Working Memory and Possibly Twice Exceptional
By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D
My adopted son was struggling in Kindergarten to point that they wanted
to hold him back. When he was placed with me there was testing to indicate
(Standford Binet I think) that he was highly gifted. This was done at
age 4.5, just prior to being adopted. After he was placed with me, who has
no experience with 'gifted', he really didn't strike me as anything other
than average with occasional bursts of amazing things.
Then he went to Kindergarten and it was nightmare. Complete behavioral
change and lots of critiques about academic performance. He particularly
was having trouble reciting in sequence: like he could spell his name on
paper and name the letters in his name if asked to, he couldn't answer the
question 'how do you spell your name?' He knew all his letter when
shown,in or out of order, but still in first grade can't sing the ABC song
correctly (in order).
So, I removed him from the private school Kindergarten due to not
academic (they were great) but his behavioral (very anxious and avoidant of
social situations where previously he was upbeat and positive and was often
described as mature and having the greatest strength of 'social skills,
work ethnic, and rule following'. But, I had the testing done: WISC IV.
Just got results back and he was found to be highly gifted: in 3 fields
he was 143 145 and 148 but the big discrepancy was in working memory where
he got a score of 88. This was what they focused on. They did another test
(sorry don't have them with me): a long term memory test where he was
presented a list of words 5 times and had to recall them over 20 minutes
and this test he got a score of 88 (too, the first time heard list), but was
183 at end of list....this was scored similar to the IQ but I think on first
time he got like 4/15 and last 14/15.
Any idea what the repercussions of the low score is. They had some ideas
but not much. Everything I read of working memory 'deficits', although they
said this was in lower side but still normal range, is very scary stuff about
long term academic performance.
Currently he is in Public school where they say he is fine in all
subjects except reading where he cannot even read a simple sentence such as 'a
cat ran down the street and bit a boy'. Thanks!
The first thing that comes in mind is the possibility of a learning
problem. It is very clear that your son is in the highly gifted range
based on the results alone. The behavioural concerns may point out to
another issue altogether. In this case, I would suspect that he may be
gifted with a learning problem and I tend to feel that he may be
dyslexic. It is very possible for a child with dyslexia be highly gifted
as well - a term we call twice exceptional. Dyslexia can be diagnosed in
anyone regardless of intelligence level.
Briefly, this condition is due to the way an individual's brain is
wired. Dyslexics have difficulty establishing association between
printed symbols, spoken words and spoken sounds. Try to see if some of
these characteristics are apparent to enable you to better decide if
your son may be dyslexic:
Difficulty reading satisfactorily in spite of adequate
intelligence and educational opportunity
Unusual difficulty in handwriting and spelling
Unable to recite and/or write alphabets in sequence
Reversals, rotations, transpositions in reading and writing
Directional confusion: left-right, before-after, over-under
Difficulty following directions
Poor recall ability, especially for names and words
Poor auditory discrimination or confusion with similar speech sounds
Unable to copy accurately from the near point, far point, or both
Work does not reflect intellectual ability
No definite preference for right or left hand
Often forgets assignments/tasks and/or loses work
Lacking in organisational skills
Short attention span
Overly active and disturbing in classroom
Unusually passive and withdrawn
Inconsistent: knows the material some days and unable to remember it on other days
A downward trend in achievement scores is seen
Furthermore, research have suggested that inefficient working memory has
been implicated as an underlying factor in dyslexia. Working memory is
the type of memory that is used to hold new information before it is
transferred (or discarded) into the long-term memory. Researcher
Mortimore (2003) suggests that dyslexic learners may have difficulties
in another area of memory function: automatisation. Dyslexic people may
have difficulty maintaining material in temporary memory storage while
carrying out another skill, so a person may need to focus on decoding or
working out letter-sound links, thus reducing the attention available
for the process of understanding what has been read.
Your concerns on his long term academic performance is legitimate and
you may need to look for ways to help improve his working memory. Check
this link to help with
strategies for managing weak working memory.
The first thing you need to do now is to determine if he has dyslexia.
Seek help from a professional and get him diagnosed. If he is diagnosed,
there are many programmes (e.g., Orton Gillingham program) that can help
him overcome his problems, which would also improve his behavioural
concerns. Work from there on. All the best.