The Trauma of ADHD Diagnoses

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports “approximately 11% of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011.” That staggering number has risen at a rate of about 5% each year for almost a decade.

Where a family lives seems to effect the likelihood that ADHD is diagnosed and/or medicated. Nevada leads the country with the lowest prevalence of ADHD diagnoses for children between the ages of 4 to 17. On the other hand, Louisiana leads the country by medicating more than one in ten children for ADHD.

State-based Prevalence Data of Children with a Current ADHD Diagnosis Receiving Medication Treatment (2011-2012)
Source: CDC Study Trends in the Parent-Report of Health Care Provider-Diagnosed and Medicated ADHD: United States, 2003—2011
State-based Prevalence Data of Children with a Current ADHD Diagnosis Receiving Medication Treatment (2011-2012)

ADHD is a real medical issue, but, unfortunately, we do not know what precisely causes it. No single test exists to say that yes, a child absolutely has ADHD. Instead, doctors rely on a checklist of behaviors. Consider the diagnostic criteria for ADHD and consider how easy a 15-minute doctor visit can result in such a label.

ADHD-Inattentive Diagnostic Criteria

  • Doesn’t pay close attention to details and/or makes careless mistakes
  • Can’t pay attention for long periods of time either in schoolwork or play
  • Doesn’t seem to pay attention when spoken to
  • Seems to lose track of completing tasks
  • Trouble organizing self to complete tasks
  • Trouble staying focused and thinking through tasks
  • Easily loses things
  • Easily distracted
  • Forgetful in everyday activities

NOTE: Not all the following criteria must be met in order for a diagnosis to be made; but the symptoms *must* be present in at least 2 different settings, such as school and home.

Not everyone believes that ADHD is truly growing at the reported rate. Sure, the diagnoses are increasing in number and more and more children are being medicated – but some people wonder: Are we dealing with a chronic misdiagnosing problem?

We know that some of the classic symptoms used to diagnose ADHD can be caused by other issues.

Executive Functioning Disorder leads to an array of disorganization, which can cause a child to lose track of completing tasks. Profoundly gifted children often have a hyper-focus on topics of interest, which allows them to be easily distracted and not hear when they are being spoken to. Sports-related concussions (diagnosed or not) can result in a mild traumatic brain injury, which will leave a person forgetful in everyday activities.

Recently, a resident doctor from inner-city Baltimore made an observation while working at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

[C]hildren diagnosed with ADHD also experienced markedly higher levels of poverty, divorce, violence, and family substance abuse. Those who endured four or more adverse childhood events were three times more likely to use ADHD medication.

Now, just because two factors seem to be related, we cannot jump to the conclusion that one factor automatically causes the other to happen. Instead, we have to try to answer the old chicken-or-the-egg question. Does ADHD and poorly managed behaviors lead adults to be less successful in their jobs, wind up living in poverty, and have children who also suffer from ADHD? Or, is it possible that living in poverty can somehow lead to the development of ADHD?

Dr. Nicole Brown, the Hopkins’ resident, thought it worthy to ask an entirely different question. She began with the astute observation that children living in poverty, surrounded by street and/or home violence, are in fact, suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress. Is it possible, then, that a segment of children are being misdiagnosed with ADHD because many of their PTSD behaviors look so much like inattention?

Adults and children suffering from PTSD experience a variety of symptoms as they cope to get past their trauma. These symptoms include:

  • Recurring, intrusive memories. (May be seen as repetitive play or “daydreaming”)
  • Nightmares and/or Flashbacks
  • Irritable or aggressive behavior
  • Self-destructive or reckless behavior
  • Being extremely careful to not get hurt or in trouble
  • Problems sleeping
  • Poor self-image
  • Blaming oneself for the traumatic event and its consequences
  • Loss of interest in activities that were enjoyed prior to the trauma
  • Strong emotional reactions to trauma triggers
  • Feeling alienated from other people
  • Hard time feeling happy or positive emotions

Nightmares, flashbacks, and recurring intrusive memories, for example, can cause extreme sleep problems. Even just one night’s lack of a good sleep can lead to distractibility and other problems. Compound that by weeks or months of restless sleep and it’s easy to see why children with PTSD have problems concentrating in a classroom.

We all dream of finding a quick fix for off-task behaviors. (If we’re truly honest with ourselves, some distractible kids are just downright annoying.) But, as parents and educational professionals, we owe it to our students to look past the behaviors we want to wish away and look deeply for what truly may be happening within a child.

Medicating the manifesting behavior may help a child become a more compliant student. But, looking deeply and addressing the core issue within a child will help them become a more functional and self-reliant human being.

