Behavioural Difficulties

What many people fail to understand is that gifted kids are also special needs kids in that they have needs that cannot be met through the use of the same strategies used for other children. For this reason, many states now include their divisions of gifted education within the "Special Needs" department. Gifted children aren't better than other children; they are simply different with different needs. A good gifted program will meet those needs. But what happens if those needs aren't met?

Academic Problems

Ideally, all children will be challenged appropriately. The work they get will be neither too hard nor too easy. If it is too hard, children will give up. If it is too easy, children will give up. In the first case, they will give up because of the stress; in the second, because of boredom.

Behavioral problems

All children have moments when they do not behave properly. They can go through different phases as they develop and become more independent. Toddlers and adolescents can have their challenging moments and this might mean they push limits from time to time. With the help of parents, carers and teachers, most of them will learn to behave appropriately.

Occasionally, a child will have a temper tantrum, or an outburst of aggressive or destructive behavior, but this is often nothing to worry about. can happen in children of all ages. Some children have serious behavioral problems. The signs to look out for are:

  • if the child continues to behave badly for several months or longer, is repeatedly being disobedient, cheeky and aggressive;
  • if their behavior is out of the ordinary, and seriously breaks the rules accepted in their home and school. This is much more than ordinary childish mischief or adolescent rebelliousness.

What are behavioral difficulties

  • Aggressive or anti-social behaviour
  • Inattentiveness, distractibility, impulsiveness
  • Impaired social interaction
  • A general inability to cope with daily routines and tasks
  • Obsessive and/or repetitive behaviours
  • Attention seeking behaviour
  • Depressed behaviour, such as withdrawal

Underpinning the list is lack of self confidence, poor emotional maturity and weak social skills.

What is a Behaviour problem?

Usually we mean by this that the child's behavior is a problem for someone else. As adults we all have different sets of ideas about acceptable and unacceptable behavior. In schools it is common for a child to be found 'difficult' by one teacher, only to move on to a new teacher and then fit in without a problem. Did your child ever have behavioral difficulties or did the first teacher have poor classroom management skills? It would be hard for that teacher to accept her failings and much easier to give the child a 'label'.

Identification of Behaviour Difficulty

When professionals assess a child who is referred for behavioral difficulties they look for evidence that the child has difficulty in all situations, in order to avoid mislabeling the child because key adults in their life have poor skills. But this approach does not help us when a child also has communication difficulties; we know and accept that a child's ability to communicate successfully is very dependent on the situation they are in. This means that we would expect their behavior to vary across different situations.

Communication Disability across Different Settings

Children with communication disability have limited skills to work out what others want and expect from them; this leads to misunderstandings and often a heavy reliance on watching others to follow what they do. Difficulty following long periods of talking can lead to poor attention and listening behaviour. Difficulties with expression mean that they can find it hard to ask for what they want, explain themselves verbally and get out of difficulties. The result can often be that the child often feels insecure and frustrated. When the situation is familiar to the child there are learnt routines making it easier for the child to work out how to follow an adult communication style; these factors are likely to minimise the number of behavioural incidences.

Unrecognised Behavioural Difficulty

Parents who have a young child who is challenging to handle at home may decide to go to their GP and ask for some help. If the child had obvious problems with speaking the GP may make the initial referral to a speech and language therapist. The child's first label is then likely to be a communication disability (eg, speech delay). However that child could have given his/her parents exactly the same handling difficulties but had clear speech; it is then much more likely that the referral would have been to a paediatrician to have looked at other developmental factors and the child's first label could have been 'behavioural difficulties'. For each child the label may be misleading as it masks the likelihood that strategies are needed for both communication and behaviour

There is growing evidence from research that children with a label of 'behavioural difficulties' are highly likely to have communication difficulties, and often these go unrecognised (see references Heneker and Thorley). This is especially likely when the child's understanding of language is weak and their own spoken language is better.


There is a strong association between communication disability and behavioural problems. The label that fits the child today may not seem quite right in a few years. It would therefore seem sensible to assume: