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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Gifted Child

Q. I have a 4-year-old son who is very bright and very active. His preschool teachers are concerned about his behavior, but when I press them for details, they are unclear.

They say he doesn't engage much with the other kids but he does at home. He just likes to be with much older kids. They also say they can't always get his attention. He ignores anyone who is trying to distract him when he's enjoying a task. If this doesn't sound odd for a 4-year-old, I'd say he's quite contemptuous of his teachers and his peers. He says they are stupid.

I suspect he is gifted in some unusual ways, but the cost of the testing would be significant for me; however I feel the alternative is that they will label him as having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or as having behavioral problems. I wish I could find him a peer group, but honestly, I've never met a kid quite like him. I always imagined gifted children as being nerdy types with their nose stuck in a book, but my son likes dancing and joking with teenagers. His tastes are quite unusual for his age. Do you have any suggestions?

A. I can only speculate, but you may be on the right track--that is, your son may be gifted and simply bored with the lack of stimulation and challenges in his school setting. On the other hand, being very contemptuous of his teachers, as well as his peers, may indicate some type of emotional problem that needs to be understood and dealt with. It is probably not a good idea to encourage his dancing and joking with teenagers--that is simply not appropriate or constructive behavior for a 4-year-old, as you no doubt realize.

I'm afraid the only prudent option I see is to have your son evaluated by a mental health professional; e.g., a child psychologist or pediatric psychiatrist. While neuropsychological testing (for attentional problems, learning disorders, mood or anxiety disorders, etc.) would be a very good idea, I realize the expense may be prohibitive for you. But--you can still arrange for one or two professional intake evaluations; that may cost $150-250 per session, but it would be a good deal less than comprehensive testing. (If you have health insurance, you can inquire as to your coverage for such testing). Once you know what issues and/or problems you (and your son) are dealing with, you can begin to make appropriate decisions about your son's school setting, special educational needs, emotional issues, etc.

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December 2003

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