High potential with disability - student story

Covered in this illustration of practice:

Tate is five years old and lives in a low socio-economic community in a rural setting. He has a severe language disorder affecting his expressive, receptive and social language skills. This also includes a serious speech sound disorder. Tate’s teachers have observed exceptional spatial skills and problem solving, as well as advanced writing and drawing skills. They set individual learning goals to develop this talent. Tate displays high potential in the intellectual and creative domains.

Image: Tate in action building his towers

When a group of young children get together to play with construction materials, there is usually much discussion, some complaining, lots of excitement and one or two grumbles. When five year old Tate plays with construction materials none of this occurs. This is because Tate often builds alone. Tate has a severe language disorder affecting his expressive, receptive and social language skills. This also includes a serious speech sound disorder. Despite his communication difficulties, his teacher has identified that Tate has high potential in the intellectual and creative domains.

As well as being a high potential and gifted student with a disability, Tate is from a low SES community and lives in a rural setting. That in itself presents major challenges to his current and future learning. In spite of this, Tate’s high potential is evident in his advanced spatial skills, problem solving ability and in literacy.

Tate has exceptional spatial skills and this allows him to creatively show his high potential in the ‘design and build’ arena. He is able to think and plan from several different perspectives, an advanced concept for a five year old. As an example, Tate created a larger than life wooden block self-portrait of himself from a bird’s eye point of view. He busily collected the blocks he needed and very purposefully placed them on the ground. It was soon evident that he was making a person. Tate kept working away as the teacher watched in amazement. When she thought he had finished, the teacher asked if she could take a photo of him next to his handiwork. Tate shook his head, pointed to his hair and ran off to get some shorter blocks. Once all the hair was in place, Tate placed a photo of himself next to the portrait then laid down next to it. His creations are detailed and always purposeful.

Tate’s advanced spatial skills showcase his creative potential in mathematical and scientific problem solving. Using the large Lego bricks as dominoes, Tate created a domino run to watch them all fall over. After a while, he decided he wanted a “big finish” so he found a small item to place on top of the last brick that would fall into a bowl. This took lots of problem solving as Tate explored different set ups, variations and choosing the right size bowl.

Tate enjoys counting, sorting and writing numerals. He draws images creatively representing what he has just completed.

The third area of high potential is in literacy. When Tate started preschool, he could write both his first name and surname. He often writes letters and words to accompany his drawings. It is vital that his teachers prioritise Tate’s writing skills as this could become his main form of communication.

Tate’s teacher uses individual learning goals for his talent development focusing on learning through play, responsiveness to his creative and spatial high potential and explicit teaching to further stretch his resourcefulness. Meanwhile, Tate is receiving high-level medical interventions to support his communication difficulties.

Questions for professional learning

For school leaders:

  • What professional learning is needed to ensure staff have the knowledge and skills to effectively cater for the needs of high potential and gifted students with disability in the school?
  • Tate starts school next year. How could the school assess and identify his learning needs and plan appropriate adjustments for him at this transition point?

For teachers:

  • As Tate's teacher, what knowledge and skills would you require to effectively address his learning needs and promote a strengths-based approach to his education?
  • How can teachers address Tate’s social and emotional learning needs and enable him to connect, succeed and thrive?


  • Teaching and learning


  • Assess and identify

Business Unit:

  • Teaching, Learning and Student Wellbeing
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