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Adopted Gifted Child

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I have a foster child who has been with me for 5 years since age 6. He came from an abusive and neglected background.

At age 6 he battled to talk properly, couldn't hold a pen to write or draw, couldn't even open a simple sweet wrapper. I was originally told by the social worker that he is retarded.

However, I noticed that he was learning things very quickly so I had him retested and was told he is very intelligent, but never taught the basics in his most informative years.

He is in a special education school for children with above average IQs but with learning disabilities and is now in Grade 4.

He learns things like spelling, phonics, etc very well but he is really battling with mathematics and also seems to have problems with actually comprehending things. I find he also gets confused between months and years and also with understanding differences between cities and countries, etc.

He also seems to be very good at work avoidance, both at home and at school, to such an extent that he is failing as he just does not apply himself. He works very hard ... at trying to get out of work!

He also gets very frustrated very easily and often storms out the class or looses his temper with his teacher and / or the other children. He battles socially with some of the other children and they really enjoy making him angry. His friends' parents however state when he is with them he is wonderful. At home and at school he is also getting really disrespectful to his teacher and to me. He seems to spend a lot of time in detention at school as well.

This child has a heart of gold but, I suspect, due to his past, gets hurt and frustrated very quickly. He seems to feel a lot more comfortable around animals and loves them with a passion. He also loves to play on the computer at home which I only allow as a reward, not a right.

I have tried various rewards, punishments, etc but none of them seem to have an effect on this child. I have tried speaking to him about the consequences of his behavior, tried grounding (which is automatic if he has detention). I have even told him how much it hurts me AND him when he doesn't just try to do better.

I am single. I love this child so very, very much and would give him the world if I could. I can't get him to really open up except about trivial things. He has more love each day then he ever had before. I want to adopt him as soon as the social workers get motivated.

How do I get through to this special young man who has so much potential in him? How do I motivate him to at least try? How do I teach him about responsibilities? I know he can succeed if only he tries. He is very clever.

The doctor did try him on Ritilin but it seemed to have the opposite effect. Please help!

A: I am so sorry to hear the issues you are going through. I think you may need some constant help professionally in bringing up this precious child. It is hard to advise without seeing and talking to him in person so I will try to guide you a little.

What you need to be aware of is that most gifted children tend to be emotionally quite sensitive; in your case perhaps he is highly sensitive and emotional. It is very natural that your boy may take things seriously and get extremely upset by what others may say or do. This may be the reason he loses his temper and gets frustrated easily. Sometimes frustration is most easily vented upon those we love the most (you!) perhaps, that is why he throws tantrums. At 11, he may be going through developmental changes as well that may be beyond his understanding, coupled with all the other issues; hence the temper and frustration.

To help him cope with these intense emotions, please read the following articles at

  • Parenting Emotionally Intense Gifted Children

  • Emotional intensity in gifted children

  • Understanding the intense emotions of your gifted child

On Preparing to Parent the Adopted Child, this article may help

  • Preparing to Parent the Adopted Child

He is also going through uneven (asynchronous) development with the gifts and learning challenges he has. His past may also be affecting him in ways he may not be aware of. All these could easily frustrate an adult and he is just a young boy. What you definitely need to do is to see a psychologist by recommendation and have him evaluated. He probably needs proper and constant counseling with therapy. You may want to act really soon as the longer you wait, the deeper the damage. My very best wishes to you.


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