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Above average Ability with Behavioural Concerns

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I hope you can help as I am desperate. I am confused about my 7 year old son. He has always been assessed at school - UK - (and I know from parenting him) as very ahead of his peers in maths, literacy/comprehensions/conceptual understanding/the way he thinks through things.

However along the way I had a teacher say (when he was 3) possible autism as he didn't join in play with others as much as other kids. I took him to a NHS psychologist who said there wasn't enough for her to say ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) or refer him on and to keep my eye on it, but to ask for differentiated work. He has recently moved schools and today I was asked to see the SENCO teacher with his class teacher. Again, they have raised ASD for three behaviours.

  1. Sometimes not finishing his work, but instead thinking and day dreaming (though the teacher says he usually flies through it and she is wanting to give him harder work, but unless he finishes his work she can't)

  2. Sometimes, not every time, in large groups of kids he gets annoyed if they won t vary the game and play different games and/or have a go at his games. This has resulted in some crying and one tantrum.

  3. He keeps asking the teacher why he has to do the same literacy tasks when he feels he has mastered them and his social behaviour in those instances is thus unacceptable.

They are going to write a social story for him about behaviour, but also did not feel I should have him assessed particularly as it isn't straight-forward. They are confused about his ability and his behaviours. I feel he should be assessed by someone and I am going to ask my GP, but what should I be saying in terms of who should assess him? A psychiatrist? Or a developmental paediatrician?

It is so complex that I feel now that my son needs to be assessed for both his ability and his behaviour that has caused the school concern. My son says he doesn't finish his work because he hopes they will move him to a lower ability group so he can be left alone to think.

A: As much as it is hard to tell for sure, I somehow feel that he is just not getting the educational stimulation he needs possibly due to a combination of issues. If the NHS psychologist had said there wasn't enough for an ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) diagnosis, I would tend to believe so as the diagnosis can be quite apparent if a child has it. Differentiated work would definitely be something to consider. Having said that, if the new school feels that he may have ASD based on what you have mentioned, it would be good to seek a second opinion (you may want to get the school to refer you to a recommended child psychologist and you may take it from there).

However, for each of the school's concern, there are debatable facts. For the 1st instance, the work given may not be challenging enough and boredom sets in. Children with higher cognitive capabilities do tend to day dream and appear rather spaced out when they are bored as that is a coping mechanism. They have the need to fill in the vacuum as stimulation is necessary.

For the second concern, gifted children need varied activities and may not be able to stick to one. Especially when this does not happen all the time, it may be that he requires something more challenging to allow for some active cognitive activity - otherwise, they get bored. So, it may be that he is just fighting for his needs which appear as if he has a problem with peers.

Next, when a child has to do a task that he has mastered, repetition can be very frustrating. Gifted children have a very active mind and rote learning and drills may not excite them at all. This is why differentiated learning is recommended for these children.

Gifted children need constant stimulation and challenges to their minds. They need activities and learning that is stimulating, meaningful and varied. Your son may not be getting this. If he finds no meaning in what he is doing, it is hard for him to continue with the advanced abilities he has. I feel that his education opportunities are just not he right fit causing him to feel dull and bored.

If this goes on, he may succumb to the pressures and try to fit in, which would be such a shame for a bright mind like his. You may want to consult an educational psychologist for a start and get his intelligence tested - these tests are able to look for any discrepancies in the results that may indicate any learning problem. I believe his behaviour is a result from the lack of stimulation required in his learning. Teachers are not trained to recognise such behaviours and the causes, hence behavioural problems are usually labelled for such children.

This is going to be a tough call but as a parent, you would need to help him fight for his right to the kind of education he requires. At home, you may also need to help him with advanced learning especially if the school is not sufficient in providing for it. I wish you all the success in your journey.


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