Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Diagnosis Soup

When high intelligence is coupled with an auditory-sequential processing difficulty, these two exceptionalities tend to mask one another so that neither the giftedness nor the difficulty is readily apparent. Their learning difficulty depresses these students’ IQ and achievement scores and, as they are frequently not identified as gifted, their educational needs in this area are not met. Their high intelligence enables them to compensate well enough for their weaknesses to maintain year-level expectations and so their learning difficulty goes undetected. They are in a “Catch 22” situation where their giftedness and their learning difficulty cancel each other out and they are perceived as average. In addition, some IQ tests put so much emphasis on processing speed that the IQ of a gifted child with a learning difficulty is likely to be depressed and so the result is an under-estimate of the child’s intelligence.

-Lesley Sword

Ironically, it was because of my first struggle with the autism diagnosis issues that I came to find out that my son was gifted. In the process of wading through article after article on autism, I started investigating visual thinking processes. (Although I will never meet her, I would like to say thanks to Temple Grandin for being one of the most articulate writers on this topic.) This eventually led me to the article I Think In Pictures, You Teach In Words: The Gifted Visual-Spatial Learner by Leslie Sword (quoted above). I read it, thought it was interesting, but moved on.

This was the first time I had come across something which explained my son's behaviors while not mentioning the words autism or Asperger's, however, so I did keep a copy on file. I had never heard of visual-spatial learning styles, I knew nothing about overexcitabilities, and I did not have any clue that my son was gifted. In fact, he seemed moody, temperamental, stubborn, and ornery. It's hard to build a good relationship with and teach such a child.

Had I known these things about him earlier, I think we would have bypassed a lot of unhappiness for both of us.

The suggestion that autism was involved came when my son's teacher had spoken to a friend, who also happened to be a psychologist, and was sure he had Asperger's. Over the next three months, I watched my son became more angry and irritable every evening. (I didn't believe such a thing was possible, but it was.) I watched him chatter happily on his way to school. Once he crossed the threshhold into school, he became sullen, angry and unresponsive. The change was palpable.

After our first round of consultation with doctors, he was put on medications for ADHD and told he also had Oppositional Defiant Disorder. He had bad responses to several different medications. After a few months, we quit trying them. His problems at school kept getting worse. He got more defiant and started having violent tantrums.

I finally had him evaluated for Asperger's. I was sure that must be it. I was told that he didn't, even though I didn't believe it. One of the evaluators had the wisdom to suggest I have his IQ tested. Given my financial situation at the time, I didn't feel I could afford it. However, I presented his teacher with the article by Sword, but for reasons I will never understand, it was ignored. She still believed the words of the psychologist friend over the doctors who had seen my son.

I finally could take no more and pulled my child out of school.

I thought it was crazy that an educator would feel like they could make a medical diagnosis better than a medical doctor or psychiatrist. I learned later that this is actually fairly common, much to my dismay.

No comments: