Q: My son is gifted in the verbal and perceptional areas but has only average processing speed. He is in fifth grade and is having trouble with timed assignments. His IQ evaluation says that he might have trouble with timed activities and getting things down on paper, so he should be given adequate time to do so. If this is the case, can he still be encouraged to use other abilities or will this timing issue keep him from reaching his potential? He attends a gifted school. Do these types of schools adjust for these sorts of things in children, or is it a more of a make-it-or-break-it-type situation? I understand this is not a true learning disability. How can it be handled?
A: While typical schools today may not accept your son's problem as a learning disability, there is great disagreement about this conclusion. Educators in the field of gifted education would describe your son's problem as being "twice exceptional" — that is both gifted and learning-disabled. Because there is likely to be a large difference is his very important, high verbal and perceptual scores compared to his very slow processing speed, it will indeed feel and act like a disability to your son. On the many timed assignments he will need to participate in, he may find that he doesn't complete them. Even on timed IQ tests, scores will be lower because of his slow processing speed.
It's important to understand the root of his processing speed problem. He could be having difficulty with handwriting, or he could be a deep thinker and worry too much about which is the correct answer, or he could have an attention problem. Each of these issues would be treated differently, and while he may never be very fast at accomplishing his tasks, he can improve his speed. Keeping him motivated is crucial and, most typically, schools will allow accommodations for extra time as well as recommend approaches for improving his speed.
Occupational therapy could help if his handwriting is the problem. Practicing timed exercises at home where he tries to beat his own time can build speed and confidence. Attention issues can also be treated behaviorally or with medication, depending on the extent of the problem. I recommend you find a psychologist who specializes in working with gifted children to guide you and your son through the best approaches to helping him as soon as possible, or he will be high-risk for underachievement. I also want to assure you he is not alone with his problem. So many boys seem to have similar difficulties that I've nicknamed it "pencil anxiety."
For free newsletters about "Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades," learning disabilities, and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the address below. Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com. Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or [email protected] To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.