabilities, dual exceptionalities, and academic self regulation.

The description of two empirical studies that follows has served to fill this gap. The first study (Reis et al., 1995, 2000) is unique in that it identified compensation strategies used by successful high ability students with learning disabilities in a college environment. The second study (Ruban, 2000; Ruban et al., in press) explored the question of whether university students with and without learning disabilities (including high ability students with LD) use similar or different self-regulated learning strategies to succeed in a challenging university environment; whether the pattern of the use of these strategies differs among different populations of students (i.e., normal-, low-, high achieving students and students with learning disabilities); and whether the differences in these patterns of strategy use are at least partially a function of their essential goals and motivations.

Study 1: Investigating the Use of Compensation Strategies by High Ability University Students With Learning Disabilities

Reis et al. (2000) used qualitative methods to investigate compensation strategies used by talented students with learning disabilities in elementary and secondary school learning disabilities programs, finding that multiple compensation strategies were employed by all of the participants in this study to succeed in challenging university settings. Each participant used some of the individual strategies within each of the major categories of compensation strategies to be successful in a challenging university setting. All participants attributed their success in their scholastic environments to their ability to employ these varied strategies. Study and time management strategies included but were not limited to: methods of learning to study, note taking, identifying key points when reading and preparing for tests, library skills, and the use of daily, weekly, and monthly calendars. Compensation strategies included the use of computers, word processors, books on tape, and self-advocacy. Executive functions included planning techniques such as time management, metacognition, setting work priorities, and self directed speech to help in difficult academic situations. Most of the participants in the study had previously learned only limited compensation strategies without the benefit of a formal, structured learning disability program in their elementary or secondary careers. One participant explained:

I learned to compensate for some of my learning problems but for others, I was still working it out. I knew I had learning disabilities. I knew that was why I couldn’t do things the same way other people did them, but I didn’t necessarily know how to work it out [the other problems].

Some of the compensation strategies were quite simple. For example, it was difficult, if not impossible, for many of the participants to listen and take notes at the same time, because taking notes required so much effort, due to reading, writing and spelling difficulties. These students often learned to photocopy someone else’s notes and compare them with their notes to determine whether they had missed anything important during lectures.

Another compensation strategy used was taking a reduced load of courses. Students who used this strategy usually took four, or occasionally three classes a semester, as compared to five classes, which is normally considered a full course load at their university. This strategy provided the flexibility to invest additional time and effort in their studying to compensate for disabilities. Most of the students acknowledged that their use of compensation strategies was due to their participation in the UPLD (University Program for College Students with Learning Disabilities). It was because of this program that they became aware of and learned to ask for accommodations such as the use of extended time for examinations, or taking an exam using a computer. Many requested extra help from professors who knew that these students had learning problems because they had disclosed their difficulties when requesting accommodations. One participant explained:

I work with my professors. I even go to one of my professors with my notebook, and she takes the time to sit with me and read through my notebook. She sees that I miss certain things, and she discusses the notes that I have missed. Another professor goes through major concepts and ideas with me, and I have learned to use visual cues to help my memory.

Most of the participants acknowledged that their use of various types of equipment such as computers, tape recorders, or books on tape was due to their participation in UPLD. Most also used various learning strategies described in the SQ3R strategy including: preview reading, structured reading (i.e., reviewing what they will focus on by using boldfaced topic headings), reading abstracts or chapter summaries which provide a “blueprint” of key information, and planning considerable amounts of time for reading. The participants in this study also indicated they used outlining and notecards as well as mnemonic techniques. While many of the students mentioned multiple learning and compensation strategies, each had developed an individual set of strategies that enabled him/her to succeed. For some participants, this system included various study strategies, such as organizing their time to find the large blocks needed to complete their reading, and analyzing their own difficulties to be able to overcome them. One explained his system:

Well, I’ve become better at planning. To improve my grades at school, I request untimed test time for the testing accommodations to enable me the time to read the questions thoroughly and ask for help if I can not read a word. Planning and organizing have taught me to carry a calendar around and I go through all my syllabi and plan out when the exams are and what reading has to be done. I don’t always get it all done. Right now I’m behind in a couple classes. But, I know what I need to do and I have to do it in little pieces . . . Chunking is the term that they use. It keeps me from getting overwhelmed, if I have a list of eight chapters that I need to do by next Saturday, that’s overwhelming for me. I have to break it up, I have to start with chapter one on Sunday and continue through the week adding a chapter each day. If the chapters are really long, I do sections of chapters at different times of the day. Self-awareness is a big thing for me as I have to know how long I need to do something. When I started college I couldn’t plan out how long I needed to read a chapter. How long I needed to work on something. Now I have learned how much time it takes me to do my work and I have a much better idea of how to plan.

Most participants also indicated that they could not be employed during the academic year because of the amount of time necessary for them to complete their academic work. One participant, who worked at a job related to his passion and avocation, bicycling, took only two courses a semester, but most worked only in the summer.

Several of the participants also mentioned what may be labeled an “underground network,” that included a system of checking with other students about professors from whom they should take classes. These students tried to find professors who were regarded as fair, would make the necessary accommodations for students with learning disabilities, and whose lectures were keyed to the assigned text. The option of selecting these professors was possible because participants attended a large university and had many choices while at a smaller college, fewer choices would exist. Joe indicated that selection of professors was a major “success” strategy for him. “I learned to cope by getting the right teachers, those who let me compensate for my learning disability.”

Three themes emerged related to compensation and learning strategies used by successful high ability university students with learning disabilities. First, each participant developed a unique system developed in consideration of the nature of the disability, his/her personal styles and preferences, and a set of appropriate compensation strategies. Second, these successful students devoted an extraordinary amount of time, effort, and energy to their studies, as summarized by one participant who described his preparation for a chemistry exam:

For the last chemistry exam, for example, my notes run very close to the book. I went through the book. I took notes on nearly everything in the book that wasn’t considered important. All the major theories of people!! On the six chapters, I took 12 pages of notes, and then I went through that, and what I did is, I studied that, and then I rewrote everything that I didn’t feel like I had the first time. I would just do that until I knew everything backwards and forwards, and then I went through the notes in the book, and anything I hadn’t studied already in the book and the notes. I just wrote down what to study, but I spend days of doing that amount of studying. It wasn’t just taking the notes. I didn’t count that as just studying. I would finish reading the chapters about a week before the exam, and spend a couple of days taking notes on the exam, for the exam from the book. I’d say I probably put in 30 hours or more studying for the exam. I mean that. . . .I’d put in the days before the exam perhaps, 3 to 5 hours a day for at least 4 to 5 days in a row.

