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Finding the Positives

Gifted and Talented Expert Advice from Mary Ruth Coleman, Ph.D.

Q: My teenaged son is ADHD, gifted, and underachieving. Although most tests do not capture his giftedness, some do and most of his teachers will tell us he is gifted. His present teacher has taught for over 20 years and told us "He is brilliant, but I don't know how to capture that." I have struggled nightly for 8 years with homework: rewarding, punishing, and helping him nightly. He is very immature for his age emotionally. He says he wants to do well, but we just see motivation issues and struggling grades of Bs and Cs. He will just pass algebra, his strongest subject. Help! I am even investigating private schools, but none seem to be a fit. I would appreciate any ideas to help keep him motivated.

A: This is a very tough issue -- I think sometimes reframing the picture in a more positive way helps. What are your son's main strengths and interests? Connect him with a club, a mentor, or a group to help him follow his heart. Also, allowing him to take a leadership role with younger children -- as a mentor, tutor, or big brother -- can build self-esteem and confidence, while also giving him a chance to practice social skills. You might also get him involved in some form of physical activity with a focus not on competition, but self-discipline: a non-combative martial art, swimming, horseback riding, even walking for charity benefits. Volunteer work in an area of interest is also great -- working at the vet's office with animals, visiting a nursing home, etc. He has a lot to give and as he realizes this he will grow! Good luck.

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Mary Ruth Coleman is the director of Project U-STARS (Using Science Talent and Abilities to Recognize Students) at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Coleman has taught in both general and gifted educational programs in both public and private schools.


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