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Very High IQ Scores, Average Working Memory

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My 11 years old son's teachers always complain his behavior and attention issues. He is a 5th grade kid in an American public school. He attended a private school at 1-3 grades and had ok school lift there. Due to our job relocation issues, we moved to Boston at his 4th grade. Public school teachers always complain some issues: attention, distraction, cannot focus, always needs reminder ... As parents, we know he's very capable in academic, sports and instruments. He had WISC-V testing in Oct, 2016. Here are his score:

  • VCI 155/>99.9 (Similarities 19/99.0; vocabulary 19/99.0)

  • VSI 138/99.0 (Block Design 17/99.0, Visual Puzzles 16/98.0)

  • FRI 99.8 (Matrix Reasoning 17/99.0; Figure Weights 18/99.6)

  • WMI 107/68 (Digit Span 11/63.0; Picture Span 11/63.0)

  • PSI 129/97 (Symbol Search 15/95.0; Coding 15/95.0)

  • FSIQ=146/99.9

  • GAI=152/>99.9

Because I saw a big gap between his Working Memory and Verbal Comprehension, could you please explain me any message that I can learn from the gap? I am looking around for specialists and not sure if he needs any special workshop to help him improve his 'student skill' and 'work ethics' which I always heard from his public school teachers. Thank you very much for your suggestions!

A: A private school enrols students selectively and demands are uniformly higher in comparison to a public school where students are exposed to a wider variety of people and abilities. Furthermore, class size would be much smaller in a private school, which decreases the teacher student ratio. Due to this, public teachers have many more students to attend to and may expect stereotypical “good” behaviours. They may not have time to understand a child who may be capable but does not adhere to their expected behavioural norms. This may be the case with your son. Looking at his scores, he sure needs differentiated curriculum to stimulate and enhance his learning.

See the table below for the classifications of WISC-V:

Composite Score Range WISC-V Descriptive Classification
130 and above Extremely High
120 - 129 Very High
110 - 119 High Average
90 - 109 Average
80 - 89 Low Average
70 - 79 Very Low
69 and below Extremely Low

The WMI evaluates a child's ability to sustain auditory attention, concentrate, and exert mental control. Children are asked to repeat numbers read aloud by the evaluator in a particular order, and have memory for pictures previously presented. Deficits in working memory often suggest that children will require repetition when learning new information, as they exhibit difficulties taking information in short-term memory, manipulating it, and producing a response at a level comparable to their same age peers.

In this case, his PSI is in the Superior range; VCI, FRI, VSI are all in the Very superior range. His WMI is in fact Average (not at all low) but the gap between the rest of the scores deserves some further attention, as the scatter is not normal with the huge gap. The GAI score does not include WMI; hence the higher score. This could indicate a learning concern.

He would require further testing. It could mean a possible auditory processing problem. Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is an umbrella term used to describe various difficulties in the ability to discriminate, identify, or comprehend auditory stimuli, particularly when the auditory signal is in any way degraded, in spite of normal peripheral hearing thresholds and cognitive abilities. The digit span subtest of the WISC is an auditory exercise, where children are required listen to a string of numbers, and then recite them to the test administrator in forward, backward and sequential forms. Therefore, I believe the APD factor could be explored, along with other issues around memory and executive functioning given the relatively lower working memory. It is also not uncommon for children with self-regulatory challenges, as observed in children with ADHD to present difficulties in working memory and processing speed. I think a neuropsychologist would be able to give you some specific recommendations.

On his “student skills” and “work ethics”, it would be best to speak to the teachers and school counsellor to understand if he is doing it out of boredom, frustration - perhaps a lack of challenges and stimulation in the classroom makes it hard for him to “behave” as expected. Some understanding from the school may help the situation. If nothing works, it would be best to see a specialist and of course talking to him daily (indirectly) about school may help you identify his needs better.

Hope that helps and wishing you all the best in this wonderful journey!


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