Gifted Children/CAS testing & asynchronous development
QUESTION: I am a mother of a 6 yr 10 month girl. She shows many (if not all of the) qualitative signs of giftedness, which includes many difficult qualities, such as defiance, emotional outbursts, drama queen qualities, heightened perception, social phobias/anxieties, perfectionism, super focus (and sometimes trouble with focus), etc. She also seems to have an excellent memory, is very athletic (competes in gymnastics), is musically inclined, seems to be highly analytical, seems to have excellent math skills, and seems excellent in reading (although doesn't have much interest in reading). I am a fairly intelligent mother (scored very high in the analytical area) and her father is also very bright, with a focus on mathematics. We had her tested and she scored in the average to above average ranges in the CAS testing system. This was fairly disappointing, not because I wanted a gifted child, but because I wanted answers as to how to deal with this child. She is extremely difficult to handle. Dramas, tantrums, negotiations, fast learner, rudeness, anxieties, outbursts, etc. I have done my homework on the CAS system and have recently discovered that this type of test for gifted children may be quite inaccurate because it tests speed processing. She scored low on this and attention, as she is a perfectionist and took her time on answering everything. (Oh...and by the way, I was diagnosed with gifted scores of analytical abilities, with a learning disorder and ADHD.) I am seeing characteristics of this in my daughter. So, my question is...could the CAS scores be very wrong? How wrong? Could she be a gifted child? In regard to the issues that I have described, could this be a gifted child with asynchronous development, emotional sensitivities, social anxieties, and ADHD? Is this what is going on? (Particularly the asynchronous development. Is this why we are seeing such toddler-like symptoms such as tantrums, uncontrollable rage and other emotions, and rudeness?) I have eliminated Aspergers, Autism, and some other possible diagnoses. I am frustrated because I spent $800 on a CAS test, only for the psychologist to say that she isn't gifted, yet the psychologist had no answers for me, as far as what I am dealing with. If she is not gifted, then what else could I be dealing with? (Honestly, I am a really smart mother, a biology and legal researcher, who has a Masters in Education. I am not that biased and I am open to suggestions. I just want some possible answers as to what I am dealing with.) And, also, what test should I look into for an accurate assessment. I know this is a complex answer. I have done my homework. (I need to figure out assessments because I may have to look into a gifted school because she is extremely bored in school. She doesn't want to go to school and I don't blame her. Every day is terrible for me and my daughter.) Please help!
ANSWER: In medicine we have a saying, "A test is a test is a test" meaning that a test alone isn't very useful to understanding the complexities, personality, abilities and potential of an individual. I'd like to ask a couple of questions to help my understanding. You are not required to answer, of course. Can you explain more about what you mean by "what I'm dealing with", and what you mean by "terrible" in your phrase "every day is terrible."
How were the diagnoses, Aspergers, autism, etc. eliminated?
How do you respond when your daughter expresses rage or unacceptable behavior?
What role does her father have in her upbringing?
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Hello, Dr. Coleman.
Thank you for your response. I am happy to answer your questions. I apologize in advance for my possible long email. I tend to be detailed and analytical.
1. You asked, "How were the diagnoses eliminated?"
Aspergers, autism and other diagnoses were not eliminated by a professional. It was eliminated by me, so I suppose she actually could have one of these things. (Although, when we had her testing done, I expressed, to the psychologist, my concern about this and she brushed the idea aside and almost laughed, indicating to me that it wasn't possible that my daughter had any of these things.) Here are some more examples of my daughter's characteristics, which made me think that she doesn't have any of these problems. For example:
-Bella, is amazingly coordinated and graceful, willingly competing in gymnastics and dancing in ballet and doing extremely. She feels the music in both and at an early age, seemed to feel and loved classical music, primarly. She doesn't care for rock and roll or quick music. She memorized the names of many classical songs and at age 3-4, she would request these songs by name, to the surprise of many strangers. It was somewhat comical, to my husband and me.
-Bella chose to play the piano and the cello. We allowed her to do so. She learns quickly and likes it. Her teachers called her "gifted" in cello, as she learns quickly, focuses well, has amazingly coordinated and strong fingers. Her piano teacher told her that she has "a gift, particularly in focus and memorization".
