Recognizing Talent: Cross-Case Study of Two High Potential Students With Cerebral Palsy

Colleen Willard-Holts

This study explored the experiences of gifted students who have cerebral palsy and are not able to communicate with speech. Qualitative cross-case methodology was employed to investigate the following questions: In what ways do these students indicate their intellectual abilities? What instructional strategies or techniques are especially beneficial in developing these abilities?

Two participants were located who met the selection criteria. One student was placed in a self-contained gifted program at the elementary level; the other was enrolled in regular and college preparatory classes at a comprehensive high school. Data collection occurred over a three-year time span, and employed these research methods: participant observation, interviewing, document analysis, audiotaping, and videotaping. Data were analyzed using analytic induction, constant comparison, open coding, axial coding, selective coding, diagramming, and cross-case analysis.

The students demonstrated the following characteristics of giftedness: advanced academic abilities (especially mathematical and verbal skills), broad base of knowledge, quickness of learning and recall, sophisticated sense of humor, curiosity, insight, maturity (shown through high motivation, goal orientation, determination, patience, and recognition of their own limitations), desire for independence, and use of intellectual skills to cope with the disability. Instructional variables conducive to the development of these skills included willingness of the teachers to accommodate for their disabilities, mainstreaming with nondisabled students, individualization and opportunities for student choice, hands-on experiences, development of thinking skills, simulation, thematic instruction, and high-level discussion.

Four assertions emerged from the cross-case analysis. In brief, these related to: (1) the difficulty in expressing and recognizing indicators of giftedness; (2) the differential impact of classroom atmosphere, structure, and instructional activities; (3) integration into regular classrooms; and (4) barriers which must be overcome in order for these students to meet their goals. Implications for educators were delineated in the hope that the abilities of more of our students may be recognized and nurtured.


Willard-Holt, C. (1994). Recognizing talent: Cross-case study of two high potential students with cerebral palsy (CRS94308). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Recognizing Talent: Cross-Case Study of Two High Potential Students With Cerebral Palsy
Colleen Willard-Holts


  1. Handicapping conditions can interfere with the manifestation of typical characteristics of gifted students. Identifying gifted students with physical handicaps can be problematic.
  2. Scores on traditional tests and inventories may be lower due to conditions like limited speech, difficulties with hand manipulation ability, or fewer life experiences due to impaired mobility.
  3. Using developmental milestones designed specifically for children with handicaps may increase the likelihood for identification of gifted behaviors.
  4. Programming and instruction has to be sensitive to a student’s mode of communication to facilitate the expression of cognitive abilities.
  5. A relaxed, positive classroom atmosphere that centers around respect for the student will have a positive effect on intellectual development.