Dear Dr. Sylvia

Timing Can Cause Problems

March/April, 2016



My son is gifted in the verbal and perceptional areas, but has only average processing speed. He is in fifth grade and is having trouble with timed assignments. His IQ evaluation said that he might have trouble with both timed activities and getting things down on paper and that he should be given adequate time to complete these tasks. If this is the case, can he still be encouraged to use other abilities, or will the timing keep him from reaching his potential? He attends a gifted school. Do these types of schools adjust for these sorts of things in children, or is it a more of a “make-it-or-break-it” type situation? I understand that it is not a true learning disability. How can it be handled?



While typical schools today may not accept your son’s problem as a learning disability, there is great disagreement about that conclusion. Educators in the field of gifted education would describe your son’s problem as being twice exceptional — both gifted and learning disabled. Because there is likely to be a large difference in his very important high verbal and perceptual IQ test scores compared to his very slow processing speed, it will indeed feel like a disability to your son. On the many timed assignments he will need to participate in, he may find himself unable to complete them. Even on timed IQ tests, his scores will be lower because of slow processing speed.

It’s important to understand the root of his processing speed problem. He could be having difficulty with handwriting, or he could be a deep thinker and worry too much about which is the correct answer, or he could have an attention problem. Each of these issues would be treated differently; and while he may never be very fast at accomplishing his tasks, he can improve his speed. Keeping him motivated is crucial and most typical schools will allow accommodations for extra time, as well as recommend approaches for improving his speed.
Occupational therapy could help if his handwriting is the problem. Practicing timed exercises at home where he tries to beat his own time can build speed and confidence. Attention issues can also be treated behaviorally or with medication, depending on the extent of the problem. I recommend you find a psychologist who specializes in working with gifted children to guide you and your son through the best approaches to helping him as soon as possible, or he will be at high risk for underachievement. I also want to assure you that he is not alone with this problem. So many boys seem to have similar difficulties that I’ve nicknamed it pencil anxiety.

Dr Sylvia RimmDr. Sylvia Rimm is a child psychologist and clinical professor at Case University School of Medicine, author, newspaper and magazine columnist, and radio/TV personality. For free newsletters about organization, ADHD, and/or underachievement, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for each newsletter and a note with your topic requestto P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094. Read Dr. Rimm’s Articles for Parents and Teachers and submit family questions online at All questions are answered.

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