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Gifted with Language Disorder

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I have two sons, one who is 39 months old and one who just turned 2 a few days ago. My older son was diagnosed with a moderate language disorder at the age of 3. He will be starting speech therapy this upcoming fall through our school district. Both of my boys demonstrated an intense interest in numbers and letters at a very young age. Both could recognize letters as well as the sounds they make by the age of 17 months. My 39-month-old is extremely interested in reading and currently reads level 1 books independently. His visual motor skills are very strong as well. He is able to write the alphabet and is now writing complete words. His ability to spell amazes me. I can randomly ask him to spell fairly complicated words and he can verbally spell them correctly back to me. At the age of 34 months, I asked him if he could recite the alphabet backwards and he was able to (with a few pauses between letters).

My 2 year old is now starting to write as well. He is able to independently write 1/5 of the alphabet. His language appears to be developing at a normal rate. Both boys are very proficient with technology (mainly using the iPod and navigating educational apps). My husband has MANY gifted relatives (the majority of his siblings and cousins) although he is not gifted himself. And I am not gifted (as you can probably tell :-)

I am a pediatric occupational therapist, so I do have some understanding of how different their development appears. They both lack many of the characteristics that would categorize them within the Autism Spectrum. This was, of course, one of my greatest concerns that needed to be ruled out. But my older son's intense desire to further himself in these areas with a coupled language disorder is confusing me slightly. I haven't seen a lot literature that documents gifted children with language disorders and so I am wondering if it is likely this is the case? I am also wondering what his early academic career will look like? If he continues at this rate in reading, how bored will he be in Kindergarten? Is there anything that I should do for him at this point in time?

Thank you in advance for your time!

A: Definitely. A child can be gifted and yet have a disorder - that makes the child twice exceptional. From your description, your sons are surely above average and your older son appears to be twice exceptional. And since there are many relatives that are gifted, there is no doubt that your kids have gifted potential. I am sure either you or your husband or perhaps both of you, may be gifted. People can be gifted all their lives and not even know about it; and perhaps may not have developed their potential fully as adults.

For now, it is indeed too early to talk about your older son's academic career. With proper intervention, he may well fit in perfectly in a system that caters for his needs. He is indeed very young so go on doing what you are doing now. When he attends kindergarten, his reading would surely be way ahead that of his peers and there is a possibility of boredom. You may need to look for a school that caters for children with varying abilities. Some kindergartens do cater for advanced readers but most may not have this facility as there are probably only one or two children with advanced reading skills. Speak to his teachers to determine what can be done. I am sure the school would try to help.

The other consideration is to help him at home. Provide him with enough materials to read. Have a mini library at home and a reading corner. However, reading all the time would weaken his other skills, especially social skills. Kids who read all the time may not find making friends necessary, and this skill need to be nurtured when they are young. In his case, since there is a moderate language disorders, interacting with other kids may not be very comfortable for him and he may avoid it. However, you must try not to let this happen at any cost as it can be detri8mental if he gets used to living in isolation. There should be time for him to interact and mingle with other kids. Perhaps, you may want to invite other kid to your place for a small playgroup session. They can even do a reading activity; perhaps one that requires acting out to enhance his expressive language skills. It is more interesting and kids learn from other kids.

Monitor his progress for now, Keep an eye on how he is developing; is he more or less open to having new friends, ability to handle group activities, ability to talk and interact or to sustain activity in something that is assigned and not just of interest. As you watch his progress, respond accordingly. If you find him withdrawing after several attempts, take him to a professional who may be able to give a more educated opinion on this matter.

Here's wishing you all the best in nurturing both your boys!.


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