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Gifted and ADHD

Do you find your child to be inattentive in conversation?  Have teachers mentioned that she is “hyperactive” or has “impulse control” problems?  Are these behaviors interfering with day-to-day activities and with schoolwork?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most common behavioral disorder of childhood.[1] Most parents and educators are familiar with the symptoms of this disorder, which can result in a child who is 2-3 years behind his peers in social skills or emotional maturity. [2] However, many are surprised to learn that gifted children can suffer from ADHD.  In fact, gifted children with ADHD may find that their symptoms are exacerbated by being in an under-stimulating environment.  Both lack of challenge and lack of access to similar peers can increase ADHD risk factors and can contribute to socio-emotional problems.[3]

Not every seemingly hyperactive gifted child has ADHD.   Many signs of giftedness, including flight of ideas, hyperactivity, and distractibility, actually overlap with ADHD symptoms.   To confuse the subject even more, some ADHD symptoms may cease to exist when appropriate educational interventions are in place.  Students can be gifted alone, have ADHD alone, or have both diagnoses, and it often takes more than one professional consultation to help identify the source of the symptoms.

It is important to note that the typical interventions used with students who are ADHD, such as simplifying tasks and decreasing stimulation, may be detrimental for gifted learners.[4] Treating a child who is “twice exceptional” poses unique challenges.  In these circumstances, the National Association for Gifted Children supports interventions that focus on talent while simultaneously attending to a deficit. This is a whole-approach aimed at understanding the particular challenges at hand and helping the student address them.  It is important to work with your teachers, doctors, and other professionals to find the best fit of interventions for your child.  For more information, visit PTY’s online resources or see “Before Referring a Gifted Child for ADD/ADHD Evaluation” by Sharon Lind.

[1] American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Washington, DC.

[2] Barkley, R.A. (1998). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: A handbook for diagnosis and treatment. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

[3] Neihart, M., Reis, S., Robinson, N., & Moon, S. (Eds.) (2002). The social and emotional development of gifted children: What do we know? Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

[4] Moon, S. (2002). Gifted children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. In M. Neihart, S. Reis, N. Robinson, S. Moon (Eds.). The social and emotional development of gifted children: What do we know? (pp. 193-204). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.