The third theme was the degree of comfort the participants gained using the various learned compensation strategies. A continuum existed relating to the adjustment these students experienced around the use of compensation strategies for their learning problems. Some participants believed they were “cheating” or not really working if they used reasonable accommodations such as extended time for tests and the use of a word processor for exams. Several had been constantly told in elementary and secondary school that if she would only work and study harder, she could overcome her learning problems. Accordingly, in the university setting, one young woman continued to believe that asking for help was analogous to admitting she hadn’t worked hard enough.

If I got an A, I wanted to get it under the same circumstances as everybody else. Because I felt like maybe I was cheating in my work, if I had an advantage that they [other students] didn’t. After a while, though, I realized that I am at a slight disadvantage, anyway, so it [using extra time in exams] just balances out. Now that doesn’t bother me at all anymore, and like I said, with the extra time in exams, sometimes I use it. I am always prepared to use (this accommodation), like I will get there early, or I will have the option to stay late.

Approximately half of the students used services provided in the UPLD and various learned compensation strategies easily and without guilt, while still others analyzed and reflected about why they needed help and why it may be difficult to request assistance. Another participant in this study explained:

I think that the hardest thing is to . . . know when I need more help, and when I can do it on my own. I am an individual, and I don’t like someone else doing things for me, or even doing things with me, and it was very hard to get to the point to say, “I need help learning to memorize things.” I want to be able to do it on my own, and I was constantly being told that I was smart enough to do it on my own, and it was frustrating to realize that I have to do extra to get to [the] same point that other people can get to just by reading it.

While many of the students mentioned multiple learning and compensation strategies, it is clear that each selected the particular strategies that worked best for him/her. For each participant, an individual system, defined by Stuss and Benton (1986) as executive functions, was developed, sometimes intuitively by the individual student, and sometimes collaboratively by the student and a learning specialist from the UPLD, which enabled him/her to succeed using a combination of compensation and learning strategies.

Self-Perceived Strengths
Another strategy for success, developed by almost all of the participants, was the acquisition of excellent work habits in response to difficulties. Dedication was needed to succeed in a challenging university system, and many students emphasized their strong belief in their own potential and a willingness to go to great lengths to realize that potential. The majority believed that their capacity for hard work was their greatest asset. Each of these students learned how to work hard because of his/her learning disability, and the determination and motivation of each of these students was quite clear in their interviews and in the corresponding interviews with their parents.

The work ethic described by the participants transferred into their employment; each had one or a number of summer jobs to defray college costs. The motivation that enabled them to work hard usually focused on obtaining a university degree. In fact, many of the participants in this study became more committed to graduate because of their learning disability.

Several of the participants had to change their majors in order to succeed in a challenging university setting. For those who must spend hours reading what students who do not have learning disabilities can read in minutes, the pursuit of a liberal arts degree remains challenging, even when the most sophisticated compensation strategies are gained. Some of the students in this study majored in liberal arts, and used many compensation and learning strategies. However, other students learned to select majors in areas that enabled them to tap into their strengths and succeed without the hours of reading required in the liberal arts curriculum. Mathematics, engineering, sciences, physical therapy, and music are all areas selected for majors by this group.

Half of these students were affected by what happened to them as elementary and secondary students due to the discrepancy created by their high abilities and their learning disabilities. Complex emotions continue to affect many of them, and half of the sample sought counseling to reconcile some of the problems and mixed messages that they believed had been caused by their educational background. Two considered suicide and one actually planned her death:

This is a good one. What I did as a senior was, I watched all these kids apply at schools. They were my best friends applying to schools and everything else you know, and they were 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in class, and I said, ‘what the hell am I going to do?’ My father has this nice job. My uncle is a professor at Cornell, and I am this real shameful thing in the family, I mean, it was really awful and I knew, there wasn’t anything that I could do. I couldn’t take notes. There were so many things that I couldn’t do, so I decided that suicide was the answer, and I planned to do it before graduation. I carried it right out, I mean, I gave all my stuff away. I did all the things that kids do when they are planning to kill themselves. And I decided I’d make peace with everyone. I had a teacher pull me in, and she said, ‘are you thinking about suicide?’ And it was so abrupt and straightforward. I didn’t know what to do except say, yes.

Appropriate interventions were made for this young woman who eventually gained compensation strategies, which enabled her to become extremely successful in both college and graduate school. However, she was involved in counseling during much of that period of her life. In all probability, similar counseling opportunities will be necessary for other high ability students with learning disabilities.

Discussion of the Findings in this Study

These studies indicate that some high ability students with learning disabilities succeed in a challenging, rigorous university setting with the help of various compensation strategies. Too often, however, the LD programs in which they participated in elementary and secondary school focused on remediation of content-related deficits or the opportunity to do homework or catch up on work missed in class instead of instruction in compensation strategies they needed. Their subsequent participation in a university program for students with learning disabilities provided their first organized opportunity for training in compensation and learning strategies, and they all believed that this postsecondary program was essential to their success.

