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ADHD or Gifted?

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I have adopted my 5 year old grandson 2 and half years ago after the death of my daughter. He has been in foster care prior for 10 months. I am concerned he may be ADHD but think he could be gifted. He can focus on work, loves the computer and games. Plays for hours if you let him. He has high energy level and does not follow direction when told. ie: do not run, sit still in class. Has had severe temper tantrums where he bites, and hits only toward females. Mostly me. I look like my daughter.

He is easily frustrated when he is unable to do something fast or if incorrect. His vocabulary is excellent and he uses the words in the correct context. He acts like he cannot remember his numbers yet when coaxed he smiles and repeats them accurately. He likes to be with adults and tends to play by himself at school. His eye hand coordination is unbelievable, at the age of 2 he could parallel park the motor cars. He has excellent rhythm and is able to remember songs and the melody. I have had others tell me he is ADHD, because he is so active but he will calm down when given an activity. 

What are your thoughts and advice to assist me in helping him to follow directions by his teacher. I am considering home-schooling him because I feel his maturity level is not there.

A:  Sometime ago I had written about ADHD and gifted child. You may want to read that to get a better understanding about ADHD. From what you had described, I feel that he may not be ADHD at all. I feel that he is highly able and is able to do much more that what is expected of him. He is rather high in terms of energy levels, which may not be unusual for a 5 year old boy. However, kids with ADHD have rather short attention span and this does not seem to be the case for your grandson. I believe that his behavior is partly due to high levels of energy, which causes boredom when not given enough activities that is challenging to him and his inability to deal with it. I also believe that this may be more linked to the fact that he has lost a parent and has been in foster care for 10 months. At this tender age he may not be able to express his feelings (I assume, missing his mother, lack of other male member in the family, if any), hence resorts to acts of frustration that actually manifest his inner feelings.

Your description clearly shows that he is above average and may need additional help to reach his maximum intellectual development. Home-schooling may be an avenue to avoid certain behaviors but at some point, he would need to deal with other children. Furthermore, it would not give him an opportunity to mingle with other children, which is essential for his socio-emotional development.

Firstly, you may want to get him tested to rule out or confirm ADHD. If ADHD is ruled out, he may still need to see a child psychologist to assess his behavior, which will determine whether he should be in school. If it is okay for him to be in school, the psychologist would be able to give information to guardians on how to teach the child. In his case, I somehow feel that the issue is much deeper that what meets the eye and only a child psychologist who has assessed him will be able to help with the necessary treatment. Based on the advice given, you can then discuss with his teachers on how best to handle him. Your grandson seems to be a very bright boy and I hope that you will be able to seek some help in helping him manage his behavior and emotions. Good luck.


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