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Gifted, ADD, and Unmotivated

LD and ADD/ADHD Expert Advice from Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.

Q: My 12-year-old is a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. His grades were poor, and he must repeat the sixth grade. However, he was tested in several areas, including IQ, and scored high above-average in all areas. The test proved that he is capable of doing work at a ninth-grade level. I've encouraged, disciplined, and talked to motivate him. Nothing worked. Do you have any ideas? He's a great, intelligent child who has ADD. Everyone in school is aware and has worked very hard to motivate my son, but we're out of ideas.

A: Your son's test scores indicate that he's a very bright boy, but did the testing look for and rule out learning disabilities? You could have an intelligent son who has been struggling with the perceptual demands of school and who has shut down. Think about it: If he mis-hears words, sees letters reversed or inverted, has difficulty using or understanding language, or exhibits any of the symptoms of a learning disability, and has been doing this for a long time, then we can imagine that school can't be much fun for him.

My next best guess, based on what you've told me, is that he's a very smart boy, who is capable of doing high-level work during the short-term, intensive, and challenging testing, but he's bored to tears in school! Do you and his teachers think that he's being appropriately challenged, or are they still trying to feed him the stuff he has really known for long time? What about letting him jump up to something more challenging? What about having him tutor younger kids (or same-age kids from another school)? What about letting him take a ninth-grade class, or part of it, to see what he's made of intellectually, to give his ego a boost, and to let him hang out with some really cool, big kids? (Careful here.) Or enroll him in an enrichment program at the local museum. (Here's a radical suggestion: Have him do that instead of some grade-level boring stuff and let him earn a grade for it.) Anybody worried that the other kids will be jealous? That will just mean your son has more status, which should make him feel better.

Here's my last hunch -- and I hope it's not the case -- but perhaps your son is upset by something or even depressed. You didn't say anything about his social skills or whether he's a happy kid. He may spend so much time worrying that he doesn't have time to think about or do his school work, even though he's capable of doing the work. Check this out by having a psychologist interview him and give you his impression. Let us know if any of these hunches are on target.

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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.

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