Learning Disabilities

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Whiz Kids

Less than two per cent of children are considered to be gifted based on population norms. In fact, there is no formal agreement among psychologists and educators on what exactly defines giftedness, although it does tend to be genetically linked and there are some identifying markers.

For example, from the first year of life children considered gifted are walking and speaking much earlier than their age peers, and such advanced or early development continues to be the case in later life; they go on to develop outstanding abilities in language, math or music compared to population norms.

Challenges for gifted children

However, just because these children have exceptional abilities in learning, understanding or retaining information does not mean that they are advantaged and their lives will be easy. In fact, gifted children may have a whole set of problems that their peers do not have to deal with.

For one thing, emotional development and intellectual development are known to develop at different rates and for gifted children; often emotional maturity does not develop at the same rapid pace as intellect. To adults, gifted children appear to be more mature and serious than their age would indicate, but within their peer group they are easy targets of ridicule and they are no better than other children in dealing with bullying and social rejection.

Some gifted children have had major struggles in school.  According to Judy Galbraith’s book The Gifted Kids’ Survival Guide, Beethoven’s music teacher described him as ‘hopeless,’ Einstein quit high school at the age of 15, and Picasso was so bored by school that his family let him bring a live chicken to class so he could draw its portrait. Gifted children are known to complain about boredom in the classroom as their number one challenge in life.

If you suspect that your child is gifted then it is important to determine whether it is true, in order to satisfy their love of learning and to stay interested in attending school. The school system can offer special placements for your gifted child; however that is not necessarily sufficient and their giftedness may not even be identified. If your child is sitting in a grade-one class room all day but comprehending at a grade-four level, they may simply tune out, daydream or become bored.

It is also not true that gifted children can only be gifted in one area; among children in the upper two per cent of the general population there are differences. While most excel in either math or language, some are outstanding in both areas, and may also easily comprehend complexities of scientific principles as well as abstract thought.

Having a deficit in short term memory or attention is also not unusual in gifted children, since they often appear distracted and don’t appear to be listening, when they in fact are lost in deep thought about some internal concept that has grabbed their attention.

For exceptional children, underachievement may also be a coping mechanism to help them deal with social situations.  At school, for example, exceedingly intelligent children can be bullied under the playground stereotype ‘nerd.’ For these kids, they may even try to avoid showing their skills, for example, by not speaking up in class or not doing homework well in order to avoid this label. These kids may have bad marks on normal exams but do incredibly well on standardized tests.

Another psychological challenge gifted children can struggle with is unhealthy perfectionism. Since they find many things come to their understanding so easily, they may apply these high standards to all aspects of their lives. Furthermore, parents and teachers who label the child as a “prodigy” can inflict the delusion in the child that they can and should be perfect in all areas.

Giftedness Assessments

Giftedness is measured with standardized intelligence tests that are restricted to professional practitioners. These tests can only be administered and interpreted by a registered psychologist with specific training in this area. The tests must be kept locked in secure storage; the test questions must be protected from the public in order to maintain test validity.

The most commonly used test is the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, commonly known as the WISC-IV, a test that measures the intelligence quotient, or IQ.

If you have your child tested here are some things you should know.

  • A standardized IQ test takes about two hours of face to face testing room (no parents are allowed)
  • Children are given a chance to practice items for each subtest, to create a mental set to get an idea of what is to follow
  • The psychologist scores and analyzes the test results only after the test is complete

A written report of the findings is usually given. Scores are quoted in percentiles and categories:

  • Very Superior
  • Superior
  • High Average
  • Average
  • Below Average
  • Well Below Average

Only the top 98th and 99th percentiles fall within the Very Superior category.

Next Steps

Each school system decides the cut-off point for entry into their giftedness program.  Some schools offer an “Enriched” program targeting the children above the 90th percentile, while others offer a “Giftedness” program that excludes all children except those within the 95th percentile and above. In deciding on how best to support your gifted child, be sure to ask the school principal what are their cut-off points for entry into their giftedness program.

To inspire your child to continue on their quest to learn is not easy and will require a lot of effort. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that works with these unique children, however it is rewarding to see their success.

Ask your doctor for a referral to a child psychologist trained in psychological testing. Scheduling an appointment for a psycho-educational assessment can help you understand your gifted child and help them come to terms with their own feelings about it.

Dr. Eva Fisher is an Ottawa psychologist who has been providing psychotherapy for a variety of issues for over 20 years. Follow her on Twitter @drevafisher, Facebook or Instagram @dr_evafisher. Blog writing assisted by freelance journalist Alyssa McMurtry.

Written by Dr. Eva Fisher C Psych
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Impulsive and impatient? Maybe you’re living with adult ADHD

John, a 32-year-old man, works as a courier. He loves activities that are fast like white water rafting, off-road motor biking and speed boating. His IQ tests show that he is in the Very Superior level of intelligence, but he has a history of changing jobs often, saying he becomes bored and restless.

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