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
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.
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