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Gifted and at Risk for LD?

LD and ADD/ADHD Expert Advice from Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.

Q: I have a son who just turned six and who has always been extremely bright. He more or less taught himself to read when he was four. This summer, he taught himself most of the state capitals by attempting to name them phonetically. He can easily do addition and subtraction, zero to 20. His fine motor skills seem fine. His writing is acceptable for a child his age and he has a wonderful memory and attention span. I recently had him tested for being "gifted." I mainly did this to get some direction and help in knowing what to do for him. The psychologist did only a WISC-III. The verbal portion of his score was 130, the performance portion 100. She told me that because the scores were two standard deviations apart, he was at risk for developing a learning disability at some point in time. How concerned should I be at this point? How predictive is one test for a child who just turned six? I'm really confused and concerned. I suppose I really don't know which direction to take at this point. Any suggestions? Thanks!

A: The wide difference between the verbal and performance sections of the WISC-III (Weschler Intelligence Scales for Children) is often seen in the profiles of children with learning disabilities. However, since your son is only six (the youngest age at which the WISC-III is used), the scores are less valid than they would be at an older age. In order to do well (or poorly) on any of the test items, a young child only has to miss (or complete) one item. So if your child was momentarily distracted, or didn't quite get the instructions, or he responded impulsively, his score would be dramatically affected by only one item. I would say that the test scores might suggest a V/P difference, but it is in no way predictive of learning disabilities, nor is one test a sufficient measure of his performance-related skills (eye-hand coordination and visual perception). Your son appears to have a very strong set of verbal skills. Sometimes gifted kids have an uneven early developmental profile, which tends to even out as they grow older. I would keep a close eye on him, and ask his teachers to pay special attention to tasks that involve visuo-spatial skills (puzzles, manipulatives like Legos, drawing or copying tasks). If difficulties exist or persist in these areas, I would request a more comprehensive assessment of these skills.

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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.

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