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Gifted With a Possible Learning Concern

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My son is in grade 6, just turned 11 yrs old and has just joined a gifted program in public school in September. He was in a private school before then where he was always the top of his class. His prior teachers all identified him gifted since nursery and they all have been great in understanding his thirst for learning and his love of reading. When I got him tested earlier this year he scored in the very superior region in the 99.5th and 99.7th percentiles, with GAI in the 99.7th percentile, on the WISC IV test (we live in Canada).

Here is my issue: It has only been 2.5 months in the gifted program and I have been told twice already by his teachers that they are very concerned with his concentration and attention in class. He is said to zone-out when the teacher is giving her lesson and he does not follow through on tasks given from the first request. They are suggesting that he has ADD. I know my son, he does not have attention problems. He read the entire Harry Potter series in a matter of days. He can play lego for 4 hours straight concentrating on each piece and each figure as if he was studying them for an exam. He can play video games for hours on end.

I think he is a very quick learner and turns his attention to other things because he wants to move on to the next thing. He just told me that recently his teacher was giving a lesson on classification. He said that he didn't pay attention because he already knew the topic very well. I asked him how he knew it and he said that he just knows and besides he only had to hear the first few words and that was enough for him. He just understood it. I don't know if he is not being challenged enough in the gifted class or he is being lazy or is there indeed an attention issue. His grades are in the 90's. How do I go about knowing for sure? Should I consult with the psychologist who did his WISC IV testing? I am so afraid of them labelling him with a disability and they will treat him differently. Even worse, I am afraid they will suggest medication. Thanks in advance for your help.

A: His scores on the WISC-IV indicates that he is in the superior range. However, I am a little puzzled that he is given the GAI (General Ability Index) score instead of the FSIQ (Full Scale IQ). The GAI score only considers the VCI (verbal comprehension index) and the PRI (perceptual reasoning index). For the Full Scale IQ, all 10 subtests are required to calculate the FSIQ and the four Index scores are included in the standard battery.

The GAI (VCI + PRI) is used in place of the FSIQ. When the FSIQ is not interpretable, it has to be determined whether an abbreviated GAI may be used to describe overall intellectual ability based on the following question:

  • Is the size of the standard score difference between the VCI and PRI less than 1.5 standard deviations (< 23 points)?

If the answer is YES, then the GAI may be calculated and interpreted as a reliable and valid estimate of a child's overall intellectual ability which I believe is done in your son's case.
If the answer is NO, then the variation in the Indexes that compose the GAI is too great (>23 points) for the purpose of summarising overall ability in a single score (i.e., GAI). Please check the detailed report of the WISC-IV.

In your son's case, it is a YES since the GAI score was calculated. The following are the reason a tester may decide to use the GAI score and not the FSIQ: There may be:

  • A significant and unusual discrepancy exists between VCI and WMI

  • A significant and unusual discrepancy exists between PRI and PSI

  • A significant and unusual discrepancy exists between WMI and PSI, or

  • A significant and unusual subtest discrepancy between subtests within WMI and/or PSI.

Please see the tester (psychologist who administered the test) for further interpretation. There may be something that the tester has not told you but may be manifesting in the classroom. At the same time, if you are convinced that your son does not have an inattention issue, have a meeting with the school personnel. Explain your situation and indicate what your son had told you about why he was not paying attention. Check the facts with your son. There appears to be something amiss here and you may need to act fast. It may be a good idea to check with a child psychologist for attention concerns brought up by his teachers. If this has been rules out, you could infirm the school. If there is a concern, medication would help but there are other methods these days if the case is not severe (from your description, it is hard to tell for sure but it appears that he may just be less challenged as he indicated to you). No child with a disability should be labelled let alone treated differently. You would need to keep a close eye should he be diagnosed and have a good relationship with the school to make sure he is being given the best of what is required for his ability.

If there is no other learning concern, you may conclude that the programme is just not as challenging for him and he may require something more stimulating. Again, you would need to speak to the gifted education programme coordinators in his school to express your concerns and help them help your son. Hope that helps and please work on this as soon as you can. Good wishes to you.


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