Do you think it’s possible that PTSD is mistaken for ADHD in some children?
Tell us what you think.

Google+Google BookmarksGoogle GmailLiveJournalLinkedInEvernoteShare

Grade Equivalent Score Fallacy

What Do Grade Equivalent Scores Really Mean

Grade Equivalent scores remain one of the most misunderstood and misused pieces of data from educational testing. Rarely explained in a test report, parents who see “GE > 18.0” sometimes come away thinking their child is achieving at a post-graduate school level.

While a child who obtains such high GE scores is intelligent, no doubt, it is unlikely they are ready to jump into graduate level courses on their own – especially if they’re only 12 years old.

The National Association of School Psychologists explains Age and Grade Equivalent scores simply:

[I]f Jacob’s performance on the test of reading comprehension is equal to an age equivalent of 8.7 years and a grade equivalent of 2.6, this means that his obtained raw score is equivalent to the same number of items correct that is average for all 8-year, 7-month old children included in the norm group on that particular reading comprehension test.

Let’s take a look at a couple of hypothetical test profiles to better understand Grade Equivalent scores.

Grade Equivalent Score Comparison Chart

Before I talk about these numbers in detail, let me give you a quick primer on some of the terminology.

Standardized tests do not report scores as simple percentages of right answers. Instead, a student’s Raw Score (the number of questions that were answered correctly on each subtest) is transformed into a Standard Score. A Standard Score of 100 is considered Average. Standard Scores can run high or low, in either direction.

If you want to compare a score to other test takers of the same age or grade, you can look at the Percentile Rank. For example, a Standard Score of 100 equates to a 50th Percentile Rank. Put another way, if you lined 100 kids up with highest to lowest Standard Scores, someone with a 100 would be right in the middle of the line – with half the students achieving less than them and the other half achieving more.

Grade Equivalent scores, on the other hand, allow us to compare the total number of correct answers the average test taker got. For example, an average 12-year old taking the 3 subtests that make up the Broad Math portion of the Woodcock Johnson-III Test of Achievement would need to get a total of 141 correct answers out of a total of 268 possible questions to score at the 50th Percentile. How that test taker got those 141 correct math answers will depend upon the individual, but more than likely, the average person got some questions wrong as they worked their way through the test.

So, back to the chart. Mary is our typical 12-year old girl. When we look at her math achievement scores we can feel rather confident that she’s achieving at grade level and is most likely doing well in her actual schoolwork.

Abby, on the other hand, is 7-years old, the typical age for a 2nd grader. Her achievement scores suggest she’s a pretty smart cookie. Some people may even take a look at her Grade Equivalent scores and think she’s a candidate for radical acceleration – but that’s not necessarily the case.

With Percentile Ranks of 99.9, we can say confidently that Abby is achieving, hands down, beyond expectations for 2nd grade. Abby would be an excellent candidate for gifted programming and probably even at least one grade skip.

However, just because her GE is in the 6th grade range in Calculations and Applied Problems, it does not mean she’s achieving at the 6th grade level – or even that she’s capable of accomplishing 6th grade level work, as of today.

Let me explain why.

The WJ-III, just like the Wechsler Individualized Achievement Test (WIAT-III), samples a person’s level of achievement across broad content areas. Neither test was designed to exhaustively assess if a person has learned all the goals, objectives, and content usually taught at each grade level. Tests like the Terra Nova and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills do that.

Take for example the Calculations subtest on the WJ-III. On this subtest, students have the opportunity to answer up to 45 math questions that range from basic addition to calculus. However, 22 of those questions focus on the four basic operations using only whole numbers. Only 2 questions assess calculus knowledge.

In the case of our hypothetical 7-year old Abby who answered 21 questions correctly on the Calculations subtests and earned a GE of 6.2, it’s possible that she aced all the basic operation problems, but failed to get one fraction or decimal problem correct, let alone even attempt a pre-algebra or higher math question. That doesn’t take away the fact that Abby is clearly ahead in math, but, at the same time, it doesn’t make the strongest case for saying that she should be in 6th grade math.

Grade Equivalent scores can be used to compare the number of correct answers children of different ages or grades received on the same test. Those Raw Scores, however, will lead to different Standard Scores based upon the test taker’s actual age or grade. Grade Equivalent scores do not tell us that a child is actually achieving at a specific grade level.


A high GE score tells us that a child has been able to correctly answer far more questions than his or her peers – but it tells us nothing more. At the same time, a high GE allows us to infer that the student more than likely has the ability to handle a greater breadth or depth of material than they are currently encountering, if they are in a typical age-grade placement.