Participants were able to resolve the conflict between their abilities and their disabilities. Some learned the compensation strategies needed to directly address their learning disability and become successful in an area that may have initially appeared difficult, if not impossible. Some participants were careful to select an academic direction in which they had strengths and in which their success was not dependent upon the acquisition of compensation strategies or the mastery of academic content that was directly affected by their learning disability. These options are not available to an elementary or secondary student who has either no choices or extremely limited academic choices in school. The majority of participants combined the two options mentioned above as they attempted to both compensate for their learning disability and also select a major area of concentration that fostered the use of their strengths to enhance their academic performance. Baum’s (1984) observations about the importance of focusing on a talent while developing compensatory strategies are certainly affirmed by these successful adults with learning disabilities, as was Sternberg’s notion of successful intelligence (Sternberg, 1995, 1997), enabling a focus on strengths and compensation for deficits. Renzulli’s theories (1977; Renzulli & Reis, 1985, Renzulli & Reis, 1997) about the importance of focusing on interests, learning styles, and curriculum strength areas were also found to be accurate for the population studied.

The creation of a personal plan for academic success varied among participants, but always included these elements: the use of carefully selected and individually necessary compensation strategies, and the integration of certain executive functions that guided the students’ decisions and the directions they either followed or ignored. All of the successful participants shared the ability to focus on developing their talents instead of focusing on their deficits. Educators must reexamine the approaches used at the elementary and secondary levels to address the special education needs of high ability students with learning disabilities. Programs for students with learning disabilities that focus on remediation will not help this population. Instruction in compensatory strategies and self-advocacy must be incorporated in a program that fosters self-regulation and self-reliance, a critical factor for success in future academic and life endeavors.

Study 2: Comparing the Use of Self-Regulated Learning Strategies and Compensation Strategies Among University Students With and Without Learning Disabilities

Ruban (Ruban, 2000; Ruban et al., in press) used survey research methods to examine patterns in the use of self-regulated learning (SRL) strategies and compensation strategies among university students with and without learning disabilities. The sample of respondents (N=470) was comprised of four groups of undergraduate students from a large research university in the northeast: normal achieving students (n=89), low achieving students (n=102), high achieving students (n=227), and students with learning disabilities (n=53). A convenience sample of undergraduates who were enrolled in an introductory learning class represented the normal achieving group; students who, at the time of the administration of the survey, were on academic probation for failing to meet the university’s minimum scholastic requirements represented low achieving students; a random sample of university Honors Scholars comprised the high achieving group; and students with LD were sampled from the same comprehensive support program for students with LD from which participants in Study 1 were sampled (UPLD, or University Program for College Students with Learning Disabilities).

A new instrument entitled Learning Strategies and Study Skills Survey (LSSS, Ruban & Reis, 1999) was developed for this study. The LSSS survey was designed to explore the relationship between the use of self-regulated learning strategies/compensation strategies and academic achievement of different groups university students, using Zimmerman’s (1989) work on self-regulated learning, Schmeck, Ribich, and Ramanaiah’s (1977) study of individual learning preferences, and Reis et al.’s (1995, 2000) work on compensation strategies used by academically successful students with learning disabilities. The LSSS survey was designed to assess college students’ self-reported study behaviors in generic learning situations, and confirmatory factor analysis provided sufficient support for the construct validity of the survey, χ² (642)=1080.63, TLI=.90, CFI=.91; RMSEA=0.038. The instrument included six factors, and the first three factors represented standard SRL strategies (Conceptual Skills; Study Routines; and Routine Memorization), while the last three factors represented compensation strategies (Reading & Writing Metacognitive Strategies; Compensatory Supports; and Help Seeking).

Respondents were also asked to respond to two open-ended questions related to two areas. First, they were asked to consider any special ways of studying or creative approaches that they found useful in their academic work (such as figuring out how to study difficult material more efficiently, or finding a good way to memorize important information). The second question examined students’ motivations for using these self-regulated learning strategies or study skills, asking the students to explain the reasons as to why self-regulatory methods help them to succeed in their academic work.

A combination of quantitative and qualitative methods was used, to add breadth and scope to the findings (Creswell, 1994). Quantitative data techniques included confirmatory factor analysis (CFA, Kline, 1998) to examine the psychometric properties of the LSSS survey, and discriminant function analysis to examine group differences among normal-, low-, high-achieving students and students with LD regarding the use of SRL strategies and compensation strategies (i.e., mean scale scores on the LSSS survey) (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001). Qualitative data analyses were conducted for both open-ended questions using the coding paradigm suggested by Strauss and Corbin (1990), which included open coding, axial coding, and selective coding, and interrater agreement for coding both questions was fairly high (88% and 80%, respectively). Highlights of the major findings from this study is presented below.

Group Differences Using a Quantitative Approach
The discriminant function analysis used to examine group differences with respect to the use of self-regulatory and compensatory methods among the students with and without learning disabilities resulted in three significant discriminant functions, with a combined χ² (18) = 271.822, p< .001. The three functions accounted for 38%, 4%, and 2% of the between-group variability, respectively. The first function separated low achievers and students with LD from normal and high achievers. The second function discriminated low achievers from normal achievers and LD group. The third function separated normal achievers from students with LD. The loading matrix of correlations between predictors and discriminant functions suggested that the best predictors for distinguishing between normal/high achievers and low achievers/ LD students were conceptual skills and compensatory supports. Low achievers differed from normal achievers and students with LD on help seeking (with low achievers seeking less help and students with LD seeking most help), and study routines (with LD students studying the most of all groups). The high achieving group reported the highest mean on conceptual skills, and the lowest mean on study routines. It is likely that these students may be more likely to use more differentiated and complex strategies than other students, or that they may have internalized strategies to the extent that they are no longer consciously aware that they are actually using them. As one high achiever described, “I don’t even realize that I am using study skills or learning strategies – I feel that it comes naturally – so maybe it was taught at such a young age that it is automatic now.” Finally, students with LD differed from normal achievers on routine memorization, with LD students using memorization the least. The two most important (i.e., reported as being used most frequently) strategies for normal-, low-, and high-achieving students were conceptual skills and memorization (i.e., standard SRL strategies). In contrast, for the students with LD the most important strategies were help seeking (i.e., a compensation strategy) and study routines (a standard SRL strategy). Interestingly, routine memorization was least important for these students. Students with LD reported using many learning strategies (both standard and compensatory) in order to compensate for their learning difficulties and succeed academically in a challenging university environment.

