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Andrew receives frequent questions about gifted-and-talented issues and occasionally responds to them through this FAQ.

Academic underachievement
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 son’s 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.

Counseling the Gifted

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