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Gifted and Dyslexic?

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

Q: My three-and-a-half-year-old son has many traits of giftedness. Physically, he was walking and climbing at seven months. Verbally, he far exceeds his peers. He could also identify simple shapes before his second birthday. He can count objects and tell you how many cars are in a lot, etc. My question concerns letter and number recognition. No matter how many times we point them out and he repeats them, he cannot remember them ten seconds later. Is it too early to be concerned about dyslexia? By the way, he's always tripping and falling over objects but his pediatrician thinks his vision is acceptable. I really appreciate the help.

A: Your little one certainly shows many of the traits exhibited by young gifted-and-talented children. What's important to remember with these kids is that all of their strengths do not emerge at one time. This is particularly true in the area of social skills; many G-and-T kids are intellectually superior to their peers, but they may not know how (or have patience with) the play behavior of other kids their age (or even somewhat older). As a result, they may need help navigating these often-frustrating waters.

In terms of number and letter recognition, your child may not have developed the perceptual (that is, visual memory) skills that allow him to hold on to these visual images. Or, he may get the concepts underlying the images, but have little interest in the symbols themselves, as they have little relevance. It's likely that this apparent visual memory "problem" is not an indication of anything serious and should get better with time and natural exposure to numbers and letters. It is possible, however, that even at this young age your son is exhibiting symptoms of a weak visual memory that might signal the presence of an underlying learning disability.

I think a cautious but optimistic approach is advisable. Give your son many opportunities to be exposed to numbers and letters that involve many of his senses, and try not to "test" him. Make sure to give your son lots of chances to interact with blocks and other shapes that aren't associated with numbers or letters. Playing memory "games" by taking away one of the blocks and then having him pick one (from two) that you are holding will also help him learn to keep things in his "mind's eye."

Finally, even though your pediatrician feels that your son's vision is okay, the tripping and falling could signal some visual problem. Again, this is not likely, but it's important to pursue if it doesn't improve. Some G-and-T kids seem like "klutzes" because their verbal skills outshine their visual-motor skills, and parents worry about this difference instead of just waiting for the gap to narrow as kids get older -- and it usually does. If things don't seem to get better, then seek out the advice of someone who specializes in the assessment of early learning disabilities. You can ask your pediatrician for a recommendation.

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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.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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