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DEPARTMENTS   »   Curriculum and Instruction Support   »   Gifted and Talented   »   Special Topics   »   Underachievement

Underachievement

   CAN MY CHILD BE BOTH GIFTED AND AN UNDERACHIEVER IN SCHOOL?


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Frequently Asked Questions of the National Association for Gifted Children

Many intellectually and creatively gifted children do not achieve to their abilities in school.  Although parents and teachers are typically aware of how bright these children are, they are puzzled by students' lack of motivation and productivity.  Furthermore, as school performance declines, even parents and teachers begin to wonder whether the students are as capable as test scores and earlier performance indicated.  Frequently, the children themselves lose confidence in their ability to perform in school.

What are some signs of academic underachievement?

  • Unfinished or missing school work
  • Disorganization
  • Disinterest in school
  • Excuses or blaming others for problems
  • Too much socializing, or in contrast, loneliness
  • Declining grades

Sometimes young people will become immersed in learning of their choice, will read continuously, or escape to computers rather than complete school assignments.  They may be active but selective learners and refuse to do required school work.

When should underachievement be considered a problem?
Even very bright kids should not be expected to receive "A" grades in everything.  In facts, students who complete almost all their work perfectly may not be sufficiently challenged.  All students should be expected to have strengths and weaknesses, as well as subjects they find more and less interesting.   Underachievement should be considered a problem if it is severe (achievement well below grade level), is long standing (occurring over more than one school year), or is causing the student distress.

Author Note
NAGC thanks Sylvia Rimm, Ph.D., for developing this FAQ brochure.  Dr. Rimm is a psychologist, clinical professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and Director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio

Copyright 2008 National Association for Gifted Children

 What causes gifted children to underachieve?
Underachievement has complex causes, so it is important not to over-simplify the problem.  Gifted children may not themselves understand why they are underachieving.  Usually school and home causes combine to set the pattern in motion.

Possible School Issues

  • Lack of challenge
  • Too much or too little competition
  • Conflicts with teachers
  • Unidentified learning disabilities
  • Peer pressure to underperform
  • A move to a more or less difficult school
  • Lack of structure or too much structure in the classroom
  • Mismatch between students' learning preferences and intellectual strengths and classroom strategies, expectations, and environment

 

Possible Home Issues

  • Conflict between parents
  • Overprotectiveness by parents
  • Over-empowerment of children
  • Too much or too little attention
  • Health problems
  • Sibling rivalry
  • Feelings of pressure
  • An anti-work attitude or over-emphasis on work


What can you do about your child's underachievement?

Many children do overcome their underachievement; others continue similar patterns throughout adult life. If the pattern has continued for more than one school year, it is important to get help. It is easier to change a pattern if you identify it early. Following are some suggestions for getting help:

  • Arrange for regular communication with your child's teacher about the problem.
  • Join a parent support group for gifted children.
  • Arrange for an evaluation by a school or private psychologist who specializes in helping gifted underachieving children.
  • Read articles and books on the subject to better prepare yourself to ask good questions of school and healthcare professionals.
  • Avoid conflicts with your child's teacher that may lead the child to blame the school for his or her problems.
  • Continue to encourage your child's interests, regardless of the level of success. Do not use talent development as a reward for academic achievement.
  • Encourage your child to participate in enrichment activities where there are other achieving children involved.
  • Don't give up on your child.