-She is well loved by other children in school and seems to get along alright with others, once she warms up to the situation and people. Due to her anxieties, though, it may take months to "warm-up". With certain people (grandparents, for example), she can actually be cold. She often won't show emotion to people and somtimes seems to freeze and show no emotion (due to her anxiety). She can be both introverted and then, at home (and sometimes at school) and with people that she loves, she can be extremely extroverted. The strange thing, though, is that she tends to hold things inside, when at school. Teachers don't understand how stressed she is and how bugged she is. She is easily bugged by things such as...the way a child chews his food, the noises around her when she is trying to think, the silly things that some of the kids do or say, the tone of voice of the teacher, the way the violin felt under her chin, etc. She often won't eat at school because she doesn't want food on her fingers, or she doesn't want other kids to point out what she is eating. She gets embarrassed easily. She hates being late because "other kids stare at her" and "ask her questions". She doesn't like being the center of attention, but this is difficult, because, as mentioned, for some reason, many kids really love her. She is also a very beautiful child (she receives comments almost daily), so she receives a lot of attention. She used to have problems saying "thank you or please, or even "hello", but she has done better with this, since we've rewarded her for overcoming her anxieties and bravely greeting people. Anyway, her teacher noticed her anxieties, early in the school year, but recently stated that she has adjusted fairly well, and is currently doing quite well in school. The teacher said that she is an excellent student and she "behaves like an angel". No outbursts, listens extremely well, well focused, quiet, polite, etc. No problems and no problems making and keeping friends. Well adjusted. But, when she comes home, Bella has a lot of complaints. Mostly mini-complaints about the people and little things that bug her. She also complains, bitterly and daily, about school being too long and boring. We have discussed different options for her. She is shy about getting a private tutor (at school) because she doesn't like being with new people (anxiety). She is torn, though, because she said, (in response to my suggestion that a tutor could help her move more quickly in her studies), "I don't want to move faster, mom, with my math and reading. I want to move slower. The math is way too easy, but I want more time to work on it, anyway. I want more time to think. The teacher makes us quit before I want to. The other kids bug me." I thought that this was a fairly perceptive answer for a little girl! Recently, the teacher informed me that she had been going to the wrong math class and should have been going to the advanced class, so apparently, she was bored and math wasn't challenging, as I suspected. Our analysis on this was correct. The problem, also, that I am seeing, is that the material that they are using, on the computers, is not appropriate for her because she gets a concept immediately. The math and reading computer programs drag out a concept for 15-20 minutes, when she has absorbed a concept within a few minutes, if not immediately. I can see that this may bore her. She doesn't want to do her homework because it is "boring", she says. I thought, at first, this was an excuse, but I started realizing that she had no problems with her homework and it was the same kind of homework, so perhaps she literally was bored.
-She spoke at an early age and strangers weekly commented on her ability to verbalize quite well and use vocabulary that was well beyond her years, and appropriately, meaning that she understood the words she was using.
-She seems quite creative/imaginative and mostly loves to pretend play. Her stories and ideas are quite fun. I wouldn't say that she is a gifted artist. She is "normal" for her age, but she has quite a lot of detail in her drawings. She also has a name for every color, but each color has many different names. For example, some reds are scarlets and others are blood red. She doesn't see just red. She is more analytical in her drawings. Sometimes she doesn't like to draw unless it is "perfect". I showed her abstract paintings and she was intrigued. If her art isn't exact, she calls it "abstract", so as to not be too disappointed that it isn't the way she likes it. In kindergarten, last year, the teacher focused on nature paintings and had the kids go outside and find things to draw. They had to include certain things. Most kids understood that they should draw a scenery with the rocks, water, trees, etc. Bella drew everything that she was supposed to, but she decided to draw them individually. She placed a number next to each one, with a check mark. She said to me..."see... I drew a tree, a rock, water, a bug, etc".
Indeed, she drew everything that she was supposed to. Very analytical.
-Last year, in kindergarten, she started having daily religious fights with another girl, who was Mormon. The Mormon girl insisted on her religion being the true religion. (We are not religious, and never spoke much to Bella about religion. We have, though, asked that she respect others' religions.) Bella tried to reason with the girl about God not being "real" and if God was real, then she (Bella) could have "Magic Land" and "a Pegaus-God". This made the other girl furious, of course. Bella wouldn't back down. She had amazing analogies and arguments, which I couldn't even argue with. Needless to say, we eventually had to switch schools because all of the children but one, was Mormon. Bella wouldn't back down and still won't, in regard to religion.
-The list can go on in regard to her abilities. I felt that she had other skills that just didn't fit with aspergers or autism. But, I know that I may not know enough about these things to properly diagnose, so I am open to the suggestion.
2. How do I respond to my daughter's rage, unnacceptable behavior? It is a complex answer. Mostly, we try to remain calm, as getting angry doesn't help. We are not authoratative parents. I don't do much negotiation with her. We could talk for days, otherwise. We try to set boundaries so that she knows the rules. We understand when she is tired, anxious or overloaded. We have used 1,2,3, and time outs, but recently we have not allowed her the 3x rule for paricular things, such as hitting or any behavior that is harmful (breaking things). We use time-out frequently, but we see it as a time for her to get away from the thing that bothers her or is upsetting. If I can get her to separate, then it works quite well. First, separate via time-out for 6 min or so. Then talk at her level...discussing her emotion and what is going on. Often, holding and hugging her helps tremendously, even when she is still acting out. Usually we can get to the bottom of what is going on. Also, we do breathing techniques. We encourage using her words to express herself, and she is getting very good at this. We don't use guilt, etc. I am not a tiger mom. I am extremely understanding of her wild emotions, as I can be the same way. But, it takes a lot of strength and work, to hold my own emotions, while dealing with hers. She is currently in yoga class, to help her with meditative exercises. We use positive imagery, both for her outbursts, her daily interactions and her gymnastics. She has expressed an interest in controlling her outbursts, both with us and via a psychologist.
3. What role does her father have? My husband and I are married and live together. We also live with my parents, as my mother is ill with MSA. We help care for her (my mother). She loves her father and is quite close to him. He is actually quite amazing with her and loves her dearly. We work at home together, therefore, we see her everyday and often. (Although, she is so active that some nights she doesn't get home until 6, 7, or 8 pm.) I am with her during that time, taking her to her activities. He would love to play with her even more than he does, right now, but that would mean that he would never work! He is an older dad (54) and I am an older mom (42). We can't always run around with her, but we certainly try. We live next to a ski resort and he'd love to take her skiing, but she is refusing, saying that it is "dangerous" and she isn't interested. She did agree to golf, in the summer, though. We'll see if she has the patience for that! Basically, we have a healthy relationship, and she is our only child. He is very intelligent, patient, and understanding. He trusts my instinct with child raising and we agree on almost everything, surprisingly and luckily. She is very fortunate to have him, I believe. Often, we support each other. When I've had enough, and need a "time-out", he will come running and vice-a-versa. We will tell each other when we are unreasonable or out of line with Bella. We are not afraid to question each other. We often step back and analyze our moves with her. We compliment each other well, I believe.
Perhaps, I gave the wrong impression...Bella is healthy, and seems fairly happy, I believe. My life and her life isn't really terrible. (Guess I was a little dramatic!) And, I believe that I am an incredibly, and fairly well-informed and understanding mother. I read articles, books, and have a handful of healthy friendships, all of whom help me with the raising of this child. So, I think we are fairly healthy. No abuses, etc. We live in a wealthy neighborhood with decent schools. Nothing strange. In fact, Bella has a fairly healthy lifestyle, in my opinion, except that she may be a little too active in her sports, music, and other activities. The only other odd thing is that she competes in gymnastics at a high level. She does have 1-2 play dates per week, which she begs for. Mostly, the issue is that she doesn't want to go to school, and complains daily -in the morning and after school. She shows signs of being smart and bored. I have seen her work and I believe her. I just don't know how smart she really is. I decided that it may not matter. What matters is that I move her forward and that I figure out how to help Bella find joy in her school experience and learning. As you can see, for us, she makes each day interesting, perhaps "terrible" isn't the correct term. I guess I am just exhausted, trying to help her and trying to make each school day not a drudgery. She learns so fast and I can't keep up. Also, the major daily issues are her outbursts, which happen often. It could be anything. The day might go like this...she doesn't want to wake up for school. Complaining starts. We work it out. She gets ready. She looses a contact and freaks out. I have extras for times like this. No worries. Contacts go in her eys. She gets dressed. Her sock seams bug her. Freaks out. Calms down. Eats. Too much milk in the cereal. Freaks out. Calms down. We get to school. After 3 months, she is somewhat ok going in on her own. Hates getting mud on her shoe, though. Freaks out. Doesn't want to be late because it's embarrassing, so she gets herself to class and gives me a hug. She focuses hard on her positive talk, as she gets herself through her anxiety of going to class alone. Picking her up from the chaotic school is another story. It's an anxious 15 minute pick up for her. We get through it. We go to piano. She does amazingly well, for only practicing for 30 minutes that week! She wants to eat out, afterwards and I say "no". Tantrum. We work through it. We go home and she doesn't like the little things....dad greets her pleasantly. She doesn't want to talk that much and says he bugs her. After she relaxes, she plays with him and has no issues. Even squeals with delight, when he teases her. We go to gymnastics. She is so timid that she won't say "hello" to people who are sweet to her. Most people mistake her for snotty or aloof, when she doesn't respond to them. She is in gymnastics for 2 hours and does her flips like crazy. Smiles, has fun. Gets home and hates what grandpa says. Screams at him because she thinks he is laughing AT her. (He's not.) Even when he asks if he can help, she scowls at him (or others). She often has the problem of not liking what people say. (This is the most annoying and least understood quality that I have to deal with.) Then, when she doesn't like what somebody says or does, starts screaming or pouting, or scowling. Lots of drama. We often don't understand what sets her off...certain words and laughter. It's like she just doesn't understand what is being said. This is the most puzzling characteristic. Why is she so incredibly bright, and then why does she react to peoples' words so negatively? What's going on here? And, she has such strong emotions, to make it even tougher to deal with. This is a daily event and this is what makes her so tough to deal with. Every hour or even every 30 minutes, we have some sort of drama over a small event or over a silly word. It's exhausting! Of course, the other exhausting characteristic is her anxiety - but that is somewhat understandable and I try to deal with that very patiently. I understand that characteristic. So, perhaps you can tell me if the other difficult characteristic is basically asynchronous development. Does she have the brain of a much older child, but the emotions of a toddler? Is that possible? It makes complete sense, when I really think of what is going on, but then that would mean that she is gifted, right? Or, do "normal" children have these issues? I don't think so. I've talked to many moms and this particular, strange reaction to peoples' words, just doesn't occur with other kids. What is going on here? So, you can see why I would like to know as to whether the CAS testing sytem could be way off, since she was diagnosed as being average and in some areas, above average. Am I dealing with a gifted characteristic of asynchronous development, or, if she isn't gifted, then am I dealing with something else? It would be nice to know whether or not she is gifted, as this may determine how I handle her, so I would really like some answers! At the very least, I’d love to figure out why she is so sensitive to words and why she reacts to them so much.
