Gifted Children and Attention Deficit Disorder
Before my son was identified as gifted, teachers quietly nudged me to have him tested for something else. Maybe he had ADD. They didn't say it out loud but the message was clear. He was overly sensitive, didn't pay attention in class, and found it increasingly difficult to begin any unfamiliar tasks.
While it's true that many children can be both gifted and learning disabled, in some cases giftedness is mistaken for a disability. And maybe it is, in its own way. The first thing my son's gifted and talented teacher told me was that the GT (gifted and talented) curriculum was special education, that he had special needs.
Giftedness vs. ADHD
It can be confusing to observe characteristics of children who are either gifted or suffer from ADHD (or both). Remember that your child's teacher probably has a dozen or two other children to keep track of. Check out these lists from KidSource.com to see how many traits are shared. (These lists come from the results of two different scientific studies.)
Behaviors Associated with ADHD:
- Poorly sustained attention in almost all situations
- Diminished persistence on tasks not having immediate consequences
- Impulsivity, poor delay of gratification
- Impaired adherence to commands to regulate or inhibit behavior in social contexts
- More active, restless than normal children
- Difficulty adhering to rules and regulations
Behaviors Associated with Giftedness:
- Poor attention, boredom, daydreaming in specific situations
- Low tolerance for persistence on tasks that seem irrelevant
- Judgment lags behind development of intellect
- Intensity may lead to power struggles with authorities
- High activity level; may need less sleep
So what's a parent to do? Pay attention! Look at the situations where a child exhibits the behavior. Gifted children are less likely to exhibit behavior problems in all situations. Ask multiple teachers (and others in the child's life) for their impressions. Especially if the problems are specific to the classroom setting, be wary of any suggestion of attention problems. A gifted child's perceived inability to stay on task is often related to boredom or curriculum issues. These kids may spend up to one half of classroom time waiting for others to catch up. They will often react to non-challenging situations with various off task behaviors, including disruption of other students.
Are Gifted Children Hyperactive?
Many gifted children are also highly active, but not necessarily hyperactive. A lot of gifted kids require less sleep than their peers. (My son has always slept on average at least a couple hours less than his sister, at the same ages) The difference between gifted children and hyperactive kids is that the gifted kids' activity is more focused. The intensity of their concentration can result in long periods of time directed on the object of interest. It's important to have children evaluated by a qualified professional.