Introduction to Visual Spatial Learning
Visual Spatial Children: Learning Disabled, Learning Disadvantaged
or Learning Differently

By Cate Turner

Visual Spatial Learning

I feel that I am in an interesting position as far as understanding gifted education in this country, more particularly this state. I am lucky to have as friends many people who share my passion for improving the understanding of gifted issues. I am lucky that I can pick up a phone and ask a question or an opinion of them, maybe debate the point, throw out a few ideas and end up understanding a whole lot more than what I was initially asking. More often than not it ends up promoting thought on a conscious or sub conscious level, which eventually filters out as an article in Gifted or a chat to a parent needing understanding.

When I began this article I simply wanted to discuss the needs of visual spatial learners in the classroom - however the further I delved the further the parameters extended. Lesley Sword's (psychologist for the gifted and quite probably Australia's visual spatial expert) writings have proved invaluable and her answers to my never ending stream of questions promoted more and more questions. Ultimately, after hearing her speak about visual learners at a seminar, my thought process crystallised and I realised that I did not believe visual spatial learners to be disabled in the commonly employed educationalist term - GLD.

I believe that they learn differently to the majority - and because they are the minority and the `majority rules' - their learning style is deemed a `disability.' Thus this paper has become a discussion paper about how to teach to a visual spatial child whilst expounding the theory that such children are different learners not disabled learners.
This discussion is framed within the context of Gardner's `Theory of Multiple Intelligences', an outline of which is provided in Appendix 2.  

I had not seriously thought about how difficult it is for a teacher to determine giftedness in terms of visual spatial intelligence before I read The Challenge of Meeting the Needs if Gifted Students in the Regular Classroom: The Student Viewpoint by Bruce Knight and Tricia Becker. Indeed, as much as it pains me to admit it now, visual spatial was simply another one of Gardner's Intelligences and I thought little more about it.
As a result, I had also not thought about how teachers may `teach to' a visual spatial learner to optimise their learning potential.
After some research and discussion with visual learners it also became apparent to me that far from the `Learning Disabled' tag that is frequently applied to visual spatial learners (especially those with auditory processing difficulties), such learners simply learn in a different way.
Another way of looking at this is to ask, Does learning in a different way to the majority, make visual learners `disabled learners?'

In literature concerning visual learners it is commonly (and I feel appropriately) accepted that there are 2 types of gifted visual spatial learners. The first style of gifted visual learner (as described above) is not commonly discussed in literature as anything other than gifted. I believe this is because they are also gifted in auditory sequential learning - the learning of the classroom. Quite clearly, the first type of gifted visual spatial learner identified by Silverman, has advantages over the majority of the population. They are lucky to be both visually AND auditory sequentially talented - the beautiful images that they see from the visual side of the brain luckily also have words attached to it - words that they can express clearly and relatively easily.
Looking at it in perhaps easier to understand terms:

For the purposes of this paper I would like to look at educational issues relating to the second style of learner described in the example above - what many in the teaching profession would term a gifted disabled or a GLD child. Incorporated into this is a reflective discussion with 2 adult visual spatial learners about how they learn and about strategies that perhaps could have been utilised in the classroom to further support their learning styles. I chose to speak to 2 adult spatial learners as they could look at their learning experiences with a sense of perspective and comprehension that a younger child currently experiencing school perhaps could not.  I would also like to discuss whether the term Gifted Learning Disabled is an accurate summation of what a gifted visual learner actually IS.

Many gifted visual spatial learners learn to function in the everyday classroom, due to being gifted in auditory sequential processing as well, However, the gifted visual spatial learner that has an auditory processing weakness may never be able to learn to an optimum level when the teaching style is inherently different to his learning style.
Whilst this learner may or may not fulfil `outcomes' for curricula, the reality is that many visual spatial children with auditory sequential anomalies are not learning to their full potential.
Such children due to their outstanding gifts may adapt their learning style to the classroom so that their difficulty becomes hidden.
Teachers simply see the child as `average'!
Yet what such children have achieved is already remarkable - they have adapted their learning style to cope with a method of learning which is thoroughly alien to their capabilities.

If they are this smart are they really disabled?

Translated, according to the above definition, a Gifted Learning Disabled child refers to an individual that has an impairment in a physical or mental ability, yet also has been blessed with talents in specific areas.
Relating this definition to visual spatial learners, who are commonly termed GLD, it appears that that many educationalists see visual learning as an inferior method of learning, hence the term `disabled'.
A child that thinks in pictures is thought to learn imperfectly.
Hence, many teachers believe that such children lack the mental ability to function in a classroom.
If such a child also displays obvious outstanding and in-depth knowledge in some areas then the word `gifted' is applied to them.
Almost immediately the child becomes a contradiction.

© Cate Turner 2004-
© APDUK 2004-