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Intellectually Gifted and ADHD
Q: My nine- and six-and-a-half-year-olds are both intellectually gifted and have ADHD. The nine-year-old is unable to take medication and has a hard time focusing and processing auditory information. She is three years ahead in her language skills, but slightly behind in writing. Her teacher insists that she stick with the third-grade curriculum because it won't "hurt" her and her independent reading choices are usually at her level.
My younger child is taking medication and is excelling in math and reading. His teacher also will not move him up from his reading group and will not offer him advanced math work. He complains of being bored while my daughter is thrilled that the work is so easy at school.
I've been told by the school that neither child qualifies for an IEP and that only my older child may qualify for a 504 plan. My first question is: Should their eligibility be based on their performance vs. their abilities, or is the school only required to look at whether or not they are meeting general benchmarks?
Also, my older child is withdrawing socially and has told me she hasn't liked herself for a long time. She is very aware of how different she is from her peers. She likes to play imaginary games and run around, while the "popular" girls want to stand around and talk. Is this enough to bring up the question of a regular classroom not being an appropriate setting for her? I envision a private school of gifted children where her intellectual needs are met and her ADHD can be addressed. There is a school of this sort in our city, but we are unable to afford the tuition and they don't offer financial aid. Would it be reasonable to pursue funding from the school district to place her in this type of setting?
A: Some of the answers to your questions depend on where you live. If you reside in a state where gifted education is mandated by law, then the district must provide at least some gifted education for students who qualify. Qualification is based on a state-determined testing process. Some states require IEPs for gifted students, and some do not. Generally, IEPs are used for students with determined disabilities. However, students who have ADHD, with a diagnosis by a physician, are eligible for a 504 plan under the category of Other Health Impairment (OHI). I do not understand why the district states that your children may not qualify. But it is important to note that even if they both received a 504 plan, the stated interventions would not include advanced coursework. Generally the interventions include things like "preferential seating" (seated near the teacher), a mentor who may help with organization skills, etc. The plan addresses the ADHD not the giftedness. If the state does not mandate gifted education, then the school is only required to provide regular instruction. A student who achieves (based on standardized scores) within a certain numerical limit of her measured ability is being appropriately educated.
The fact that your nine-year-old daughter is having some peer issues is not enough to question the appropriateness of her classroom setting under general education guidelines. In all honesty, mismatched emotional and intellectual development is a common issue for gifted children. Your daughter may need some short-term counseling around the issue of her self esteem and peer skills. I am sorry to say that little girls in your daughter's age range can be very mean if they sense that someone is different. Is there a school guidance counselor who can work with the class as a group on how they treat each other? I have seen this response work on several occasions.
I recommend that you meet with the person in charge of gifted education in your district and discuss this issue again. I doubt that the district would fund the tuition for the gifted school if your daughter's education is meeting stated guidelines. It's worth discussing though. It is more likely that a gifted advisor could work with the classroom teacher on challenging your child more effectively and improving her writing skills.
You state that your child is unable to take medication for her ADHD. I recommend the book Beyond Ritalin by Stephen W. Garber for additional strategies for you, and The Gifted Kids Survival Guide (for kids ages ten and under) by Judy Galbraith for your daughter. It offers some great peer tips. I hope this response has been informative. 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.