Why Smart Kids aren’t always Successful
Many kids with Dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning differences are very bright. It’s not unusual to find IQ’s in the high-normal or even genius range among this population. So if they’re not successful in school (or life), it’s tempting to blame it on a “disability.” But plenty of dyslexics have gone on to be tremendously successful, and lots of very smart people have not.
Why do some people learn to handle frustration, overcome obstacles, and struggle with problems until they succeed, while others just give up? Developing the “skills” to be productive with our native intelligence may be the difference. But can persistence be learned?
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men of talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States. (1923-1929)
What if we’re teaching Failure?
Not on purpose, of course. But think about this: you’re smart, but need certain “accommodations” to learn and produce good work. If you never get those accommodations, how will it feel?
Psychologists in the 1960’s discovered that when animals were punished repeatedly in a specific situation, they eventually stopped trying to avoid the punishment – even when they could. This came to be called “learned helplessness”. In humans, it was closely associated with depression.
“. . . demands being placed on a kid exceed his capacity to respond adaptively. Of course, that’s when all of us exhibit maladaptive behavior. The problem for kids with behavioral challenges (and those around them) is that they’re responding much more maladaptively than the rest of us, and much more often. You see, there’s a spectrum of things kids do when life’s demands exceed their capacity to respond adaptively. Some cry, or sulk, or pout, or whine, or withdraw—that would be the milder end of the spectrum. As we move toward the more difficult end of the spectrum, we find screaming, swearing, spitting, hitting, kicking, destroying property, lying, and truancy.”
- Difficulty handling transitions, shifting from one mind-set or task to another (shifting cognitive set)
- Difficulty mustering the energy to persist on tasks that are challenging, effortful, or tedious
- Difficulty doing things in a logical sequence or prescribed order
- Poor sense of time
- Difficulty reflecting on multiple thoughts or ideas simultaneously
- Difficulty maintaining focus for goal-directed problem-solving
- Difficulty considering the likely outcomes or consequences of actions (impulsive)
- Difficulty considering a range of solutions to a problem Difficulty expressing concerns, needs, or thoughts in words
- Difficulty understanding what is being said
- Difficulty managing emotional response to frustration so as to think rationally (separation of affect)
- Chronic irritability and/or anxiety significantly impede capacity for problem-solving
- Difficulty seeing the “grays”/concrete, literal, black-and-white thinking Difficulty deviating from rules, routine, original plan
- Difficulty handling unpredictability, ambiguity, uncertainty, novelty
- Difficulty shifting from original idea or solution/difficulty adapting to changes in plan or new rules/possibly perseverative or obsessive
- Difficulty taking into account situational factors that would require adjusting one’s plan of action
- Inflexible, inaccurate interpretations/cognitive distortions or biases (e.g., “Everyone’s out to get me,” “Nobody likes me,” “You always blame me,” “It’s not fair,” “I’m stupid,” “Things will never work out for me”)
- Difficulty attending to and/or accurately interpreting social cues/poor perception of social nuances Difficulty starting a conversation, entering groups, connecting with people/lacking other basic social skills
- Difficulty seeking attention in appropriate ways
- Difficulty appreciating how one’s behavior is affecting other people; often surprised by others’ responses to his/her behavior
- Difficulty empathizing with others, appreciating another person’s perspective or point of view
- Difficulty appreciating how one is coming across or being perceived by others
Kids do Well if They Can
Developmental Tasks Requiring Executive Function Skills
Children and teenagers are required to perform all kinds of skills that require executive skills. The list below describes tasks or behaviors that adults commonly expect children to be able to do in different age ranges (Dawson, Peg and Richard Guare. Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents. New York, NY: The Guilford Press, 2010. Print.).
- Run simple errands (e.g., “get your book from the bedroom”)
- Tidy bedroom/playroom with assistance
- Perform simple chores and self-help tasks with reminders (e.g., brush teeth, get dressed, clear dishes from table)
- Inhibit behaviors: don’t touch hot stove, run into the street, take another child´s toy, hit, bite, push, etc.
Kindergarten – Grade 2
- Run errands (two/three step directions)
- Tidy bedroom/playroom
- Perform simple chores, self-help tasks; may need reminders (e.g., make bed)
- Bring papers to and from school
- Complete homework assignments (20 minutes max)
- Decide how to spend money/allowance
- Inhibit behaviors: raise hand to speak, keep hands to self, don’t swear, follow safety rules
- Run errands (may involve a time delay or greater distance, like going to a store or remembering to do something after school)
- Tidy bedroom/playroom (may include vacuuming, dusting, etc.)
- Perform chores that take 15-30 minutes (e.g., clean up after dinner, rake the leaves)
- Bring books, papers, assignments to and from school
- Keep track of belongings when away from home
- Complete homework assignments(up to 1 hour maximum)
- Plan simple school project such as a book report (select book, read book, write report)
- Keep track of changing daily schedule (different activities after school)
- Save money for desired objects, plan how to earn money
- Inhibit & self regulate: behave when teacher is out of the classroom; refrain from rude comments, temper tantrums, bad manners
- Help out with chores around the home, including both daily and occasional tasks (e.g., empty the dishwasher, raking leaves, shoveling snow); tasks may take 60-90 minutes to finish
- Babysit younger siblings or for pay
- Use a system for organizing schoolwork (incl. planner, notebooks)
- Follow complex school schedule(changing teachers and changing schedules)
- Plan and complete long-term projects: tasks to be accomplished and a reasonable timeline to follow; may require planning multiple large projects at the same time
- Plan time, including after-school activities, homework, family responsibilities; estimate how long it takes to complete individual tasks and adjust schedule to fit
- Inhibit rule-breaking in the absence of visible authority
Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents, Second Edition: A Practical Guide to Assessment and Intervention by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning by Joyce Eric-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel.