Home > School and Learning > Learning Differences > Gifted Education > Helping a Gifted Underachiever

Expert Iconexpert advice MORE

Helping a Gifted Underachiever

Gifted and Talented Expert Advice from Noreen H. Joslyn, LISW, ACSW

Q: My son is in the sixth grade gifted and talented program at his school and maintains an A/B average. He has been diagnosed with ADHD, and has had to come off his Adderall due to adverse side effects. The teachers are threatening to remove him from the program due to his inability to stay on task and turn in work on time, and his lack of organization. I am trying my best to help him stay organized, but two of his teachers appear not to want to work with us through this situation. It's like they expect all the kids to be the same.

At age four, tests showed my son's IQ was 140. When tested again in the third grade, his IQ was 120, and he is one of two students in the entire intermediate school with a reading comprehension level of 12.9+. Our problem is that he is beginning to "shut down" due to all the frustration he feels, and we are not sure how to help him overcome that. He definitely does not work up to his potential; he only works when the subject interests him, or he feels that the work is not below him. How do you help a gifted underachiever, and is there such a thing?

A: There most certainly is such a thing as a gifted underachiever and it's very frustrating to parents when it occurs! Is gifted education mandated in your state? If so, your son cannot be removed from the program if he qualifies as gifted. Even if gifted education is not mandated in your state, you still have options.

I understand that Adderall did not work for your son. Adderall is a form of Dexadrine and doesn't work for everyone. There are other medications for treating ADHD, as I'm sure you know, and perhaps your physician could recommend something else. I am very conservative when it comes to medication, but my thinking here is that you thought your son's ADHD was serious enough to try the medication before, so perhaps another medication (not based on Dexadrine) deserves a try. Your son's attention span, frustration level and organization skills would likely improve.

Now back to the teacher issue: Attention Deficit Disorder has been classified under the Americans with Disabilities Act as an "Other Health Impairment" (OHI). This means that if your son has an ADHD medical diagnosis (which is likely, since medication was prescribed), he can have what is called a "504 plan." This means that he's eligible to receive mandated classroom interventions to help him manage his ADHD at school so that it will not interfere with his learning. It is not necessary for your son to be receiving medication for this to occur. Copy or print out this email response and show it to your school district's psychologist and ask what you need to do for this plan to be implemented for your son. No child should be penalized because of any special learning issues.

For your reading, I would suggest the books Driven to Distraction by Hallowell and Ratey (re: ADHD) and Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades by Dr. Sylvia Rimm (re: underachievement issues). Good luck.

More on: Expert Advice

Noreen Joslyn is a licensed independent social worker in the state of Ohio and is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She has a master's degree in Social Work, specializing in family and children, from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a psychiatric social worker in private practice with Ken DeLuca, Ph.D. & Associates, where she counsels parents and children.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


8 Epic Emoji-Themed Crafts, Activities & Recipes
Check out the best emoji crafts, activities, and recipes! They're perfect for an emoji-themed birthday party or anytime you need DIY (and screen-free!) summer activities for kids, tweens, and teens.

Find Today's Newest & Best Children's Books
Looking for newly released books for your child? Try our Book Finder tool to search for new books by age, type, and theme!

10 Free Summer Learning Worksheets
Print these free printables for preschoolers and kindergarteners to help your child's mind stay sharp until September!

Ready for Kindergarten?
Try our award-winning Kindergarten Readiness app! This easy-to-use checklist comes with games and activities to help your child build essential skills for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Facebook icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks