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In partnership with the Disability Advisory Service for Dyslexia Awareness Week, the Educational Development Unit is pleased to welcome Dr Susen Smith of the University of New South Wales, Australia.

Dr Smith’s lecture will be followed by a wine reception.

There are many eminent scientists, but what is not so apparent is that many of them have twice-exceptionalities. Having twice-exceptionalities means having both advanced learning capacities (or giftedness) and a disability or learning difficulty collectively. For example, theoretical physicist Einstein is famous for how brilliant his intellect was because his achievements are reflected in his many theories that have influenced science, innovation, and society constructively over the last century. However, he arguably also had a learning disability and is now thought to have had high functioning autism.

Many scientists throughout history have contributed significantly to our understandings of the various branches of natural sciences, while balancing the difficulties of a disability. Their contributions have been well documented in their publications, presentations, the media, biographical sources, or on the internet. This presentation will use multiple sources that relate the individual narratives of selected scientists to explore how they purportedly used their strengths to overcome their difficulties to achieve distinction in their fields for personal and/or societal gain. Among the exceptional cases examined, there were many types of disabilities that influenced the scientists’ careers, for example learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as autism, and physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy. Many factors that seemed to have contributed to these scientists’ success were strength-based. For example using their intrapersonal characteristics, such as self-motivation and resilience, or engaging environmental factors, such as parental support and educational encouragement, or having access to learning strategies, such as teaching to interests and mentoring in their area of passion. These factors emulate the recommendations in contemporary gifted education research that aim to promote talent development of people with twice-exceptionalities. In exploring experienced scientists’ narratives we may learn more about how they used their strengths to overcome adversity and nurture their potential scientific prowess. Illuminating these strengths, in relation to specific weaknesses may, in turn, help us to understand how a focus on strengths can help support the expertise trajectory of future young scientists’, similarly to eminent scientists.

Dr Susen Smith is Senior Lecturer in Gifted and Special Education and GERRIC Senior Research Fellow at UNSW, Australia.