Do You Know A Boy Like David?

by Marcia Rubinstien

David was the fourth child born to a family that prized education, uniqueness, and cultural awareness. His two brothers and his sister had already been classified as gifted and were receiving special enhancement in public school. David, six years younger than his next oldest sibling, seemed destined to follow their lead. When he was only a year old, he taught a neighbor to use the family clothes dryer. "Just read the constructions (sic) on top," he stated
authoritatively from his high chair. At age two, he accompanied his family on a trip abroad. Traveling with the older children was a challenge, but David sat contentedly in his stroller, taking in the environment while informing his family what makes it rain or why a flamingo stands on one leg.

In nursery school, David regaled his teachers with amounts of arcane information, and they quickly dubbed him the "Little Genius." At home, he rough-housed with his brothers, contended with his sister in sibling rivalry, and generally delighted his parents. Before David started kindergarten, his mother, having read Robert Fulghum approvingly, requested a structured teacher. Her wish was granted, but David's was not. At the first parent-teacher conference in
November, David's Mom sat down hopefully to hear more about her wonderful precocious child. "You know, Mrs. K.," the teacher stated patiently, "I can't really tell you anything about David because he does absolutely nothing. As a matter of fact, he's like a non-productive lump." Grateful that her other children had not had this teacher, David's mother protested, "But, I'm Mrs. K., David's  mother. There must be some mistake."

"I know who you are. David does not follow instructions, has not internalized the simplest classroom rules, is always lagging behind the lines, and makes us feel as though it is a great imposition to restrain him in school." What could have caused the difference between the David Mrs. K. knew and the David known by the kindergarten teacher? Immediately, the school went into testing mode. The WISC-III showed scores well above average, and no one considered it a problem that the verbal scores and subscores were much higher than performance scores. Kindergarten continued to be a disaster, with David protesting daily and his mother believing she was doing the right thing by sending him. In first grade, David bonded with his teacher, who was patient and warm. But when she left at mid-year to have a baby, David's academic support disappeared.

When he was six, David's mother signed him up to play soccer in a town league, practically a requirement for every suburban child. As his peers were running up and down the field in a frenzy, David walked over to the sidelines and said to his hopeful parents, "What is the point of this?" This has been his mantra ever since.

Second grade was less chaotic. David bonded so intensely with his teacher that they even visited each other at home. However, he had no friends in his peer group and was beginning to be disruptive in school and on the playground. When David's mother requested more testing and perhaps mandation of support services in areas where David seemed nonproductive -- notably writing and math -- the principal insisted that he was merely depressed and should see a psychiatrist. Mrs. K. demanded that he be evaluated by the school system's psychiatrist, who stated unequivocally that David was not depressed. "The only thing he's depressed about," said Dr. Smith, "is school."

David's third grade teacher championed his strengths and placed him in the gifted program, a once-weekly think-tank where he flourished. But as for the rest of school, David remained disorganized, forgot books, worksheets, and homework all over town, and was completely
outside of the social mainstream. Though he could charm adults, he could not decode social cues from peers. Some teachers assumed that he was willfully refusing to show math processing or to write at grade level, especially since he was now reading at a ninth grade
level. Finally, an outside evaluator hired by David's parents diagnosed him with an IQ in the Very Superior range, with a significant non-verbal learning disability (NLD), or discrepancy
between a higher performance on the Verbal IQ and that of the Performance IQ.

Children with NLD confuse the system by retaining huge amounts of information and speaking expressively. Teachers expect a great deal from them, not realizing the challenges they face. Many have dysgraphia or dyspraxia. Those who are able to give a math answer are often unable to show their work. Executive function is usually severely impaired, and they have problems with time and orientation throughout their lives. All children and adults with NLD can benefit from strategies designed to help them organize, categorize, and energize their lives.

Although their academic assets include good verbatim memory, spelling, reading, auditory skills and sustained attention, people with NLD generally have deficits in tactile perception, visual perception, and complex psychomotor skills. Byron Rourke, a neuropsychologist who did groundbreaking work on NLD, believes that the principal asset of children with NLD is their auditory system, through which all other capabilities flow. They have a tendency toward sedentary and physically limited modes of functioning which increases with age. When David sat serenely through his stroller tour of Europe, he was giving his family an early cue -- no interest in physical exploration of any kind. The socioemotional deficits also pose great concern. NLD children and adults often display inappropriate social behaviors, and they usually lack the skills for successful social interaction.

Without support, NLD children generally deteriorate as they grow, with increasing levels of depression and anxiety. But a child with NLD can achieve success with parental love, appropriate and consistent intervention and advocacy. Educators must learn, thorough the use of educational and neuropsychological assessments, which behaviors are oppositional and which are simply unattainable.   At times, they must be willing to listen patiently to seemingly
endless verbal output. Some children in David's class were surprised when he was recommended for the gifted program, but one eight-year old seemed wise beyond her years. "I always knew you were smart," she said. "You just think differently from other people."

Today, David is in seventh grade, still a student in the gifted program, with accommodations in history, foreign language, and math. Teachers check him in and out of every class to make sure he has written down or handed in homework assignments. His parents, with the cooperation of a kindly teacher, have established a lunch fund so that he can go to her when he forgets his lunch money. He spends time with his parents each night going over his homework and
checking his personal agenda. Last year, a short story David wrote was published in the school literary magazine. He spends much too much time in sedentary pursuits (mostly computer-related) and has one or two friends with whom he maintains loyal, consistent, but
minimal interaction.

Do you know a child who sounds like David? There are many places to find help. A school which does not appreciate supportive advocacy is the wrong place for your child, or anyone else's. Good luck! --

Marcia Brown Rubinstien MA, Certified Educational Planner, is President of Edufax (email:,   an independent educational consulting firm.  Her expertise is in finding appropriate placements for children with special needs.  She co-chairs the LD Committee of the Independent Educational Association and is currently a co-founder and President of the newly established Nonverbal Learning Disorders Association (NLDA).

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