Just how advanced the material should be is a question better judged by examining work samples and talking directly to the child. If you are attempting to advocate for a grade skip through a school, requesting that your child take the end-of-year assessment test for a specific grade level subject will provide you with stronger data.

Alessa Giampaolo Keener, M.Ed. works as an educational diagnostician in Maryland. She holds a Masters degree in Education from Johns Hopkins University and is recognized as an expert witness on matters of educational best fit for special student populations. Alessa also works with families and schools to better understand test data and how that information can help educational planning.

What’s been your experience with Grade Equivalent scores?
Share your story below!

Retiring Special Friends

Retiring Special Friends: HoagiesGifted Blog Hop

True story. I spent one winter holiday in Italy with my father’s family, while my parents went on a vacation by themselves. My one uncle believed that I was too old to still be sleeping with a teddy bear. So, the day after my 10th birthday – as I slept in bed – my teddy bear was removed from my arms.

When I woke up and demanded to know where my special friend was, all the adults decided that lying to me would be better than just simply saying, “Grow up, girlie. You’re too old to carry around a stuffed animal.” Instead, they made up a story about how a giant mouse must have crept into my room and thought my teddy would make good bedding for her children.

I was furious. I never got my teddy bear back.

For decades, academic papers and professional conference workshops have addressed the idea of transitional objects – blankies – teddies – those highly attached-to cuddle objects that go from hand to floor to mouth to bed without a second thought from the same mom who snatches the pretzel away from baby even if it falls within the 5-second rule. A pretty sound consensus exists that cuddle objects are not psychologically damaging to children. And, more importantly, no specific age exists for when special friends should be retired from everyday life.

Researchers now know that humans have a naturally occurring cuddle hormone – oxytocin. Petting a beloved pet, getting a hug from someone we know, or clutching a special friend can stimulate our brains to release oxytocin. With oxytocin in our system, a person is more disposed to bonding, trusting, and building empathy with other people that they know.

One psychologist from the University of Michigan, Dr. Christopher Peterson, once conducted an informal poll on special friends. How many college students had brought their stuffed animal to school? According to Peterson, roughly 80% of his female students and 10% of his male students in his mid-size lecture hall class publicly acknowledged bringing their lovey object to college.

Age: Unknown
Belongs to: Maria Hurley
(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

It can be hard to watch our children grow up with few friends in life. When you’re an outlier, it can happen.

Oftentimes, it’s not a matter of our children not having appropriate social skills. Rather, it’s more a matter of not having an appropriate peer group. We see the sad effects of ostracism with children who have a physical disability or cognitive limitations, yet we never think to blame those children for not being more socially adept.

So, why do we find fault with our gifted kids when they are not accepted by their age-peers? Worse yet, why do we feel compelled to disallow them the comfort of their one true friend who has always stood by their side?

As parents, we strive to nurture our children into confident people who can find their comfortable niche in society. It can be painful to let our kids make decisions – like carrying a stuffed animal around in public – that may ultimately lead to teasing. (Or, is it the disapproving looks from other parents we fear?)

No straight-forward answer exists to the question of when is the right time for a treasured friend to be retired to the bedroom. But, I will leave you with one query to consider, if you’re struggling with this issue?

What would Calvin say?

What are your thoughts about ‘special friends’?
Is there an age when they should be banned from leaving the house?

HoagiesGifted August Blog Hop About Gifted Friendships

This blog post is part of the HoagiesGifted August Blog Hop. Visit Hoagies’ Blog Hop home page to read more about gifted children and friendships, written by other professionals and parents of gifted kids.

Calling In Well

NPGCW Blog Tour: Calling in Well

Back before I had kids, I read Tom Robbins’ novels. They were filled full of characters who thought and lived on the fringes of normal societal expectations. Let’s just say I probably had more in common with those characters than any Little Women you could think of.

As a just-turned-21-year-old college graduate, one particular passage really struck me.

You’ve heard of people calling in sick. You may have called in sick a few times yourself. But have you ever thought about calling in well?

It’d go like this: You’d get the boss on the line and say, “Listen, I’ve been sick ever since I started working here, but today I’m well and I won’t be in anymore.” Call in well.

I spent about 1 year in the professional work world before I became a full-time stay-at-home mother. I never took the chance of calling in well before I had kids, but the idea stuck with me and became part of my parenting plan.

Gorgeous spring day? Great! Schoolwork could wait because an emergency visit to the zoo, with a picnic lunch, oftentimes took priority.

When you’re 7-years old, you’re not really missing out on much when you play hooky. But, what about high school? Can you really miss days just because, well… you don’t want to go?

