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Highly Able Child with Communication Disorder

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My 8 year old son is diagnosed with communication disorders. High functioning child learning in a regular class. Third grade. Since early childhood he showed up sighs of high abilities such as:

6-7 months he liked particular TV program teaching young children colours, shapes and so on.. At first I thought he was just watching...without understanding. I quickly realized that he started to learned to say numbers, letters, age of 6-7 months!! and identify it on the screen! I thought I was dreaming but it was reality!

At age 1 he knew all numbers, letters, colours, shapes (all of them) to count and and many amazing things! He was amazing!! But still he had communication problems.

Now he's 8 years old, has sever behaviour problems, getting emotional medication treatment. Also, (to our big surprised) he was diagnosed with learning disabilities as well as communication problems. Showed symptoms of high functioning communication disorders.

He had taken TONI TEST 3 and scored 148 - which is way above average score to his age group. The average is 100 with standard deviation 15. They told us that his non-verbal thinking is very high. This matches his high abilities as an infant In fact I have never seen a baby with such abilities as as he presented.

Many times we have asked ourselves if he was gifted. Since he is doing very well in studies and getting high scores without learning at all! and even though he has learning disabilities. Last year they took gifted & talnted test in school. In our country it is a mass test. Not individual. To our BIG surprise he didn't pass! Even though he has such abilities.

We were noted that is not gifted nor talented and do not deserve to participate in special programs. This is shock to us since we know he is not average. Also when he was 4 years he took IQ test as a developmental assessment and he scored above average! Now we are confused. I do not know what went wrong. I think we will appeal.

Last year he received relaxing medications which discovered later that they put him slow and asleep during the day (NEULEPTIL DROPS). He has stopped using it!!

Before the test, I gave him I few drops. Maybe this medication slowed him down. We are confused. Thanks for good advise!

A: There are a lot of questions in mind regarding what you have written. I would require much more details to be able to advise here but I would try my best with what is described. From your letter, I am able to determine that your son is indeed highly advanced and possibly twice exceptional (gifted with a disability). His abilities as an infant are very advanced especially if it is self-learnt.

His score on the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence, Third Edition (TONI-3 - a language-free assessment of nonverbal intelligence and reasoning abilities) is very high. You did not indicate when this test was taken. If it was taken when he was 6 (the earliest this test can be taken), and the gifted and talented test a year later, could it be that items apart from nonverbal ones interfered with the overall results? Or it worsened with no intervention over the year? This test is used for children aged 6 or older when there are speech or language problems (as in your son's case) or when English is not the child's native language. Rather than using the TONI-3, the WISC and the Stanford-Binet (SB) tests are better indicators for use in gifted programme placements but may not be suitable for your son since he has communication disorder.

On his communication problem, it is deficits in his ability to exchange information with others. A communication disorder can occur in language, speech, and/or hearing which you have not indicated exactly which one is the main concern. Within that spectrum, language problems include spoken language, reading and/or writing difficulties. Speech encompasses areas such as the ability to speak clearly and be intelligible, fluency of language spoken (in terms of stuttering), and voice. Hearing difficulties may also encompass speech problems and/or language problems. Hearing impairments include deafness and hearing loss. Does he have difficulty following directions, attending to a conversation, pronouncing words, perceiving what was said, expressing oneself, or being understood? When his communication disorder was diagnosed and are there any interventions since? The good news is that most communication concerns can be improved by therapy. Even if the cure is not 100%, children can learn strategies to overcome their difficulties and some may even overcome them as they grow older especially for mild language delays.

It is also noted that (for some unknown reason) boys are diagnosed with communication disorders more often than girls. Furthermore, children with communication disorders tend to have other disorders as well. In your son's case it may be behavioural problems as you have mentioned. Has he been diagnosed for ADHD or any learning difficulties?

Additionally, there is a strong relationship between communication and academic achievement. Language proficiency and academic success does depend on whether or not the child is able to match their communication to the teaching and learning style in a classroom. In cases of children with communication disorder, academic success will be only be possible if they learn and understand the classroom's social, language, and learning patterns. This would need a lot of intervention and specialised attention from the teachers. It is unclear if your son is receiving any intervention from teachers and speech-language pathologists. The focus should be in attending to their classroom interactions and the language and communications used in the school to help children learn to communicate in these environments.

You also mentioned neuleptil drops - this is quite strong and may interfere with his ability to do well in exams. You really need to speak to a counsellor in the school and have him tested based on his condition. It is not fair for him to be tested in a group - he is a special child and he needs differentiation learning for him to fulfil his potential. Please also see a child psychologist to determine if he has any other disorder as if there is, intervention is very necessary in order to get to the root of the problem. Otherwise, he would just sink in further.

Early detection and intervention can address the developmental needs and academic difficulties to improve the quality of life experienced by children with communication disorders. Please speak to the school for a re-evaluation on his learning needs and possibly a counsellor for a referral to a good psychologist. Wishing you all the best.


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