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Underachieving Gifted

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My son is 5 years old and was evaluated to be gifted by TONI-2 quotient of >136 superior for his age level, Draw a person intellectual ability is average score 97 and Visual motor integration (VMI) if 114 which is average, but his visual subtest is 130 which is high and motor subtest is 97 which is average.

From these test, I deduce that his physical abilities is lower than his mental abilities. He is going to kindergarten 2 presently. He is accelerated 1 level. He likes dinosaurs very much that he can identify already more than 52 dinosaurs by their name even if you show him only a dinosaur's tail in the flash card.

My question is should I encourage him with dinosaur's books or should I stop buying books related to dinosaur and try to get him to be interest in books which are related to his schoolwork. Because most of the times in school he kept on daydreaming in school to the extent the he doesn't listen to his teacher. He is only an average student and does not rank even top 20 of the 33 students. If he is such a gifted child why he is not in the top 20?

A: Your son has been assessed to be in the gifted range and I can totally understand the concerns you have since a lot more is expected from a gifted child in terms of performance. Unfortunately this is not always the case gifted children do underachieve for various reasons. In his case, he is still very young and the school is probably not able to provide him with the necessary stimulation that he needs to keep his interests going.

The other issue is that he has been accelerated, so it there a possibility that he may be lonely in his new class, or unable to make friends? The preschool experience is not one that is only academically based, it is also meant to develop a child's skills in other areas such as physical, behavioral and emotional. It is also not that common for preschoolers to be ranked in numbers as you mentioned. However, the reality is that assessments in preschool, when used properly, can serve teachers and parents in carefully viewing children and their educational environments. It also helps teachers and parents to see where children are heading in their various stages of development, whether they need to be accelerated, what may suit their interest best, etc; all of these would help parents and teachers to make comfortable transitions in their educational pursuits. As in your case, it did bring about concerns about his achievements. Then again, he is probably the youngest in his class. You also need to find out if he is suitable for his class, or perhaps he may learn better in a lower grade. Speak with his teachers regarding this.

You also need to speak with his teachers regarding your concerns as to the reason he may not be doing so well. What are the subjects that he usually gets bored with and starts daydreaming? Since his perceived mental abilities are much better than his physical abilities, he should be mentally stimulated is this being done? What is being done to enrich his experience?

It may not be very wise to give him books only related to schoolwork as he obviously does not enjoy them. However, you need to work on him to gain more interest in schoolwork, but gradually while still allowing him books of his interests. Do not get too frustrated if you feel like your efforts are not futile. For a preschooler, the only sure-fire prescription is time and exposure as they develop since they are too young to be crammed to learn new skills in a short time. What you can do is to provide him with a stimulating and conducive environment, but bear in mind that in the end, only they can decide when they are ready for the next step. Best of luck!


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