Thank you for your time and expertise! I appreciate it.
I haven't met you or your daughter, so my remarks are made based on limited information. You asked about what you are dealing with, what is going on. What you are dealing with is a 6 year old girl being 6 years old. "Dealing with" has a tone of perceiving your daughter's behavior as a problem to be solved, rather than just the business of growing up. When she says she wants more time to think, and very much likes play dates, I think she is showing you that she is over-scheduled and needs some time to just "be."
I appreciate that you are respectful of how she thinks and feels, but 6 year olds don't have the life experience from which they can make informed choices. They can't decide how many activities are too many. They don't really know what a tutor is. They don't know about cooperation, tolerance, managing their education, etc. Your daughter, I believe, needs her parents to tell her what to do, how to communicate, how to manage her behavior in situations which she may not find interesting, or how to accept that there are all kinds of people in the world with a myriad of ideas and opinions and disagreements. That doesn't always mean that there's a right way and a wrong way and nothing in between. They don't need a lot of discussion about their emotions. Anxiety is more of a symptom than a diagnosis, and there is often some underlying fear.
I think it would be best for you to choose a couple activities for her outside of school. It's too much for a child her age to not get home until 7-8pm. Kids her age, especially gifted kids, will often take on too much because they fear disappointing their parents. Your daughter does sound like she's gifted, and gifted kids need extra-firm and consistent parenting. No matter how smart a child is, learning "people skills" is essential to success and fulfillment in relationships. There will be no shortage of intellectual stimulation for her in all kinds of experiences, but home, with parents, is the source of learning to get along with others. Our job as parents is to teach our kids how to do without us out in the world. She will not always be able to change her environment in accordance with her opinions and beliefs. I would not have changed schools because the predominant religion doesn't agree with your daughter's beliefs; it's a learning situation. The complaining after school feels like there's an element of doing what will get you engaged in interaction with her. Parents run the household, and the child and family learn how the child fits in, rather than the household being entirely adjusted to the child.
You'll find an answer from 2/18/12, "10 month old very interested in books." I refer you to that because the information applies to your daughter also, despite the difference in ages. You'll find a list of resources.
What may be the most important message to take from this answer is to have fun, the more ridiculous the better. Write silly stories and poems. Have an ice-cream only dinner, have a contest to see who can give the other one the most kisses in 30 seconds. A battle with silly string or whipped cream for ammunition is fun. You'll find suggestions in the resources listed with the previous answer. You'll be amazed by the powerful, positive change you'll see, even with 10 minutes of fun a day. Have fun learning how to bake bread. With your husband sitting in a chair, take rolls of toilet paper and wrap him to the chair, take pictures. Get some helium filled balloons, write something on the balloon that annoys you or your daughter, outside, let them go.
I don't think testing for giftedness is high priority right now. You'll find that children do better academically when there is a balance of work, play and just being. Implementing these suggestions will enhance your daughter's abilities.
Please let me know how things go. Thank you for letting me serve you. Your comments and additional questions are welcome.
11/21/12 I read your feedback and wondered if my explanation to your follow-up was not clear. It is not appropriate for ANY person to respond to the questions you asked with the certainty you want. Anyone, in this forum, without in-person contact or a relationship over time, should not tell you if your daughter is/is not autistic, has/doesn't have learning disabilities, does/doesn't have a medical problem.
There are an infinite number of different learning disabilities and differences. The brain is a complex organ. There are thousands of diseases or conditions in which emotion, cognition, behavior and speech play a part, and often several conditions are overlapping, and some way be slight, with little affect, while others may have stronger influence. Clearly, it would be irresponsible and negligent to accept as certain and complete, or act on, answers given in this forum only.