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Not Gifted Enough for the Program

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

Q: Our nine-year-old is in the fourth grade. We have struggled and struggled with our school district to test him, but their idea of "gifted" is to be two grade levels above in math, reading, and writing, which is not the case with our son.

However, he is a high-level thinker. When he was 8, we were able to get an audio processing test done on him. He scored above the scale at some points, so we could not get an accurate score. But the average score showed that he was about 11 years on the age equivalency. We have learned that the more information he gets, the better he does. He took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and his core total was 83, with vocabulary at 99 percent.

His weakest point is handwriting. He is very sloppy and does not pay attention to punctuation. He has mentioned several times that his hand can't keep up with his brain and that is why he writes so sloppily. He is also having a great deal of social problems. He takes the normal teasing that goes on very seriously. Everything is very real to him. When he plays something like Navy, he has to have everything in place as well as dress the part. Most of the time, he spends more time getting prepared to play than he does playing.

He hates school with a passion, but loves to learn. He is struggling with reading fiction books because they are not real. He loves to read nonfiction. His reading total was 93 percent and his usage and expression was 89. Are we going down the right road seeking testing for our son?

A: Your description of your son indicates that he may be gifted verbally, but he is not testing into the gifted range in all areas. The audio processing score that you list is superior, but this is not the type of testing usually accepted by schools as an indication of giftedness. When standardized group testing is done, districts are typically looking for the 97th percentile and up in overall results to enter gifted programs. Since your son's academic skills are uneven, I do recommend that you seek an educational assessment to determine how the school can best serve him. If you try to have this done through the school district, it may take a considerable period of time to have it completed. Your son is not doing poorly in their view, but you know he could do better. You could have the assessment done privately. That would speed things up, and the school district may be able to recommend a local educational psychologist to conduct the assessment.

Your son sounds like a literal kind of guy! He prefers the facts, but I hope he can be encouraged to look at fiction as well. When my kids were younger, I actually made a rule that when they checked a nonfiction book out of the library they also had to choose a fiction book to accompany it. This helped to expand their reading and to prepare them for school assignments when the required fiction book was not one they would usually choose. Were there any fiction books you or his dad especially liked as kids that you could encourage your son to read? Maybe he would enjoy historical novels that have a fictional story based on facts. There are many such books for young readers these days. Reading fiction also helps us to understand nuances and social give-and-take.

Your son has very clearly described a situation I see a lot with bright boys with poor handwriting skills: Their hands really can't keep up with their fast-thinking brains! Your son must learn to be an excellent typist on the computer keyboard. The time is coming when school will accept more of his homework being completed on the computer. He may benefit from a learn-to-type computer program. I also recommend a technique known as "speeding." Have him pick a short passage from a favorite book. He then writes this down as fast as he can while an adult times him. The same passage is timed three to four days in a row. Then he picks a different passage. The goal is to improve your time, and to exercise the hand muscles in moving at a faster pace when forming letters. Neatness is not essential in the early weeks of this exercise. This will help him improve if done regularly, just like any exercise.

It's sad to hear that he hates school. Consider having the testing done to determine how to best proceed. It sounds as if he is struggling with the production side of schoolwork, and that can certainly hinder his interest in learning. 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.


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