ADHD and Giftedness

Health Writer

Helping your child realize their true potential

The standard definitions of "Giftedness" have changed over the years. Traditionally, the measurement relied on IQ, with a score of over 128 or 130 being considered gifted. Today, however, more and more people are realizing that a child can be gifted in just one area rather than all areas. Children gifted in language and reading may not be considered gifted in mathematics. Some people can be gifted in art or music, but IQ alone does not always reflect Giftedness.

For children that are gifted with ADHD, unique problems can develop. There may be difficulty in diagnosis; either the high intellect can cause ADHD to go undiagnosed or the symptoms of ADHD may cause giftedness to go undetected.

When a parent requests testing and evaluation for ADHD, the main symptoms usually include: poor school performance, fidgeting, inattention and hyperactivity. These symptoms can also be a sign of Giftedness. Children can be fidgety and/or not pay attention if they are bored with the work being taught. Children can perform under their abilities if they understand the work quickly and then daydream while the teacher continues to teach the rest of the class.

There are a number of shared characteristics for both Giftedness and ADHD:

  • Restlessness, fidgeting
  • High energy level
  • Problems sleeping
  • Underachievement
  • Frustration
  • Disorganization
  • Forgetfulness, absent minded
  • Emotional, moody, may have tendency toward depression
  • Inattention to detail
  • Tendency to question authority

One student in the same school district as my son had also been diagnosed with ADHD. He was a bright boy but could not seem to pass a math class, even a class below his 11th grade level. Finally, the school district evaluated his arithmetic skills. The testing showed that he understood mathematical concepts on a 16th grade level but his practical applications were still at an 8th grade level. (His reading level also was above a 16th grade level.) During class, he quickly learned and understood the concepts being taught. After that, he tuned out the lessons. His ADHD caused him to lose his homework on a regular basis, even though he completed it each evening. His inability to complete the practical aspects caused him to fail tests. Although very intelligent, this young man felt inadequate and stupid, even though his understanding of the concepts being taught was well above most of his classmates. The school district set up a plan to have him complete his math class in the resource room, by himself, with an aide and computerized curriculum. Working one on one, his practical math skills improved by several grade levels in one semester.

Prior to the evaluation, the school district had discussed with the student's parents placing him in a Special Education math class, assuming that he did not have the ability or intelligence to complete the work. In actuality, he was bored with the work and needed to be provided a challenging environment.

The above story is true and illustrates the problem faced by many students that are gifted with ADHD. According to both his parents and teachers, the young man displayed typical ADHD symptoms: losing papers, inattention in class, disrupting the class, and impulsive behavior. He was receiving treatment for ADHD and this helped, however until he was evaluated, only the ADHD was being treated while his high intellect was being ignored. Finding strategies that worked for his unique situation ultimately helped him succeed and graduate from high school.

Characteristics of Giftedness:

  • High Reasoning Ability, excellent problem solving abilities, understands concepts and abstract thinking easily
  • Has intense curiosity, asks pointed questions, wants to know "why" and "how"
  • Has many different interests but sometimes will choose one or two interests and works with great intensity on them
  • Uses a large vocabulary and has superior abilities in written and/or spoken language
  • Reads and comprehends books well above grade level
  • Learns quickly and is easily able to retain and recall information
  • Is usually very creative
  • Can be self-critical and a perfectionist
  • Works well independently with a long attention span, especially when intellectually or creatively challenged
  • Extremely observant

If you believe your child may be gifted, request, in writing, a complete school evaluation. Document reasons why you believe they should be tested. If the school is not willing to complete an evaluation, you can appeal their decision or you can have your child tested independently.

Strategies for Parents of Children with ADHD and Giftedness

  1. Discuss your child's diagnosis with them. If they have a high understanding of concepts, they will be able to comprehend what you are saying. Together you can discuss coping strategies as well as ways for them to compensate for weaknesses and work to further develop their strengths.

  2. Look for your child's strengths. Many times, there will be a high creative level in art or music. Find ways for them to develop these talents.

  3. Create a stimulating environment in your home. Provide opportunities for many different activities and help them find those that interest them the most.

  4. Look at how ADHD symptoms impact their schoolwork and their abilities. For example, your child may be very imaginative and come up with an elaborate and detailed idea for an upcoming project. However, the inability to focus and stay on track might hinder completing the project. Decide if their abilities and skills match their plans.

  1. Set up meetings with teachers and school personnel to work out a plan to help your child succeed based on their individual needs. You can request services and accommodations under IDEA or Section 504 to determine if your child is eligible for special services.

  2. List each individual subject and determine accommodations for each subject. Your child may not succeed with "across the board" services but may need different accommodations for each subject. For some subjects, your child may do better in accelerated learning or advanced classes, for others, they may need special assistance in regular classrooms.

  3. Keep positive. Parenting children with ADHD is always a challenge. Parenting children that have ADHD and are gifted can be even more so. Use support groups to help you cope with daily struggles so that your home environment can remain one where your child feels safe, secure and loved.

Suggested Reading

Strategies for Parenting Children with ADHD

Strategies for Parenting Children with ADD

How to Help Your Child Succeed in School