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Possible Dysgraphia

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I need clarification on whether my 16 year old son's IQ and subtest scores reveal an emotional disturbance (anxiety, selective mutism, or a mild Non verbal learning disability or all of the above. Is his frustration and anxiety a result of his IQ profile. He has been an honors A student since 1st grade in the same private prep school but this year he had significant school refusal and did not go in to finish his final exams. He said "he can't take any more tests" and that he is done with school.

He never had to put a lot of time into studying and did as well or better then his peers who studied many hours. The one area that baffled us always was if he had a 10 page writing assignment or any written assignment more than 2 pages he would be overcome with great anxiety and was often unable to complete the task on schedule. He never takes any notes except for a word or two because he says he cant take notes and pay attention at the same time ....for the past 11 years his notebooks are all empty. He writes nothing down. He carries all his books around with him every day and never uses his locker. He says he does not talk much in school. At home he can debate brilliantly but will not in school. He likes to study topics in great depth and intricate detail. He is almost always late and has difficulty with waking up on time.

He is kind and bright and very respectful, generous and quite. He has a few loyal friends who he socializes with. He is shy and introverted. He is excellent at archery and enjoys learning to fly. His handwriting is very hard to read with little or no spacing between words and laborious.

These are his scores:

VIQ= 130 (similarities 15/vocabulary 15/information 15/ comp 19) PRI= 104 (figure weights 12/matrix reasoning 9/visual puzzle 11/block design 5/picture completion 11) WMI= 148(digit span 19/letter sequencing 18/arithmetic 10) PSI= 89( symbol search 7/coding 9/cancellation10) The examiner said he did not do as well on any of the subtests that had time constraints.

We are very confused how he went from loving school and being a great student to refusing to go to school and not able to complete his academics. How best can I help my son. Thank you.

A: This appears to be something that has been going on for years, but not detected and finally your son just gave up. His intelligence scores would not indicate any emotional concerns as it is meant for cognitive testing. There could be many reasons for him to feel anxious but the clearest appears to be what we call “burnout”.

There is no Full Scale IQ score as I believe the scores have such huge gap that it is not accurate to report a Full Score. The ratings for his scores are: VCI - Superior; PRI - Average; WMI - Superior (close to perfect score); PSI - Low Average. When was he tested? With such discrepancy in scores, there should have been further testing to determine if there are concerns that can be treated.

There is also a concern about his writing. Since this has been happening a long time, it should have been looked into. If he has been allowed to not write, he will learn that it is fine not to write. There may be various reasons he is not writing and an expert in this area may be able to help. For me, it quite obvious that he is twice-exceptional; he may have dysgraphia - a learning disability that affects writing, which requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills. Dysgraphia makes the act of writing difficult, which may be the reason for his refusal to write. Check if he has other symptoms such as trouble organising thoughts on paper, difficulty in keeping track of thoughts already written down, trouble with syntax structure and grammar, large gap between written ideas and understanding demonstrated through speech - to mention a few. In short, dysgraphia is a specific learning disability that can be diagnosed and treated.

It is possible that if your son has dysgraphia, he may also usually have other problems such as difficulty with spelling and written expression, as well as dyslexia and, in some cases, oral language problems (perhaps reason he would not speak in class, especially when stressed - unlike at home). Of course early intervention is the best, I believe this can still be treated.

On the emotional front, the frustrations of daily schoolwork and expectations plus the need to write may cause a lot of anxiety in any individual and this may have happened to your son. He has probably managed to pull through somehow but probably given up now. Exams require writing at this stage and he has probably burnt out. The best thing for you to do now is to seek help from a psychologist to understand his behaviour better. Try speaking to someone in his school as well. In the meantime, it would be good if you could get a significant adult whom he respects to talk to him and try to understand his frustrations. I would seek help as soon as possible as all I am sure about is that he has learning concerns (based on the scores) and needs intervention. Wishing you all the best and I hope your son would enjoy school again.

Further reply: I want to thank Dr. Sandhu for her detailed and very thoughtful, sensitive answer to my long Q, which I just found posted on your website. Just and update: he is currently abroad in his favorite country helping a professor of linguistics with video editing of a unique community of speakers of an archaic patois. He is bartering for the opportunity to live there and still is not in the least interested in remuneration.

He is happy. We just let him be who he is. His consistent exploration now is the nature of consciousness, a mystery that absorbs him.

Thanks again. It is interesting that our 3 gifted children tested the same IQ, but this one is very distinct, and I think it is his additional creative "package."


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