One of my kids attended public high school for a short while. Year 1 went pretty well. Year 2, not so much. He had 2 art classes, 1 AP class, and pre-calc (as well as a bunch of dual-enrolled classes at a local college). Grades weren’t an issue. It was just all the other stuff that comes with high school.

By February, things were not going so well, so we made a deal. He could take one day off from school a week under the following conditions:

  1. He couldn’t take the day off just so he could miss a test or skip handing in a project.
  2. He had to keep track of how many missed days he had, since the school had a policy that if you missed X days, you automatically failed the quarter. Failing by default was not an option.
  3. Well days could not be used to catch up on schoolwork. They had to be used for fun or relaxation.

After a few weeks of “calling in well”, something groovy happened. Life got better for everyone.

From a psychological perspective, you could call this helping a kid gain an internal locus of control. Rather than passively see one’s self as a victim of a system or the whims of others, a person learns to take responsibility for the course of their life and outcomes.

From a practical perspective, school was still the best of times and the worst of times. But, amidst all that foolishness, my kid gained some wisdom as he learned how to create healthy boundaries for himself – while still meeting his school obligations.

I got criticized for being an “indulgent parent”. But, I saw it differently. If I could trust my young teen to take early college classes, then I owed it to him to trust that he knew his personal, social-emotional limits with the social scene at high school – and I had no choice but to support him.

This blog post is part of the 2014 SENG (Support the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) National Parents of Gifted Children’s Blog Tour. Follow the Blog Tour all week and read other great blogs about the joys and challenges of raising gifted children.

How do you support your kids when they need a break from school or learning?
Would you allow them to call in well?

Read More Personal Musings

Playing With Words

The process of learning how to read begins long before kindergarten, phonics instruction, and Bob Books. Pre-reading skills include:

  • Differentiating between the many different sounds that make up our language
  • Knowing that symbols (ie- letters) can represent words and have meaning
  • Retelling a story to include a beginning, middle, and end
  • Understanding that words are read from left to right; and
  • Building a large vocabulary to express ideas and concepts

We have a fancy word to describe the skill for learning about the sounds that make up the English language: Phonological Awareness. It might sound intimidating, but Phonological Awareness is about learning to identify syllables (clapping out the word al-pha-bet); rhyming words; playing alliteration games (Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers); and eventually learning to manipulate individual sounds within words.

In other words, teaching pre-reading skills is really just learning how to play with oral language – and learning to associate happy, confident feelings with the process. Teaching pre-reading does not require an expensive curriculum. It’s a skill set that can be worked on as you walk to the playground or even while you’re grocery shopping.

As kids develop Phonological Awareness, they work backwards from thinking and using whole words to working on phonemic sounds – the smallest units of sound we use in our language. We might have 26 letters in the American alphabet, but we have 46 phonemes (like “b”, “sh”, short-a, and long-a) that we use to pronounce our words with.

Even though Phonological Awareness skills are taught in the absence of printed words, there is a handy tool you can use to help kids stay focused on the task of playing with their sounds.

An Elkonin box (named after the psychologist who developed the instructional tool) is a simple series of 2-, 3-, 4-, or 5- boxes drawn on a piece of paper. As a child breaks a word down into its basic sound components, a single colored chip is placed in each box. For example, the word “cat” is made up of 3 sounds:

/k/       /a/       /t/

Remember, Phonological Awareness is different from spelling. Even though the word “white” is spelled with 5 letters, it is only represented by 3 sounds:

/wh/       /i/       /t/

Elkonin Box In Action
Initial Consonant Deletion Task

How to use an Elkonin box.

When you work on Phonemic Awareness (a subset of Phonological Awareness skills), you want to take your time so your child can master one skill set before moving on to a more difficult level. The order of tasks that you’ll move through, from easiest to hardest, are:

  1. Phoneme Segmentation
  2. Phoneme Identification
  3. Phoneme Blending
  4. Phoneme Deletion
  5. Phoneme Substitution

Elkonin boxes are a great tool for developing essential pre-reading skills. They can even be used with struggling readers who need to revisit basic reading skill building, while also building their confidence that they can be successful with words.

Check out Everyday Learning’s Elkonin Task Cards for 625+ words, grouped into targeted phonemic skill building sets.

Have you ever used an Elkonin box?
How did it work with your kids?

Rekindle: Butterflies

Were you hoping to homeschool through the summer – only to find the lure of sun and fun too much? No worries, you can hatch a weeks-long summer experiment packed with all kinds of learning that’s cloaked in wonder and excitement – and not a whole lot of work for you.