Patterns of Use of Self-Regulation Strategies and Compensation Strategies Among Students with and Without Disabilities
Themes were also identified as students’ responses to the open-ended question across the four groups were classified into salient themes and compared to the 14 categories of standard self-regulated learning strategies originally developed by Zimmerman and Martinez-Pons (1986, 1988). A total of 305 students provided responses to the first open-ended question. In the present study, as the result of the open, axial, and selective coding, as well as through the discussion between the researchers with respect to the relationship between and among the codes, it became apparent that some of the categories that emerged from the analysis were similar to, and some were more differentiated than the original 14 categories proposed by Zimmerman. In addition, several new categories emerged. Based on the results of Strauss and Corbin’s (1990) coding scheme, the following major categories of self-regulated learning strategies and compensation strategies emerged: self-evaluating; managing time and re-distributing work load; organizing and transforming material; keeping records and monitoring; structuring study environment; memorizing, rehearsing and retaining material in routine and creative ways; reviewing records and clustering material; utilizing support networks; using compensation strategies; and non-strategic behaviors. Each of these major categories included specific self-regulation strategies and compensation strategies.

When frequencies and percentages of strategy use for each group were tabulated, interesting patterns of group differences emerged among the four groups of students. Using the total number of students using a particular strategy, the most frequently strategies were ranked for each group in terms of the strategy’s importance. Even though there was some overlap in the pattern of strategy use, there were marked differences among the groups. For instance, the five top strategies used by low achievers were using flashcards, reviewing notes, planning time, seeking social assistance, and reviewing text. For normal achievers, using mnemonics and visual cues and memorizing material routinely was rated as most important, followed by condensing notes, and highlighting and color coding. High achievers reported high use of condensing of notes and mnemonics combined with visual cues, and outlining material and writing summaries. Students with learning disabilities were the only group who reported regular use of compensation strategies to help them with their academic work. Using flashcards, seeking social assistance and highlighting and color coding were rated as most frequently used strategies.

Careful examination of the students’ responses across the four groups revealed that there was a wide variability in their comments. For instance, some students merely listed strategy or strategies they use; others elaborated in great detail in what contexts they use these strategies, or under what circumstance, thus making a reflective link to the utility function of these strategies; in addition, strategies described by some students appeared to be at a higher level of complexity than those of others. For instance, whereas one of the low achievers wrote, “I just keep reading it till I get it,” several students, including high achievers and students with LD, provided greater elaboration indicative of the strategy’s level of complexity. For instance, a high achieving student with an LD explained his use of mnemonics and visual cues, “I often use an erase board to help me visualize what is being asked or to help me learn how things work together as a system or mechanism (works primarily with my science courses).” Several high achieving students described strategies for meaningful learning and constructing meaning, as illustrated in the following comment, “I try to make connections and see how everything works together to make sense either within the course or between past and present knowledge.” Notably, several students expressed metacognitive awareness about the usefulness of learning strategies in their academic work, as illustrated in the following two comments: “I don’t use study skills, and therefore do poorly in my classes (a low achieving student); “Learning strategies – I live by them” (student with LD).

Many student with learning disabilities provided interesting insights into the nature of the academic self-regulation of their study behaviors. These students often sought social assistance, for example, asking professors for lecture notes, using office hours (one student wrote emphatically, “It’s very important for students with LD to use office hours. I’d say, ‘Abuse’ office hours!”), asking teaching assistants for help, utilizing resources of the comprehensive college support program for students with LD, etc. These students also often created their own individualized methods for creating flashcards (such as color coding important terms, or using different color cards for different concepts, etc.). Some students with LD found it helpful to draw pictures in their notes and on the back of their flashcards to help associate concepts with words and meanings, or help learn and memorize information (e.g., For classes that are very visual, like Art History, I take notes in class, draw little pictures on the side what the art looked like. Later, I make lots of different flashcards with photocopied pictures on one side and information about it on the other.”). One student reported sitting in front of class and taking only a few notes as an environmental/personal structuring strategy, in order to help him better concentrate on the material presented in class (e.g., “I sit on front of class and try to understand everything my professors say or write on the board rather than just copying it down in my notes. I take a few notes on the lecture, only important things I haven’t seen before.”).

Group Differences in the Motivation for Using Strategies
In addition, students were invited to respond to another open-ended question, which asked students to describe what motivated them to use learning strategies and study skills, and how the use of these self-regulatory methods helps them in their academic work. A total of 176 students across the four groups provided responses to this question. As with the first open-ended question, students’ responses were coded into salient themes using Strauss and Corbin’s (1990) coding scheme, and the “top five” reasons for using self-regulated learning strategies and study skills were identified for each group, which provided interesting insights into the nature of students’ self-reported motivation for using academic self-regulation. The pattern of the rankings for using strategies varied by the group and reflected different degrees of emphasis that students in these groups placed on the use of these strategies, as low-, normal-, high-achievers and students with learning disabilities perceived varying degrees of utility or usefulness of strategies, depending on their motivations for using these strategies.

For low achievers who were struggling to improve their grades, the priorities were clear in that they needed to use basics of time management, organize their study environment, use strategies for test preparation and increase their academic self-efficacy and motivation to improve their academic standing to avoid dropping out because of academic non-performance. In contrast to this “academic survival” model, students in the other three groups reported qualitatively different reasons for using self-regulated learning strategies and study skills. For instance, the most important reason for high achievers’ use of self-regulation was to facilitate the process of understanding information and relating concepts to each other. However, an important differentiation occurred. Whereas many high and normal achievers and students with LD linked the use of the learning strategies with linking concepts in a meaningful and coherent way to organize their personal schemata and deep understanding (not routine memorization) of the material, low achievers associated the reason for using learning strategies and study skills with facilitating basic information and memorization of information for exams.

Additionally, the pattern of the rankings presented revealing results. Some similarity was found in the pattern of rankings for some strategies among normal-, high achievers and students with LD, but there were also marked differences. For instance, understanding information/ bringing concepts together was ranked as the highest priority by high achievers, but it received a lower ranking by students with LD, who first needed to make sure that they could manage their time effectively and organize material and concepts. Interestingly, students with LD found it was very important to learn how to become more efficient and develop learned creativity to adapt and succeed in a postsecondary setting. In addition, students with LD were the only group who reported that using self-regulatory study methods helped them compensate for their learning disability and manage their LD.

Discussion of the Findings in Study 2

Several themes emerged from the data in this study, and raise some interesting questions. First, group differences emerged in the use of academic self-regulation among different populations of students, corroborated what previous research has suggested (Borkowski & Thorpe, 1994; Krouse & Krouse, 1981; Vogel & Adelman, 1993; Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons, 1990). However, moving beyond group differences for the sake of group differences, this study considered students’ motivation for using self-regulation, and suggests a strong link exists between self-reported study behaviors and reasons for using self-regulatory methods among different student populations. Low achieving students have different goals and motives (to survive academically) than high achieving students (to enhance their deep understandings, and further focus their learning goals). Students with learning disabilities use self-regulation to compensate for their learning disability, identify strengths and weaknesses and to succeed academically. These students resort to the use of self-regulatory techniques that would be of highest utility to them under given circumstances, and what clearly emerges through this research is that although some generalizations can be made about the way in which different populations of students self-regulate their study behaviors and motivations, a great deal of individual variation exists within each population.

Students with LD in this study represented a unique population of students in terms of regulating their own learning. Because students with LD are a heterogeneous group, they showed similarities and differences in academic self-regulation as compared to low-, normal-, and high achievers. This study provided support for the hypothesis that students with LD use both standard self-regulated learning strategies and compensation strategies, depending on a complex interplay of factors, such as the type of their LD, severity of LD, and the co-morbity of LD with giftedness, and the utility of particular strategies and methods in certain academic contexts.

Perhaps one of the most provocative ideas that emerges in this research is that academic self-regulation of students with LD and/or with dual exceptionalities (e.g., with both giftedness and learning disabilities, or with learning disabilities and ADHD) has its own idiosyncrasies. It appears that individuals with LD have to undertake an additional step in regulating their own learning behaviors and motivation. First, because they have processing deficits, or difficulties, they have to find out what their strengths and weaknesses are, and utilize self-regulated learning strategies and compensatory strategies. Then, an equally important purpose for them becomes how to learn effectively on their own and become self-directed learners. Despite the fact that many students with LD in this study exhibited high ability, they had to work much harder than other students to succeed academically in a challenging university environment, because the co-existence of learning disability and giftedness created additional challenges.

Implications of this Research for Practice

A growing number of researchers believe that the study of students with learning disabilities who also demonstrate high ability provide useful insights into the nature of giftedness (Baum et al., 1991; Baum & Olenchak, 2002; Hannah & Shore, 1995; Reis et al., 2000). They argue that the combination of exceptionalities is interesting because both giftedness and learning disabilities have been previously studied in isolation from each other, and also because gifted students with learning disabilities students have received increasing attention as a special population (Baldwin, 1999; Baldwin & Viale, 1999; Hannah & Shore, 1995; Olenchak, 1994, 1995). As a consequence, studying students with dual exceptionalities appears to provide particularly provocative and deep insights into the nature of human exceptionality and the additional challenges associated with comorbity of giftedness with leaning disabilities. In particular, research conducted in the fields of giftedness, learning disabilities, and academic self-regulation, respectively, may help researchers and educators to better understand the complex tapestry of factors that come into play when studying the characteristics, needs, identification, assessment and service delivery issues related to this unique population. Even though research on students with dual exceptionalities in secondary settings has been gaining momentum (Baldwin, 1999; Baum & Olenchak, 2002; Baum et al., 1991; Hannah & Shore, 1995), research on academically talented college students with learning disabilities is still in its infancy (Reis et al., 2002; Ruban, 2000; Ruban et al., in press).

Research findings in different fields serve to enrich each other, but also research conducted at the secondary level informs research conducted at the postsecondary level, and vice versa. Therefore, exemplars of effective intervention models focusing on strategic and meaningful learning and effective transitioning strategies for students with LD at the secondary level (Deshler et al., 1996; Ellis, 1990) should inform postsecondary practice about how to help students with exceptionalities succeed academically and learn how to become self-directed learners. On the other hand, research conducted in postsecondary settings, an area that has made significant strides in the last decade with respect to the factors that help students with learning disabilities and/or dual exceptionalities become academically successful, may provide an effective model for considering service delivery systems that can be found in the education of secondary students with learning disabilities (Brinckerhoff et al., 2002; Shaw et al., 1991). The continuity of services and both the opportunities and support that students with learning disabilities and/or dual exceptionalities receive in high school becomes particularly important when they transition into postsecondary settings, given that such students face additional obstacles in postsecondary arena, with its emphasis on student independence and self-directedness (Brinckerhoff et al., 2002; Dalke, 1993; Reis et al., 2000).

Brinckerhoff et al. (2002) noted that in the arena of postsecondary education of students with learning disabilities, there are emerging signs of the ever increasing visibility of this previously “invisible” category (p. ix). Researchers in this area acknowledge the fact that many of these individuals are also academically talented and have developed an extensive repertoire of finely tuned compensation strategies that can further confound the diagnosis of an LD or ADHD, making it even more difficult to demonstrate need for accommodations. As evidence of this increasing visibility, the researchers cited postsecondary enrollment statistics, components of federal legislation, the increased number of the specialized summer precollege preparation programs, coverage by media, and college policies and procedures.

