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ADHD and Gifted Children

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My 4 years old, who seems very intelligent for his age, even though he is hearing-impaired, has always had a high activity level. Sometimes he seems motor-driven (both speech and activity) and resists sleep (even when he obviously is sleepy) and despite a fairly regular routine. The sleep problem got worse when we moved recently and once he went to sleep at 4am. Most of that time he'll spend playing noisily if we let him. He is being treated for reflux, but discomfort doesn't seem to me to be the reason he won't sleep.

Is there any relation between giftedness, activity level and "sleep resistance"? Sometimes I'm afraid he has ADHD.

A: Firstly, a note on ADHD (Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder). ADHD is defined as a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that is both more frequently displayed and more severe than is usually observed in persons of a similar age or comparable development level. There is no significant relationship between giftedness, activity level and sleep per se but there is a possibility that in some cases, one may contribute to the other. Someone who is ADHD and gifted may experience the frustrations associated with this dual condition. People with ADHD can at times be very focused, but it's the inconsistency that's frustrating. When focused, they can do the best work; and when not focused, they cause trouble for those around them, particularly in a classroom.

In a classroom daydreaming is equated with inattention, but in a student who is also gifted it should be treated as a symptom of boredom. Studies have indicated that for ADHD students, boredom can be extremely stressful and understandably contributes not only to attention problems but also to impulsivity and spontaneous thoughts which can be a distraction in class. For a student who is ADHD and gifted, these states of boredom and resultant impulsivity are magnified. In short, intelligence can have a profound effect upon how ADHD symptoms are manifested.

Perhaps, the change in environment for a four year old may have an impact on his activity level, resulting in restlessness and inability to sleep. He may be playing noisily probably due to his hearing impairment as he may not be able to judge the level of noise he would be producing.

The best thing you may want to do now is to see a professional who may be able to test your son to diagnose/clear doubts of him having ADHD. You can only move from then on. If he is diagnosed as having ADHD, there is treatment available and it is always better to start right from the beginning. From what you mentioned, I feel that there is a need to clear doubts of him having ADHD. If that is cleared, he may just be a very active child who needs to be stimulated so as to use as much of his energy as possible. Good luck.

Featured Resource


Misdiagnosis And Dual Diagnoses Of Gifted Children And Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger's, Depression, And Other Disorders
James T. Webb Ph.D, Edward R. Amend Psy.D, Nadia E. Webb Psy.D

Our brightest, most creative children and adults are often being misdiagnosed with behavioral and emotional disorders such as ADHD, Oppositional-Defiant Disorder, Bipolar, OCD, or Asperger's. Many receive unneeded medication and inappropriate counseling as a result.

  • Written for parents and professionals

  • Characteristics of gifted children and adults

  • Diagnoses most commonly given to gifted children and adults

  • Traits of diagnoses incorrectly given to gifted children and adults

  • Guidelines to avoid mislabeling gifted children

  • Parent-child relationship problems

  • Issues for gifted adults

  • Advice for selecting a counselor or health care professional

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Gifted Children

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