receives frequent questions about gifted-and-talented issues and
occasionally responds to them through this FAQ.
Question: My son was doing well in school until the eighth
grade. For some reason, between then and his sophomore year his
grades have been horrible. We have tried everything from grounding
him to taking away things he likes and nothing has worked. Can you
give me some idea of what we can do and why this is happening?
Answer: Academic underachievement is the
number one concern I hear from parents. And their number one reaction
is to try to correct the underachieving through punishment or consequence.
That approach might work for behavioral or psychological problems,
but not usually for reversing underachievement among the gifted.
Your son probably has an undiagnosed learning problem.
I use the term "learning problem" because frequently
when a gifted child is tested, a specific diagnosis of a learning
disability is not warranted or given. This misdiagnosis occurs because
of how bright the child tests, and because the standards of testing
today do not allow the learning disability diagnosis to be given
to many gifted children if certain criteria are not met.
(This, by the way, does not mean that your child
does not have a learning disability. If your child is tested and
shows any areas of weakness in his or her profile, it is important
that you treat those deficiencies as concrete problem areas. Then
do all the necessary interventions that you would do for a learning
disability in that problem area identified.)
The learning problems I refer to are often associated
with "asynchronous development," which is so prevalent among gifted
children. Simply stated, the gifted child obviously excels in some
areas of development, but (even though testing indicates above average
ability) may lag behind the norm in other areas crucial to academic
performance. To compound the problem, gifted children can compensate
brilliantly for their shortfalls, sometimes masking them from all
but the most experienced evaluators.
At our counseling center, we start with a consultation
and review all of the child's history and records. After this psycho-social
history review, we refer the child for a full battery of psychological
and educational tests. These tests can rule out learning disabilities
-- or identify them and lead to positive interventions. But their
real value is to build a "learning profile." This profile
can provide a breakdown of all your sons strengths and weakness
in specific areas of writing, reading and math. Often times with
the gifted, a deficiency in the learning profile is probably a developmental
issue that can change over time with the right support.
Most importantly, the tests also help us understand
a child's giftedness, where it helps the child excel and where it
might actually be holding the child back. The tests also help the
child to understand exactly how he or she is gifted and what that
means in terms of developing his or her gifts. As a result, the
child creates an appropriate context to understand and appreciate
the gifted self.
Finally, it's important for parents to be sure
that assessments are conducted by psychologists who understand and
can meet the special needs of gifted children. You wouldn't believe
the number of times I've seen serious learning problems like Attention
Deficit Disorder misdiagnosed by someone who checked off a requisite
number of symptoms on a one-page form. Over the years, we have put
together a list of psychologists sensitive to the proper evaluation
of the gifted and talented. (We also have some recommendations for
other areas of the country.)
If you do not have access to a trained psychologist
who does testing, you may contact us, your local gifted child support
group or state association. Groups for the gifted are accustomed
to finding appropriate testing referrals and should have an idea
of where to start. Check out the lists of organizations on the AskERIC
site, referred to on our "links" page.
If you have difficulty finding a referral, please contact me for
help on this matter.
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