In particular, students with LD continue to represent the fastest-growing category of disability reported by first-time, full-time college freshmen (Henderson, 1999). Henderson (1999) reported that in 1998, 41% of all such freshmen identified themselves as having a learning disability, whereas ten years earlier, only 15% of these applicants had made such self-disclosure. Perhaps as further evidence of attempts at “leveling the playing field,” the College Board recently announced that it will no longer flag the SAT score reports of students who were granted extra time because of disabilities (Hoover, 2002). Sid Wolinksy, director of litigation of Disability Rights Advocates, referred to the flag as “a scarlet letter” which stigmatized individuals with disabilities who didn’t want to be identified as disabled (Hoover, 2002). Such high-stakes challenges may have implications for college admissions and for individuals with exceptionalities who apply to colleges. According to Brinckerhoff et al. (2002), these positive changes have become possible to attain because of the legal underpinnings of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990), the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1997), and, in Canada, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As a consequence, in Brinckerhoff et al.’s interpretation, these laws have worked to enhance the integration and participation of individuals with disabilities in all aspects of society, including both the postsecondary education and the arena of competitive employment. This positive trend has been evidenced in the number of colleges and universities offering comprehensive LD support programs or LD services to students with exceptionalities, particularly students with learning disabilities (Lewis & Farris, 1999). Whereas a decade ago, some postsecondary institutions were just beginning to offer such services and programs, currently over 1,200 campuses in the United States and Canada offer such services (Mangrum & Strichart, 1997).

Despite the many challenges faced by individuals with LD/GLD, many of them are enrolling in colleges and universities better prepared academically and having higher aspirations and sense of self-efficacy rooted in their successful academic records, and augmented by the support provided by teachers, LD and G/T personnel, and parents (Baum & Olenchak, 2002; Brinckerhoff et al., 2002). Research provides convincing evidence that comprehensive and effective LD support programs and talent development programs designed to identify and nurture gifts, abilities, and talents can reverse the negative pattern of underachievement, low levels of motivation and task dedication, and inaccurate perceptions of oneself and others in students with dual exceptionalities (Baum et al., 1991). In particular, Baum and Olenchak (2002) provided a convincing argument that meeting the needs of twice exceptional children must include “focused attention to the gift, inclusion in a supportive environment, allowance for compensation strategies, and counseling sessions to cope with social, emotional, and behavioral issues” (p. 89). It appears that the confluence of the accumulated research findings in the fields of learning disabilities, giftedness, and academic self-regulation at the K-12 and postsecondary levels have converged to provide a powerful framework with implications for designing effective interventions programs for students with learning disabilities and dual exceptionalities. Grounded in such synthesis of research, Tables 1 and 2 describes different types of empirically-based strategies that have been shown to be effective in ensuring academic success and fostering talent development in individuals with learning disabilities and dual exceptionalities, in secondary and postsecondary arena. Research and practice have underscored the importance of using a variety of strategies at different levels, such as academic, legal, and career-related strategies; self-regulation and compensation strategies; social-emotional strategies; and talent development strategies. To achieve the goals of successful transition, talent development, and the fulfillment of personal potential, collaboration among different stakeholders needs to occur on several levels, such as teachers, LD personnel, G/T specialists, professionals, parents, teachers, and, last but not least, students themselves as key agents in developing their potentials and shaping their lives.

Table 1.
Compensatory and Non-Compensatory Strategies for Making a Successful Transition from High School to College

Strategies and Goals
Academic, Legal, and Career-Related Strategies

Develop a clear understanding of what learning disabilities (LD) are and are not

  • provide a general overview of LD (LD teachers)
  • discuss common terminology (LD teacher)
Brinckerhoff et al. (2002); Cowen (1993); Field & Hoffman (1996)
Learn about one’s own legal rights

  • learn about changes in legal rights under Section 504; ADA; and IDEA (LD teachers)
  • learn about accommodations provided by law (LD teachers)
Brinckerhoff et al. (1993); Heyward (1998); Latham & Latham (1998); Vogel (1997)
Select courses to prepare a student academically for college; and get ready for & take the SAT/ ACT

  • encourage the student to take college preparatory courses; consider quality (counselors)
  • be ware of modified or simplified courses (parents; counselors)
  • try to complete a wide array of courses and avoid course waivers if possible (parents)
  • use a multiyear educational plan (counselors)
  • involve parents as part of the educational team (teachers; LD specialists; counselors)
Barr et al. (1998); Cowen (1993); McGuire et al. (1991); Koehler & Kravets (1998); Reis et al. (1995); Whitmore (1980)
Explore career & postsecondary options

  • explore ways to incorporate strengths & weaknesses into a career plan
  • participate in a career exploration program
  • explore careers through extracurricular activities, hobbies & work experiences
  • explore colleges that do not require the SAT or ACT (counselors; parents)
  • use college resource guides/directories/websites, including specialized LD sources
  • create a list of 6-10 schools, including: (a) “sure bet,” (b) “reasonable reach”; (c) “far shot.”
  • explore college options with comprehensive LD programs versus LD services
  • consider each college’s distance from home
Biller (1985); Brinckerhoff et al. (2002); Cowen, (1993); DuChossois & Stein, (1992)
Self-Regulation and Compensation Strategies

Begin developing a repertoire of personalized compensation strategies

  • help a student begin developing generalizable study skills
  • help a student begin developing a personalized set of compensation strategies to promote academic success (LD specialist; parents)
  • steer clear of traditional remediation resource room models
  • promote strategic learning and problem solving
  • explore the benefits of assistive technology
Bryant et al. (2002); Bursuck & Jayanthi (1993); Butler (1998); Crux (1991); Deshler et al. (1996); Reis et al. (2000); Shaw et al. (1991)
Develop a general understanding of the nature of one’s own disability

  • what the nature of one’s own LD is (LD teachers; parents)
  • understand one’s own profile of strengths and weaknesses (parents)
  • understand connection between one’s own LD and academic performance (teachers)
Aune (1991); Brinckerhoff (1994); Cowen (1993); Dalke & Howard (1994); Wilson (1994)
Foster self-determination

  • help a student develop self-advocacy skills
  • help a student to set goals and then implement the plan (parents; teachers; counselors)
  • teach a student assertive communication, understanding oneself as a learner (LD specialists; teachers; counselors; parents)
  • encourage the student to reach for postsecondary education (parents; teachers)
Brinckerhoff et al. (2002); Eaton (1996); Price (1988); Tessler (1997); Wilson (1994)
Develop greater independence