Your kids already know some of the basic facts about the life cycle of the butterfly and how you should never touch their wings. Take their love for butterflies a step further by watching the life cycle in action.

Just remember, caterpillars are living creatures, just like your pet dog and tank full of fish. You wouldn’t skip feeding your puppy for 3 days, would you? Caterpillars need proper care and humane treatment, too.

Here’s some Do’s and Don’ts for raising caterpillars successfully inside your home.

Identifying Caterpillars


  • Do identify the caterpillar you’ve brought into your home.
    Use the Butterfly and Moth Regional Database to identify the living creature you are hoping to watch grow into a butterfly. This amazing resource will help you narrow down by geography and photographs, what caterpillar you found. This necessary information will allow you to properly feed the caterpillar so it can advance in its lifecycle.
  • Do create an appropriate terrarium environment for your caterpillars.
    If you are not using a Butterfly Larvae Kit, you will need to make sure you place fresh leaves in your habitat tank daily; keep sticks in the tank so the caterpillars have someplace to spin their coccoon; and make sure the tank does not get too hot from direct sunlight.
  • Do clean the caterpillar poo in your tank daily.
    What can I say! Caterpillars are eating machines – and what goes in, must come out. A wet paper towels can easily do the trick to wipe out the bottom of your tank. And, if you must know, the technical term for what you’re cleaning is “frass”.
  • Do make sure your tank is big enough.
    Once your new butterfly emerges from its cocoon, it needs enough space to be able to spread its wings and flutter a bit. Even a giant size mayo jar will be too small.
  • Do release your butterfly within 24 hours of its emerging.
    After all that hard work of transforming into a beautiful butterfly, a creature has got to eat – and for a butterfly that means they’ll be looking for colorful flowers with some tasty nectar.
  • Do feed the butterflies.
    If you want to enjoy the beauty of butterflies after your release, give them a reason to stick around. Caterpillars are particular about the plants they eat for survival. Know what caterpillars you are raising and see if you can add the right type of plant to your garden.
  • Do keep a small wet spot or “puddle” somewhere in your garden.
    Butterflies drink muddy water for the essential minerals that are in the dirt.


  • Don’t take an already-spun chrysalis off a branch and bring it home.

    Cocoons and the metamorphizing larvae inside are very delicate. Handling an actual chrysalis may seriously harm or kill the butterfly-to-be. If you really need to bring a chrysalis home, gently cut the branch and be sure to remember which end is up, before you place it in your tank.
  • Don’t keep wilted leaves in your tank.
    Caterpillars get much-needed water from the fresh leaves that they eat. You can keep leaves fresh by sticking the cut end into a small jar of water. Cover the top of the jar with a plastic wrap kept in place with a rubber band. Poke a hole in the wrap so you can stick the branch into the water. This keeps the leaves fresh and the caterpillars from drowning.
  • Don’t touch or handle the caterpillars.
    Caterpillars are fragile creatures. Caterpillars are great climbers and they use their many legs to cling to branches. Trying to pull a caterpillar off of a stick may actually rip one of its legs off. If you must “pet” your caterpillars, be sure to wash your hands before and afterwards so you don’t pass on any bacteria.
  • Don’t worry if your caterpillar looks tired or turns a different color.
    If your caterpillar starts moving less and stops eating after it’s gotten big, chances are it’s getting ready to molt and spin its chrysalis. Pay attention because this is when the magic begins!
  • Don’t be disappointed if a butterfly never emerges.
    Some caterpillars never make it out of their cocoon. One reason may be because a fly or bee larva was living on your caterpillar without your knowing. If more than 4 weeks pass after the chrysalis forms and nothing emerges, you can carefully slice it open to examine what it looks like on the inside.
  • Don’t release your newly hatched butterfly too soon.
    When a butterfly first comes out of its cocoon, it’s wings are weak and wet. The baby butterfly must flex its wings to strengthen them. Putting a newly hatched butterfly outside to dry its wings and prepare for its first flight faster puts it at risk from attack by hungry birds. Trust me. Watching this part of the circle of life can be traumatic for a little one who has invested themselves in this project.
  • Don’t use insecticides in your garden.
    Butterflies are insects. Insecticides are designed to kill insects. See the problem?


Early Reading Myth #2: When Your Gifted Child Doesn’t Read Before Kindergarten

Children who read before starting kindergarten tend to impress most people. You see a 5-year old reading The Hobbit and you think, “Dang! That kid is S.M.A.R.T.”

Gifted, they most certainly are; but, early reading does not always guarantee astounding achievement in high school. Last week I blogged about early readers who don’t always reach the academic potential that parents and teachers expected back in first grade.

For some kids the expectations were just a wee bit too high. For others, an underlying learning disability hadn’t been diagnosed, yet. And then there’s the group of gifted kids who intuitively learned the fundamentals but still needed direct instruction in some part of the reading process before they could continue to move ahead with their learning.

When you read research on the topic of early reading, it’s easy to be swayed by the notion that precocious reading is a requisite skill for later high achievement. Consider some findings reported over the last 90 years:

  • 43% of Lewis Terman’s Genetic Study of Genius adults (that began in the 1920s) were reading before age 5.
  • 80% of 13- and 14-year olds who scored a 580+ on the SAT Verbal section were reading by age 5, as reported by Joyce VanTassel-Baska from College of William and Mary.
  • 90% of profoundly gifted students (including Terence Tao) followed by Miraca Gross’ longitudinal study in Australia were reading before age 5.

So, what about gifted children who were not early readers? Are they not as smart as their precocious reading friends? Is academic success not in their future?

In an interview with Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, Dr. Nancy Robinson, a noted scholar and founder of the University of Washington’s Early Entrance Program for profoundly gifted children, frames it this way. “Early reading is clearly a sign of being at least “medium bright,” she says, before going on to note that it is not a skill exhibited by all gifted children.

Some highly and profoundly gifted children are capable of becoming early readers but choose not to develop the skill. The reason may be as simple as not wanting to give up the special snuggly reading time they’ve come to enjoy with their parents – yet, that very same child goes on to graduate high school at age 14.

Visual-spatial children – those who seem to learn things in whole chunks rather in a more linear, step-by-step fashion, have also been noted as late-readers. Visual-spatial children, as a group, tend to memorize whole words, rather than learn phonics skills.

A number of other reasons can account for why an otherwise brilliant child may not be reading before the age of 5. The following checklist may help parents tease apart if non-early reading is part of their child’s normal developmental path.

  • Playing With Sounds and Words
    Does your child like to make rhymes or play alliteration games, where they use the same first sound for every word in a sentence? Playing with oral language like this demonstrates an inherent understanding of essential phonological skills and provides critical practice that leads to eventual reading success. Children who have had a large number of early ear infections have been found to be delayed in acquiring phonological awareness skills. This does not mean the child won’t become a successful reader, but they will need some extra help in gaining skills they missed when they were sick.
  • Reading Environmental Print
    Environmental print includes corporate and sports logos, street signs, and other visual images that contain print and communicates information. Children may “read” environmental print when they see a fast food sign and tell you they’re hungry for a hamburger. Such reading and responding shows us that the child understands that symbols, letters, and words communicate ideas, which allows people to interact with the world and each other.
  • Rich Vocabulary
    Decades of research tell us that children with a large vocabulary in their younger years tend to have higher reading achievement in middle and high school. You don’t have to count every different word your child speaks to know if they’re at that 20,000 word “rich” level. Instead, throw in the occasional big word in your own conversation. Or, read vocabulary rich picture books together. See how your child responds to unfamiliar words. Can they deduce meaning? Do they connect the new word to words or ideas they already know? Do they begin to use the word in their own vocabulary? Seeing a child use these skills lets us know they’re thinking like a reader.
  • Complex Sentences
    Reading a paragraph is very different from reading a pack of flash card words. In order to understand the paragraph, a reader must be able to sound out every word – and then remember what each word means within each sentence – and how the meaning of each sentence links together within the paragraph. That takes a lot of brain power for a 6-year old. Young children who use and understand complex spoken language show us that they have the cognitive ability to remember and access the language skills that will eventually be used when they learn to read. So, what is a complex sentence? It’s the ability to correctly execute a 3-step command at the age of 4, such as “Go upstairs. Get your shoes. And ask Dad to put them on for you.” Or, it’s the ability to listen to a story and retell the beginning, middle, and end with little or no prompting.
  • Healthy Vision
    Children who appear clumsy and knock into furniture as they walk through a room or become disoriented when surrounded by lots of visual patterns (think a busy rug pattern) may have a visual impairment, such as lazy eye, cross-eye, convergence insufficiency, or even nystagmus (a condition that causes the eyes to be in constant motion). Visual impairments do not cause dyslexia but they can make learning to read a difficult task. Treatment may be something as simple as an eye patch or as complex as surgery. Rarely is vision therapy the correct treatment option.

For many gifted children, non-early reading is not the same as late reading. Learning to read at the typical age of 5 and 6 does not necessarily mean the gifted child will fail to thrive in school or that a learning disability exists. It may simply be that child’s “normal”.


Parents with nagging concerns about reading ability should talk with their pediatrician or a reading specialist for help in gauging when to pursue testing to see if an underlying problem is holding their child back.

Tell us about your experience!
Was your child a late reader? Did you discover a problem later on or was it developmentally normal for your kiddo?

For More Information

The Early Reading Myth and Gifted Achievement

As someone who does educational testing and curriculum planning, I receive my fair share of phone calls and emails from parents who want to better understand their child’s reading ability. The concerns usually fall into 2 camps.

“My daughter hasn’t started reading and kindergarten begins in a couple of weeks. We had her IQ tested and were told she’s highly gifted. Does she have a learning disability?”

“My son started reading at the age of 4. The test said he’s reading at the high school level but he’s having problems passing reading tests in 3rd grade. Does he have a learning disability?”

This week I’m going to focus on questions surrounding early readers who don’t continue on as strong readers in later elementary or middle school years.

Reading before the age of 5 – especially when it’s self-taught – remains a hallmark trait of high intelligence for most people. Yet, the little longitudinal research that exists on precocious readers does not find direct and assured connections between early reading skills and later high academic achievement.

More often than not, most early readers who have been tracked by researchers continue to read above grade level. When compared to more typical students, however, the gap in early reading achievement closes for some gifted kids as they reach middle school. The 1st grader who had been reading at a 6th grade level may now be the 7th grader reading at the 9th grade level.

Some parents of gifted children who begin to notice less stellar reading achievement abilities start to get nervous. Does my child have dyslexia? Is my kid no longer gifted?

My initial answer to most parents is: No. More than likely, nothing is wrong with your child. Lower than expected achievement does not mean a child is no longer gifted. Still, a little at-home sleuthing can help parents decide if formal testing for potential learning disabilities is worth the time and money – OR – if a different approach to reading instruction may be needed.

What To Look For When Your Early Reader Fails To Academically Thrive

  1. Slow Reading Speed
    Early reading students can sometimes wow kindergarten teachers with how fast they read words. The kids have either memorized hundreds of words or mastered phonics skills that allows them to whiz through basal reader books. Yet, it’s important to remember that how we measure reading success in later grades varies from those early school years. For starters, sentences become longer and more complex in mid-elementary school. Students have to be able to remember the words and thoughts that came at the beginning of a paragraph in order to understand what they just read. It’s not unusual for students to silently re-read the same sentence more than once to make sure they get it.

    Slow reading does not necessarily mean there’s a reading problem. But, listening to your child read out loud can provide you with important information about how they read. Do they skip a lot of words as they read? Are they switching letters within words or substituting similar looking or sounding letters? Or, are they simply reading slowly and struggling to decode longer, unfamiliar words? The answers to these questions can shed light on whether there may be an underlying learning disablity or if your child is simply savoring the books they read.

  2. Poor Spelling
    Some precocious readers seemingly “break the code” at an early age and wind up reading Harry Potter in the back of their kindergarten classroom while their age-mates struggle to sound out c-a-t. Yet, by 4th grade these same kids can’t seem to spell to save their lives. While it might seem counter-intuitive to talk about phonics with a child who’s been reading since age 4, it’s an important question to bring up. Some early readers fail to receive full phonics instruction and as a result they struggle to read complex words and/or correctly spell.

    Analyzing spelling errors can help pinpoint where a disconnect may lie. If problems seem to be focused on complex vowel patterns, like controlled-R and vowel digraphs like “aw”, then perhaps some targeted instruction may likely solve the problem. If the spelling problems are more universal and include mistaking even short-vowel sounds, then you may want to look at formal testing to see what underlying issues may be causing the problem.

  3. Repeatedly Re-Reading Low-Level Books
    Just because a gifted child can read high-level material does not mean they can or should be reading such dense tomes all the time. Take the 11-year old who spent the summer reading through The Communist Manifesto and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations with a mentor – only to curl up at night with a treasured copy of The Magic Treehouse. No question existed in anyone’s mind about the child’s enthusiastic ability to understand the political and economic principles. But, you can’t ignore the fact that such reading and analysis is a taxing experience, even for adults. It’s a form of mental calisthenics that can leave a person tired and weary. Just as some people like to relax in a hot tub after a long workout, some kids like to wrap their minds in a cloak of fond reading memories. It can be a gentle reassurance of the underlying comfort that they have always found in reading.

    Talking to your child in a friendly way about why they choose low-level books may give you insight into whether they’re self-selecting down to a more appropriate reading challenge or just visiting with an old friend, so to speak.

  4. Unable to Answer Comprehension Questions
    Many parents of gifted early readers are thrilled when their little ones pick out thick books on advanced topics at the library – but they don’t always stop to check and see how much the kids actually take away from the text. Don’t be fooled by the casual chattiness. Bright kids know how to glean lots of information by studying pictures, charts, and other graphics that fill the pages of many non-fiction books.

