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Helping a Gifted Underachiever
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.
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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.