  • consider taking a summer job to establish work ethic (parents)
  • refine academic skills and career options (teachers; counselors; parents)
  • help a student understand his/her psycho-educational report (school psychologist)
  • become aware of accommodations available for taking standardized tests (counselors)
Anderson (1993); Aune & Ness (1991); Cowen (1993); Eaton & Coull (1998); Vogel & Reder (1998)
Social-Emotional Strategies

  • provide a student with emotional support and encouragement if negative interaction with teachers or peers occurs (parents; counselors; professionals)
  • provide parent advocacy in the school settings (parents)
  • stress the importance of education and raise an adolescent’s aspirations (parents)
  • seek support outside of school (parents)
  • offer help with schoolwork if needed (parents)
  • help avoid an adolescent associate compensations strategies with negative stigma (parents)
  • involve both parents in an adolescent’s academic and non-academic activities (parents)
  • nurture an adolescent’s talents and interests (parents; teachers)
  • foster an adolescent’s self-concept and self-esteem (parents; teachers)
Baldwin (1999); Baum & Olenchak (2002); Baum et al. (1991); Hébert & Olenchak (2000); Reis et al. (2000); Tannenbaum & Baldwin (1983); Whitmore (1980)
Talent Development and Enrichment Strategies

  • take AP or Honors classes if appropriate (teachers; parents)
  • participate in extracurricular activities to broaden a student’s horizons (parents; teachers)
  • participate in summer mentorship programs (parents)
  • encourage development of independent projects (G/T teachers)
  • encourage involvement in extracurricular clubs, team sports, theatrical performances
  • evaluate one’s own career interests through extracurricular activities, hobbies & work experiences (parents; G/T teachers)
  • explore interests through interest & career inventories (teachers; parents)
  • create and maintain Personal Transition Talent Portfolio (G/T teacher; LD teacher; parents)
  • participate in an enrichment program based on students strengths and interests
Baldwin (1999); Baum & Olenchak (2002); Baum & Owen (1988); Baum et al. (1991); Purcell & Renzulli (1998); Reis et al. (1995, 2000); Renzulli & Reis (1997); Silverman (1989); Vogel & Reder (1998)


Table 2.
Compensatory and Non-Compensatory Strategies for Promoting Student Academic Success in College

Strategies and Goals
Self-Regulation and Compensation Strategies

Focus on further development of generalizable learning strategies and study skills

  • self-evaluation; organizing material; transforming material (e.g., use flashcards); goal-setting and planning; seeking information; keeping records & monitoring; structuring environment; using self-consequating (i.e., self-rewards); rehearsing & memorizing; reviewing records
Pintrich (1995); Wolters (1998); Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons (1986, 1988); Schunk & Zimmerman (1994)
Focus on development and internalization of a wide array of personalized compensation strategies of high practical utility

  • environmental & social support and study skills: learn how to get around campus; where to go for the services; when it is appropriate to ask for assistance; ask professors for lecture notes; ask teaching assistants for help; use office hours to clarify assignments; ask others which professors are more understanding of LDs & more accommodating)
  • study strategies: learn library skills; develop personalized strategies for taking exams; learn ways to manage course materials (e.g., use color coded binders)
  • cognitive, memory & study strategies: time management; chunking material & time; monitoring assignments; using weekly & monthly organizers; using mnemonics; rehearsal; flashcards
  • notetaking and written expression strategies: note taking; condensing notes; clustering material for exams; using graphical organizers in notes and with the help of computer programs; highlighting in notes; color coding notes & flashcards
  • performance strategies for written expression, reading, comprehension, and mathematical processing: concept maps to organize material & see connections among concepts; SQ3R method (survey, question, read, recite, review); repeated readings if necessary; write one’s own essays to ensure deep understanding of material; teach material to peers
Baum (1984); Bursuck & Jayanthi (1993); Deshler et al. (1996); Hodge & Preston-Sabin (1997); McGuire et al. (1991); Schumaker & Deshler (1984); Reis et al. (2000); Shaw et al. (1991); Vaughan (1989); Vogel & Adelman (1993)
Continue exploring the benefits and utility functions of assistive technology

  • seek instructors who use instructional adaptations (e.g., alternative responding modes & modified instructional materials) (student; help of peers)
  • reading & comprehension: speech synthesis programs; optical character recognition programs; variable speech tape recorders (depending on the nature & severity of LD) (student)
  • written language: word processing; word prediction software; spell checking; speech or voice recognition; outlining and concept mapping software programs (student, LD support personnel)
  • mathematics: talking calculators; word problems (student, disability services)
  • personal organization & study skills: personal data managers (software or hand-held units such as Palm Pilot or iPAQ); free-form databases (i.e., computerized Post-It systems); electronic reference materials; web-based access; taking tests on a laptop (student, parents)
Bryant et al. (2002); Elkind, Black, & Murray (1996); Higgins & Raskind (1995); McNaughton et al (1993); Raskind & Higgins (1998); Vogel & Reder (1998)
Foster student’s motivation

  • enhance a student’s regulation of his/her own motivation (parents; student)
  • learn to use strategies designed to maintain effort for achieving goals: environmental (e.g., block out distractions); attention (focus attention); emotion (improve physical or emotional readiness to learn) (student; LD professionals)
  • make flexible use of information processing, extrinsic, intrinsic strategies, or volitional strategies depending on the context/ situation (student)
  • associate use of personalized compensation strategies with academic success and personal adjustment (parents, student)
  • become aware that self-regulation helps promote success not only in academic but also in professional settings (parents, student)
  • explore interests in greater depth to help foster motivation(student, parents)
Corno (1989); Corno & Kanfer (1993); Deci & Ryan (1985); Kuhl (1984, 1992); Sansone et al. (1992); Pintrich & Schrauben (1992); Schunk & Zimmerman (1994); Wolters (1998)
Foster student’s self-determination & advocacy skills

  • disclose LD to access services and ensure access to accommodations (student)
  • discuss one’s own LD with an instructor during office hours (student)
  • discuss the nature of the course requirements during office hours (student)
  • disclose LD to access services and ensure access to accommodations (student)
  • discuss one’s own LD with an instructor during office hours (student)
  • discuss the nature of the course requirements during office hours (student)
  • request instructor in advance to accommodations for the course (student)
  • make use of the course materials posted by the instructor online (student)
  • take note that distance learning courses may be particularly difficult for students with LD (student; parents; LD specialist)
American Council on Education (2000); Brinckerhoff et al. (2002); Crux (1991); Hodge & Preston-Sabin (1997); McGuire et al. (1991); McGuire & Madaus (1999); Phipps & Merisotis (1999)
Accessing Accommodations Mandated by Law: Academic and Non-Academic Issues

Strategies for learning in the college classroom (also: See Compensation Strategies)

  • request a note taker if applicable (student)
  • request carbonless note paper for someone else to take notes
  • tape record lectures, particularly if material is hard; request transcription services
  • use laptop in class for taking notes, particularly a small laptop such as Alpha Smart
  • request seating in front if instructor assigns seating in a lecture hall
Brinckerhoff et al. (2002); Crux (1991); Dalke (1993); Heyward (1998); Lewis & Farris (1999); McGuire et al. (1991); Reis et al. (2000)
Strategies for ensuring testing considerations

  • upon approval of the college LD support program, request testing accommodations, in terms of: extended time on test; alternative testing location; format of the test; content of the test; mode of presentation (visual or auditory)
  • discuss an alternative mode of demonstrating course mastery if applicable, such as doing a course project instead of the multiple choice exam, or doing an oral presentation, etc.
Lewis & Farris (1998); Yost et al. (1994); Dalke (1993); King & Jarrow (1990); Patton & Polloway (1996); McGuire (1998)
Strategies for learning outside the classroom

  • make use of computer labs and ask qualified personnel for help, if needed, in terms of: word processing; completion of class assignments; accessing & using Internet resources
  • utilize assistive technology to enhance learning in computer labs and/ or the Disability Services Office (student)
  • access books on tape and e-texts via the college’s resources or the Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic office, if applicable (student; LD specialist or support personnel)
  • utilize a full range of services offered by a comprehensive college LD support program
  • request a private dorm room to minimize distractions (student; parents)
  • access the help of tutors via the college’s resources
Adler (1989); Bryant et al. (2002); Day & Edwards (1996); Jarrow (1997); Heyward (1998); McGuire & Madaus (1999); Raskind & Higgins (1998); Reis et al. (2000)
Consideration of the college’s programmatic requirements

  • request reduced course load and course substitution(s), if applicable (college’s policy)
  • request priority registration (college’s policy)
  • explore accommodations in the area of financial aid (college’s policy)
  • request course substitution(s), if applicable
  • request accommodations in a field or clinical setting or internship in advance
Brinckerhoff et al. (2002); Ganschow, Sparks, & Javorsky (1998); Wells & Hanebrink (1998)
Social & Emotional Strategies

  • avoid unhealthy pressure for exclusivity of the top grades (parents)
  • encourage the student to stay resilient and persistent in the face of difficulties (parents)
  • nurture the student’s talents and interests (parents; teachers)
  • foster the student’s self-concept and self-esteem (parents; teachers)
  • help the student associate benefits of using compensation strategies with academic success and personal adjustment (parents; LD professionals/specialists)
  • reframe a learning disability in a positive sense (parents; LD specialists)
  • foster the development of the student’s personal characteristics (determination, resilience; integrity, work ethic, and social skills) (parents; LD specialists)
Baldwin (1999); Gerber et al. (1992); Gerber & Reiff (1991); Hébert & Olenchak (2000); Neihart, Reis, Robinson & Moon (2001); Reis et al. (2000); Reis et al. (1995); Silverman (1989); Tannenbaum & Baldwin (1983); Whitmore (1980)
Talent Development Strategies

  • continue exploring and nurturing talents and abilities (parents)
  • work with a mentor on a project in an area of interest (student; professors)
  • help the student resolve a conflict among abilities and disabilities (parents; LD specialist)
  • select a major considering one’s personal profile of strengths and weaknesses (student)
  • explore and nurture talents in other places (student; parents)
  • create a personal plan for academic success (student; LD specialist; parents)
  • work to resolve a conflict between abilities and disabilities(student; parents)
  • train parents in talent development and giftedness (professional development experts)
Baum & Olenchak (2002); Baum et al. (1991); Hannah & Shore (1995); Hébert & Olenchak (2000); Olenchak (1994); Renzulli & Reis (1997); Reis et al. (2000); Silverman (1989)



Reflecting on almost two decades of research, Renzulli and Reis (1991) concluded that giftedness occurs in certain people, at certain times, and under certain circumstances, as does academic self-regulation as certain students may choose to use certain self-regulatory methods depending on the context and the self-perceived reasons for using these methods. As with giftedness, making generalizations and creating lists of “typical traits” of gifted students or gifted students with learning disabilities is not informative, and may actually be damaging if these lists result in acceptable recognized traits, rather than an understanding of the multiple ways that talents and gifts may emerge. After decades of studying giftedness as traits, as something innate to the individual, something an individual either “has” or “doesn’t have,” a growing number of researchers have advocated for the broadened definition of giftedness, which presupposed greater emphasis on giftedness as a manifestation of gifted behavior, not as an aptitude (Gardner, 1993, 1999; Renzulli, 1978; 1991; Renzulli & Reis, 1997; Sternberg, 1995, 1997). A similar trend has gained momentum in the field of academic self-regulation. According to Perry (2002), the present trend has moved away from studying self-regulation as an aptitude, that traditionally resides in the internal characteristics that remain stable across situations and can be aggregated and generalized for certain groups. In contrast, current research efforts reflect a growing interest among researchers “in finding way to study this phenomenon in real contexts and in real time, in events rather than aptitudes” (Perry, 2002, p. 1). While making generalizations and noting patterns may provide some insights into the complex nature of a phenomenon such as giftedness or academic self-regulation, it should be noted that between-group generalizations should not mask the richness of the individual variation within groups, whether we are studying high achieving or low achieving students, or students with dual exceptionalities.

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