    Reading comprehension is actually a set of analytical skills that can and should be taught to gifted students. If you’re seeing inconsistent comprehension with your reader, go back to the actual book and ask them about what they read. Start by asking basic questions that cover information that is explicity stated in the text. WHO is the story about? WHEN did the story happen? WHAT happened at the end? Next, ask them thinking questions that require them to connect ideas together. HOW did someone accomplish a certain task? WHY would a certain event take place? Finally, ask evaluative questions that compel the reader to think at their deepest level. DO YOU THINK the character made the right choice? WHAT OTHER OPTIONS could have been considered?

    Interestingly, some younger highly gifted students initially struggle with more advanced comprehension questions. It’s not about lack of ability. Instead, they’ve come to rely on looking for black and white answers that they’re not always comfortable with the more grayscale areas.

Early reading indicates at least a moderate level of giftedness, but it does not always lead to a life-long passion for reading or even to high academic achievement. Some gifted kids need direct instruction to help them continue to excel with their reading abilities. Others may have an underlying learning disability that requires different instructional methods. And, of course, there will always be the children who have no problems. They are right where they should be academically.

Do you have a highly or profoundly gifted child who isn’t reading, yet – and kindergarten is right around the corner? Check out Part 2 of the Early Reading Myth and Gifted Children.

Was your child an early reader?
What has been your experience?

This blog post is part of the HoagiesGifed July Blog Hop. Visit Hoagies’ Blog Hop home page to read more about (summer) reading and gifted children, written by other professionals and parents of gifted kids.

For More Information

Scholastic News Kid Reporter Writing Opportunity

Some kids love to write. If you’ve got a budding journalist on your hands, then this opportunity is just for you!

Scholastic News is recruiting up to 20 Kid Reporters. Students between the ages of 10-14 will write for Scholastic’s online Kid News website and print magazines that are distributed to classrooms across the country.

Interested? Find the full application online. Applications MUST be postmarked no later than September 26, 2014 AND they must be sent via postal mail.

The application must include:

  1. 400-word news article that uses at least 2 quotes from interviews the Kid Reporter conducted. The artilce must feature a person or organization that does good in the community.
  2. 250-word essay on why they want to be a Kid Reporter.
  3. 2 story ideas about they community they live in that they would be willing to write about.
  4. Some biographical information and a picture.
  5. Release form

Bullet-Proof Play Mats

Everytown For Gun Safety reported yesterday that American schools have suffered, on average, a weekly shooting Every.Single.Week since the Newtown CT tragedy in December 2012.


On at least 74 different occasions, some person, other than a law enforcement officer, brought a gun onto school grounds and shots were fired. In more than half the incidents, someone died. More have been wounded.

This is not just about disenfranchised teens lashing out against unchecked bullying. According to Everytown For Gun Safey’s review of media reports, children as young as 5 years old are bringing guns to school. These shootings are happening in K-12 schools, as well as colleges. (That includes the college down the road for me, where I used to bring my kids to see community theatre shows.)

BodyGaurdBlanket Image from

Rather than implement more sensible gun safety laws, instead we’re seeing a whole new marketing line being rolled out to address this serious public safety concern.

The kind folks at ProTecht developed the Bodygaurd blanket to “provide superior protection for children and teachers while at school” That’s right, folks. In addition to learning the Common Core, students can now be trained to line up in an orderly fashion so they can receive their bullet-proof play mat before lying on the floor in a huddled, quivering, solitary mass “protected” from semi-automatic gunfire.

I feel so much better. Don’t you?

We teach our children to wash their hands after using the bathroom. We teach them to look both ways before crossing a stree. We teach them to stop-drop-roll in case of a fire.

Today, I suppose, we must also teach them to tell an adult when a friend confides in them about wanting to hurt other people – or when they overhear plans of retribution or violence being discussed.

Back in the day, we called this tattling. Nowadays, we hail this as heroism.

The reality is, this lesson pushes the onus of responsibility for keeping peace and safety in our schools and communities onto our children. Just something to think about.

Despite what it may seem, this really isn’t a rant against public schools. The reality is, many homeschool families also have children attending public schools – as well as being dually-enrolled in colleges. While the safety odds may be in our favor, homeschooling families are not immune from the potential of tragedy.

With every passing week, with every additional shooting that happens – guns in schools become an even more urgent matter that needs to be addressed, regardless of where our own children are educated.

Do you think school violence is a homeschool issue?
Share your ideas below!