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Gifted but Unable to Cope

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My daughter, now 6 and born end August so one of the youngest in her class, was assessed and selected by a school for able children. She entered into an existing class where work patterns and social relationships were already established. Although she is very sociable and willing, she can be shy or withdrawn initially. After a good start things regressed and eventually she has integrated socially. However, academically she has not met their expectations of her potential. She seems to them to process information too slowly and at times goes off on a tangent as though she was day dreaming when instructions were given out. She has indicated at times that she has felt as if everyone else understands what it going on but she does not.

As young as three she would shy away from tasks before she tried saying that they were 'too difficult' but completed them with ease when supported by an adult. At nursery school she fared extremely well and shone: spoke in full sentences before she was 18 months old - always had a good vocabulary, teachers indicated a really talented use of color and very good drawing skills at 3. Since joining this school, her art seemed to suffer at first - it was not completed with the same level of care and certainly became less sophisticated although she is drawing with more attention now, I do not feel that it is as original and as unusual as it was previously.

She does seem happy at school at the moment - particularly in recent weeks since completing a big exam. She was very tense about the exam although did not express this outwardly but I noticed her shutting down and concepts she had already understood, became problematic for her. She did not do well in the exam but was also quite ill and medicated when she wrote it and I only let her write it because I knew that it was best for her to put it behind her.

According to her teachers, she has made progress and shows pockets of potential, they do feel that her ability falls short of what is required for such a fast paced environment. They do also suggest it may be a case of immaturity that she will overcome with time but suggest that we look at the possibility of alternative schooling. Since she took so long to settle where she is (exacerbated by my short term return to full time work and insufficient support on the home front) we do not want to cause her any more upheaval. She is aware that we are looking at alternative schools and has asked to be part of the decision making process since it will affect her and has asked if it would be possible for her to have some lessons and lunch at the alternative school to see if she likes it. She is uncertain about how she feels about the prospect of leaving but she is only 6!

I do feel that her current school to not see the best of her and that she somehow intimidated by the environment. I am not sure if in fact she is not able enough and she move to ensure her future happiness and self esteem or if it is worth testing her ability to be more sure. Less than a year ago her previous teacher suggested developmental screening and a diagnosis of preprioception was given. We were given some exercises to do which we maintained for a while but that in addition to trying so hard at school to get approval, seemed to put her into overdrive and she suffered from insomnia - as it is it is difficult for her to fall asleep most nights. Please advise if you think we should have her tested or if we should look more deeply into the diagnosis? Thank you.

A: I can understand your dilemma and this is surely a cause for concern. She is young, and being the youngest in a class for advanced students may not be very helpful. The fact that she has integrated well socially does show some kind of progress, but areas that she is slacking may not be a very good sign.

She may be overwhelmed with the pace of work. It may be possible that the work given to her is too challenging and she takes longer time to accomplish the tasks compared to her friends. Immaturity hardly seems the problem as suggested by her teachers, especially from your description of her attitude. I believe that she is rather matured for her age (wanting to be in the decision making process and her ability to express her concerns).

The school has not been very supportive from what you mentioned. The fact that she is admitted into the program shows that she is able to do task of that level. However, this is indeed a school for able children and the program is meant to benefit all students screened. In this case, the school may feel that the program is not benefiting her, hence the suggestion for alternatives. Changing schools should be the last resort, especially if she herself asks for it. You may need to see the school counselor to see what the school can do to help, especially if she is happy to be in this school. Perhaps, she may need some help initially but things would surely settle down soon.

Of course, the other alternative is to determine if she has some kind of learning problem that makes it difficult for her to work at a given pace. You may want to consult her school psychologist who may be able to give your daughter some individual time. Most young children may not have the verbal ability to tell us exactly what is going on with them, but your daughter may tell the psychologist/counselor through her play or art about what is bothering her and slowing down her performance. Whatever you do, make sure that she is involved in all decision-making. Good luck.


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