- Inadequate teaching or not enough time spent learning spelling when he was younger,
- Exposure to a "whole language" approach to reading and writing that encouraged "inventive" spelling, but never got to the edit/correct/ and "learn it the right way now" stage, or
- An underlying learning disability.
If your son is tested (which I think is a good idea, by the way), the evaluator might want to use a test called the Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure Drawing. Your son would first copy a rather detailed design (to evaluate his eye-hand coordination and his organizational skills, among other things) and then he'd be asked to draw the design again from memory. And (you probably shouldn't tell him this) he'll be asked to draw it again twenty minutes later. The psychologist (probably a neuropsychologist in this case) would be able to assess how well he retains visual images. This will give some clues to your son's spelling problems. The neuropsychologist should also do an analysis of the types of errors your son makes in order to look for patterns that will also hold clues to his approach to spelling. If your son is found to have a learning disability that explains his spelling difficulties, then he is eligible (now and later) for reasonable accommodations, such as being able to use an electronic dictionary or a word processor with a spell check feature. Also, his teachers will be required to grade content apart from spelling and to not penalize your son because he has a disability. If there is no disability, then you and your son's teachers need to come up with a remedial plan based on the analysis of his learning style which should be generated from the neuropsychological evaluation. If your son has no learning impairment, but just doesn't care about spelling, then he's just going to have to accept that his grades in some courses (and his job prospects) may suffer in the future. Incidentally, there is a great book about LD kids who are also gifted. It is called Crossover Children by Dr. Marlene Bireley.