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Possibly ADHD and Learning Disability

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My step-son is 13.9 years and in the 7th grade. He is a very poor speller and writer and I am very concerned about his abilities and whether or not he will qualify for specialized services (504 accommodation or IEP). He currently does not have any diagnosis although ADD appears to be evident. With his extreme low score in working memory and discrepancy between scores, I would think he would qualify for some assistance. Can you help interpret this and advise? Thanks!

His scores are as follows:

Verbal Comprehension: 95
Perceptual Reasoning: 84
Working Memory: 71
Processing Speed: 91
Full Scale IQ: 82

Total Reading: 86
Basic Reading: 90
Reading Comprehenstion and Fluency: 86
Spelling: 82

Connors-3 Teacher Scale (PARENT SCALE)
Inattention: 66 (71)
Learning Problems/Executive Functioning: 69 (73/64)
Peer Relations: 62 (80)
Hyperactivity: 44 (54)
Agression: 46 (52)

A: I would be able to interpret the WISC-IV scores rather than the others better since I am not very familiar with the Connors-3 Teacher Scale. The FSIQ score is in the low average range (at 82; 80-89 indicates low average) and I believe that he would need help from the school for an individualised educational plan.

In general, working memory is our ability to store and manipulate information for a short span of time. It is commonly measured by dual-tasks - tasks where individuals have to remember an item while simultaneously processing another piece of information. For individual differences in the performance of working memory, this is quite closely related to a range of academic skills for instance reading, spelling, comprehension, and mathematics. Today, there has been emerging research on working memory that predicts learning outcomes which is independent of IQ scores. Rather than measuring what students have already learnt, it in fact measures a student's capacity to acquire knowledge. It should be noted that working memory is not affected by environmental influences, such as parental educational level and financial background.

A few research findings that may explain levels of working memory; firstly, there is evidence that low working memory skills constitute a high risk factor for underachievement. More importantly, the pattern of poor performance in learning outcomes due to a low working memory remains even when the child's IQ is statistically accounted. Next, children with working memory are judged (by teachers) to be highly inattentive, and have short poor attention spans and high levels of distractibility. And finally, children with low working memory tend to take much longer to process information. Hence, timed activities and quick presentation of information becomes a difficult task.

The Working Memory Index (WMI) in the WISC IV is a measure of working memory. It assesses children's ability to memorize new information, hold it in short-term memory, concentrate, and manipulate that information to produce some result or reasoning processes. It is important in higher-order thinking, learning, and achievement. It can tap concentration, planning ability, cognitive flexibility, and sequencing skill, but is sensitive to anxiety too. It is an important component of learning and achievement, and ability to self-monitor. The WMI's subtests include Digit Span (children are orally given sequences of numbers and asked to repeat them, either as heard or in reverse order); Letter-Number Sequencing (children are orally given sequences of letters and numbers together, and asked to repeat them in both numerical order and alphabetical order); and Arithmetic (supplemental - orally administered arithmetic questions).

You indicated that he is a poor speller and a writer. Somehow, I think he may have an attentional issue and a learning disorder based on his results. You may need to find out further about both his attention concern and his possible learning disability. Seek help from a psychologist and get him tested for ADHD and any learning concerns.

Additionally, he may be eligible for the GAI since there is a discrepancy between his VCI and WMI. That would increase his FSIQ - I am not sure if that would help him qualify for help but his scores alone indicate that he needs help in his learning. You would need to speak to the school authorities regarding this to have more clarity. I am afraid I may not be the right person to offer further help for an IEP - please seek help from the school. I am sure you would get help as his scores indicate that he needs help. Best of luck!


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