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Gifted Child Pretending to Be Dumb

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

Q: My son, now almost seven, has been reading since the age of two-and-a-half and doing math such as three-digit addition, subtraction, and multiplication since the age of four. Unfortunately, I was not gifted and didn't believe in pushing his talents. Last year I placed him in a kindergarten class where the teacher recognized his talent, but instead of developing it, used it. He would read at storytime, correct the other children's work, and if they needed help they always came to him.

This year he explained he won't do that anymore so instead he is pretending to be stupid. He says, "Dumb people have more fun." Now he actually can't add or subtract and has lost his whole ability to develop. I cannot watch my child do this to himself. He has convinced himself to be dumb! Please help me get my son back!

A: It seems as if your son is quite advanced in social skills! At six years old, he has already figured out the social structure of school and why it is not always advisable to be the teacher's helper! It is not unusual for a teacher in the early primary grades, where there may not be a gifted program, to have a gifted child be a helper. Another child may have teased your son about this, and he somehow decided it wasn't worth the trouble so he has "gone on strike."

Assure your son that under no circumstances are you going to let him be made class "tutor" again. Try to get him to do fun math and reading games with you at home, perhaps with a small reward if he participates fully. When he shows you (and himself) his true abilities, he may be up for some individual educational testing. You may need to obtain this outside of school in the private market. Again, offer a small incentive if he tries to do his best during the testing. You should also clue-in the examiner that your son may try to hide his true self.

With proof of his true potential, the school may be willing to offer him some acceleration such as a reading class with the next grade up. It's worth a try. Remember that gifted kids are often gifted debaters! Counter his "dumb people have more fun" comments with your own comments about what kids who try their best in school get to do. Keep it on his level, because even though he is obviously quite bright, he only has the experience level of a six-year-old. I hope you find this information to be helpful. 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.


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