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Can Gifted Kids Have Attention Deficit or Learning Disability?

By Dr. Rimma Danov, PhD, founder of Brain Academy Tutoring, Testing & Coaching Center in New York
Even bright kids with high IQ scores may experience specific learning problems. These children may do poorly on ELA or math tests despite many hours of preparation and very strong reasoning skills. They may still get good grades, but those good grade come at a very high expense - long nights of studying along with tears and arguments, and their grades end up being not as high as expected given their high intellect. Teachers and parents agree that a thorough academic and cognitive evaluation will help to determine why a student is having these learning problems despite very high IQ scores.

These children may have gotten OLSAT and BSRA test scores above 90th percentile, but their current academic test scores might be average and subpar to their high intellect. However, these kids do not always meet the criteria for psychoeducational evaluations performed by the school as long as their academic test scores remain average and at the grade level. Thus, bright kids with specific learning problems and learning disabilities may seek a private educational and neuropsychological evaluation to get a timely and comprehensive assessment of student's strengths and weaknesses, which will lead to appropriate educational services and school placement.

Matthew was a very bright kid since a very young age. He was extremely curious and constantly explored different toys, different part of his house, every structure on his playground, and even the old attic in his grandparents' house. He was interested in books and quickly progressed from pointing and naming to reading and re-telling stories to his younger sister. Obviously, his parents were very happy with his developmental progress and academic achievement in pre-school. Matthew's pre-school teachers suggested to register him for the gifted and talented program admissions exam (OLSAT and BSRA tests), which he aced with very little test preparation. Mathew enjoyed his advanced academic curriculum in the first, second and third grades of the gifted and talented program, while remaining very cheerful, active, and playful child.

However, at the end of the third grade and especially during the fourth grade, Matthew's teacher began calling his parents because he was missing his book reports and some of his homework assignments. Matthew insisted he did not have any homework assigned, while his teachers were sending notes to his parents asking to supervise his homework completion. Moreover, while Matthew could easily solve some math problems, he refused to write every step of his problem solving in his notebook, which immediately lowered his test score. He insisted that, since he knew how to solve these problems, there was no need for him to spell it out for anyone, while his teachers were growing more and more frustrated by his oppositional stance. Somehow his test scores declined from the highest in class to average, while his teachers and parents were anticipating higher test scores given his very strong intellect and cognitive capabilities.

Furthermore, while Matthew was perceived as a cheerful, curious and active child in elementary school, now his teachers were complaining that he has become silly, overactive, and distractible. He, on another hand, was feeling more and more frustrated by those around him, irritated by frequent prompts to remain seated, refocus and complete assigned tasks. Matthew and his parents felt that their mutual happiness with his learning advances and his love for school was gradually replaced by frustration with the educational process and rapidly declining grades. They wondered if he had some sort of learning disability and wanted to investigate this further.

When Matthew's parents approached his school with requests for evaluation, the school officials determined that he was not eligible for a psychoeducational evaluation by the board of education because he was not failing his subjects and his grades were at his grade level, although not quite comparable to his high IQ score. There was a possibility of such psychoeducational evaluation in the future, but only if student's grade will decline much further. His parents could not afford to wait until their son slipped deeper into the academic underachievement and completely lost his desire to learn.

What are the options for students like Matthew? Psycho-educational evaluation includes educational testing (via a standardized academic test) and intelligence testing (via a standardized IQ test). These tests can determine student's IQ level (i.e., average, above average, superior, low average, borderline or mentally retarded ranges), as well as reading, spelling and math skill level (i.e., on the par with child's current grade level or not). Sometimes school psychologists also administer a brief behavioral check-list as a part of this assessment.

However, comprehensive educational assessment and neuropsychological testing can provide a much thorough evaluation of child's educational capabilities and a wide range of cognitive abilities (e.g., visual memory, verbal memory, learning with repetition, visual attention and scanning, auditory attention, information processing speed, fine motor precision, visuomotor skills, phonological and auditory processing, visual spatial processing, reasoning and problem solving, verbal math problem solving, mental flexibility, numerical operations, listening comprehension, phonics skills, word reading, reading comprehension, written expression, essay writing, and verbal and written fluency). A good, through neuropsychological and educational evaluation is tailored specifically to answer the referral questions such as:

  • What is this child's learning style?
  • What are his cognitive and academic strengths and weaknesses?
  • Does this child have ADHD, ADD, math learning disorder, dyslexia or other learning disability?
  • Why this child is not copying information quickly and accurately?
  • Why this child cannot complete tests on time despite good scores on practice tests?
  • Why this student can read but cannot understand what he reads and answer questions?

While it is critical to answer these referral questions and find out how to help a child to adjust to his or her curriculum and utilize his true intellectual potential, school districts are not always able to provide a child even with psychoeducational evaluation, let alone a more thorough and comprehensive neuropsychological and educational assessment, which is more time consuming and more costly. Students who display the most severe cognitive and academic problems typically get psychoeducational evaluations first, while children who are bright but struggle to achieve their average or above average grades are not deemed as meeting the criteria for such school-initiated psychoeducational assessment. Some schools will not administer psychoeducational testing unless a student is 2 years behind in her academic achievement.

Moreover, psychoeducational evaluations are performed by school psychologists, who do not diagnose children with learning disabilities, cognitive disorders, ADHD, and other disorders of childhood. This is because school psychologists are not doctors and were not trained to perform comprehensive neuropsychological assessments, which are required to diagnose and make treatment and remediation recommendations. On another hand, neuropsychological assessments are performed by doctors-neuropsychologists who were trained for many years just to administer multiple academic and cognitive tests with the purpose of diagnosing children and adults with learning disabilities and cognitive disorders.

A thorough academic and neuropsychological evaluation produces a diagnosis that helps parents and teachers understand why a child is not succeeding in school. For example, sometimes parents and teachers may think the child is lazy and not trying hard enough to complete classwork and homework, but when a child suffers from attention deficit, poor working memory, or weak spatial analysis, his daily academic performance can be very inconsistent. As in Matthew's case, a bright kid who aced his OLSAT and BSRA tests and can quickly grasp new concepts and retain large amounts of information, may still suffer from attention deficit disorder that prevents him from consistently applying his good reasoning and learning skills. Gifted children like Matthew, who receive a comprehensive academic and neuropsychological assessment, get specific recommendations from a neuropsychologist how manage attention deficit (ADD), as well as get specific tutoring recommendations how to compensate for inattention, distractibility, weak short term memory, impulsive decision making, and fidgeting, while maximizing their gifted intellectual potential.


Dr. Danov, PhD, is a Harvard-trained pediatric and adult neuropsychologist and the founder of the Brain Academy Tutoring, Testing & Coaching Center in New York. This Center provides comprehensive cognitive and academic evaluations in order to diagnose dyslexia, math learning disorder, auditory and visual processing disorders, mental retardation, ADHD, and other conditions that require educational services, test accommodations, tutoring, special class placements, private school placements, speech and occupational therapy, and other treatments and educational services. The center also provides individual tutoring, test prep, and effective remediation of cognitive deficits that cause learning problems for children and work-related problems for adults. For more information about the Brain Academy Tutoring, Testing and Coaching Center and how to diagnose and remediate learning disabilities, call 877-55-MyTutor (877-556-9888, 646-355-3395), or visit our website www.55mytutor.com. Offices are located in New York City, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.

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