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WISC IV - High Processing Speed and Working Memory

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: My son is 15 years old. He has always struggled in school in some areas, such as reading and writing, but not others such as report writing and presentations. Some math concepts barely need to be explained, others need to be taught multiple times in different styles before he grasps it. His WISC 4 tests are quite high, but that is not the reality of the child in the classroom. He also has a 30 point difference between sub-scores that no one thinks is worth consideration because of his overall high scores. he does not have any social concerns, and Nonverbal LD was ruled out.

I am frustrated that he is being judged on these standardized tests without consideration of the reality in the classroom, which is such severe anxiety that he has now missed nearly an entire year of school, and has been hospitalized briefly, as well.

His only known diagnosis (besides anxiety) is ADD inattentive type, which is completely in contradiction with his scores, as well. And I think it is quite ironic that a child who is currently failing school is being qualified as 'gifted'.

Here are the scores for the WISC 4 :

  • VPI 116

  • PRI 110

  • WMI 132

  • PSI 147

  • FSIQ 132

I have only found research that addresses the opposite issue (PSI and WMI being significantly lower than the others), and I'm not even sure the significance of having such an unusually high processing speed. All I know is- my son is very bright, as they say, but struggles in many areas that require synthesis and analysis. He presents like a student with a learning disability, is easily overwhelmed, and usually struggles with the 'big picture'.

Is this subtest scatter significant, and, if so, is there any known learning or cognitive impairment that may be indicative of this type of scatter? I'm just looking for a direction to investigate further, if need be. Thank you so much.

A: This is indeed very interesting and a rather rare occurrence for me. The Full Scale IQ is the WISC-IV for gifted children may be excessively lowered due to low scores in processing speed and working memory. Intelligence is viewed as abstract reasoning ability, short-term auditory memory and processing speed tests should not emphasised too much. Based on the four indices in the WISC-IV, the verbal comprehension has been found to be the best indicator of giftedness with perceptual reasoning being the second. Therefore, the GAI emerged which only accounted for these two indices for admission into the gifted programme (a cut off score of 132).

In your case, it is quite the opposite. Based on your son's scores, the gap is most questionable between perceptual reasoning and processing speed and usually the GAI is used. However, due to high FSIQ, he is considered qualified for gifted services and no further testing is thought of as necessary (admission into the programme is considered the ultimate - non admission brings in questions in almost all cases!). I don't think anyone has really looked into the breakdown of his scores and he just went along with the system, which was probably not the best for him. The gifted education programme is well suited for gifted individuals who have scored high on the verbal comprehension and the perceptual reasoning. But the rule is to admit everyone who meets the cut off point on a standardised test (or the GAI cut off on the WISC-IV). The 30-point gap is huge and should be considered, but as you mentioned, his overall high scores masked any learning problem he may have.

It is also true that processing speed and working memory is less correlated with giftedness. I would think that he is still gifted, just that his educational needs are not catered for. Your son has struggled to learn over time (causing anxiety) and without proper intervention, would struggle further and this would be detrimental to his health both mental and physical. The subtest scatter is significant and needs to be looked into. I am not confident to advise on any learning difficulty that may be indicative of the said scatter as I think is something that needs serious combined attention and effort from a few parties (the school, an educational and clinical psychologist). With the combined effort, he would probably need a proper individualised programme to help him with his learning and if diagnosed of any learning impairment, a good treatment plan would be very helpful.

I hope immediate help is sought out from qualified professionals, and upon diagnosis, intervention may help improve matters. If there is a gifted education specialist in your area, try to get some advice there as well. As I said, this would require combined efforts of a few professionals. Start with the school for references and recommendations. Wishing you all the best in your journey.


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