Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Misdiagnosis of Gifted Children

I'm reading: Misdiagnosis of Gifted ChildrenTweet this!

The other day I received a desperate e-mail from a local dad who’d read my piece in Chicago Parent. He was looking for some help with his son who sounded like the children in my article. I’m not sure if I helped him, but I did pass along one good piece of advice: if your gifted child is having social or emotional problems that warrant professional advice or intervention be sure consult with someone who has solid experience working with gifted children.

While “gifted” covers a broad population there are some general quirks and tendencies (it seems the higher the IQ the greater the quirks) that a professional who works with this population might dismiss as typical. However, those who are less familiar with gifted children may tend to pathologize these tendencies.

Here’s how I came to that belief.
(Or skip my story and scroll down to the helpful links that follow.)

At the first grade fall conference for Mr. Smartypants his teacher shared several observations: he was disorganized; nosey; spacey and generally unable to stick with tasks or finish assignments in a timely manner. She also found him somewhat irresponsible and noted that he was struggling socially.

I had no doubt that my son displayed such behaviors but I felt it was largely a response to his environment. Based on my reading and research (something I've learned most parents of highly/profoundly gifted parents take on in an effort to understand their children) my son sounded like a gifted fish out of water.

I know the teacher made efforts to accommodate Mr. Smartypants and I appreciate that, but I think she lacked a basic understanding of gifted (esp. highly gifted+) children. Who can blame her? Many teachers go through years of education and training and learn little, if anything, about gifted children as a special population.

At one point Mr. Smartypants became very anxious about going to school. I am thankful that she took time to talk with him during this period. Afterward, she e-mailed the following advice to me:

Have you ever considered taking him to a therapist or psychologist for some of these specific issues? It is nice to let children have a neutral person to talk to sometimes. I am not sure it is a gifted issue, however.

Knowing that there are school board members among my readership, let me suggest that if teachers are going to advise parents to seek psychological help for their children e-mail is probably not the best (indeed it is perhaps the worst) way to communicate such news.

Ultimately we did take him to a psychologist AND a developmental optometrist AND an occupational therapist because maybe his teacher was right--maybe his problems were due to some underlying issues.

Nearly $1,000 later we had some pretty strong evidence that the problems were due to giftedness. Indeed, after administering a variety of tests the psychologist we consulted, one who has worked with hundreds of gifted children as well as parented two of them, described Mr. Smartypants as “well-focused and motivated to succeed.”

Mr. Smartypants is by no means a perfect, but a few weeks ago at teacher conferences at the new gifted school I heard positive reports in all realms (social, emotional, academic). He still shows many asynchronous behaviors, but each year he seems to be getting a bit more aligned.

James Webb's 2005 book Misdiagnosis And Dual Diagnoses Of Gifted Children And Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger's, Depression, And Other Disorders a website for gifted children who also have other special needs check out the GT-Cybersource section.


Maureen said...

Hey Kim,

It's probably the best 'g' you'll ever spend.

Isn't Misdiagnosis a great book? I read half of it at Borders -- thought it made a lot of good points.


Kim Moldofsky said...

The band Poi Dog Pondering has a song called "Thanksgiving" which includes the line: "Thanks given for every wrong move, that made it right."

If first grade had gone smoother perhaps we'd be plugging along in public school with some vague nagging that something was wrong with our son.

It seems the Misdiagnosis book would be great reading for school social workers and school psychologists.

Working Mom Blog said...

Very interesting. The funny thing about my daughter is that she is socially very capably. She has tons of friends, and has a fab sense of humor. The other interesting thing is I was poo-pood by school administrators for 2 years because she is so socially sound. They also have a tendency to overlook girls with these issues. Finally she got some help. I'm hoping second grade is easier for her. Fingers crossed. We did go out and buy her a gargantuan trampoline. She loves it! bouncing for hours! She's also on the gymnastics team this year... Her little fidgety body will be very busy.

Cheers, Urs