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Gifted or ADHD?

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My son will be 10 in two weeks and is in the 4th grade. His teacher tells me that he is having trouble getting started w/ his work in the am. He is in the gifted program and scored either 2-3 points away from genius level. He is also very lazy about turning in his work. He has an A-B average w/ a few zeros averaged in. His teacher also said that he has no urgency to turn in work and sometimes does not finish all of his work. Last year in 3rd grade he was tested in reading and scored freshman level, but his teacher said that is as high as the test scored. Does he sound like he is ADD or just bored?

A: If your son is in the gifted program, it is indeed quite strange that he may be bored since gifted programs cater for the needs of highly able children and usually have allowances to enable a child to work at a faster pace if the need be. From your description, it is not possible to tell for sure if he is ADHD, though there is a possibility to be both gifted and ADHD.

Children with ADHD become bored quickly, can't sit still, and are always moving. They often act first without thinking. If the child is in school, being both ADHD and gifted can cause unique problems. High intellect can cause ADHD to go undiagnosed. The ADHD too can cause giftedness to go unnoticed. In your son's case, he has been identified and placed in the gifted program; therefore, no doubt that he is highly able. What you may want to do now is to get him professionally examined for ADHD and if diagnosed, start treatment and intervention strategies as early as possible.

It is quite confusing to tell between giftedness and ADHD since a good number behaviors seen in children with ADHD (e.g., blurting out answers to questions, difficulty following through with tasks, difficulty playing games fairly and quietly, and talking excessively) could also be found in children who are bright, creative and gifted. Nevertheless, one cannot rule out the possibility of children being gifted and having ADHD. Again, a professional evaluation is needed for diagnosis.

Briefly, some of the ways to tell the differences between ADD and giftedness are listed here:

  • Gifted children may daydream or show boredom (because they habituate more quickly than average thus the novelty wears off quicker), in some situations but not all. Children with ADHD have poor attention spans in almost all unstructured situations.

  • Gifted children may not be able to sustain effort on tasks they find irrelevant or dull. Boredom is a problem for any child with a curious mind in a dull classroom. ADHD children may not be able to put forth sustained effort without immediate feedback and reward.

  • Gifted children may be able to be intensively focused on activities of interest to them. ADHD children have trouble focusing on almost all activities, with the exception of television and video games.

  • Gifted children may question the reason for specific expectations and rules. ADHD children may not be able to follow rules due to impulsiveness.

If ADHD is ruled out, try to monitor the habits of your son to determine reasons for his negative attitude in school. You may also want to speak to his teachers (I assume they would be teachers trained in gifted education) who may be able to provide alternatives and suggestions to improve his behavior and perhaps even realize support areas they may be lacking in. For a gifted child, boredom is described as frustration with the lack of progress, so even the school may want to pay some attention here.


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