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Gifted Children and Attention Deficit Disorder

Updated on July 3, 2008
Photo: presta, Flickr
Photo: presta, Flickr

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 to see how many traits are shared. (These lists come from the results of two different scientific studies.)

Behaviors Associated with ADHD:

  1. Poorly sustained attention in almost all situations
  2. Diminished persistence on tasks not having immediate consequences
  3. Impulsivity, poor delay of gratification
  4. Impaired adherence to commands to regulate or inhibit behavior in social contexts
  5. More active, restless than normal children
  6. Difficulty adhering to rules and regulations

Behaviors Associated with Giftedness:

  1. Poor attention, boredom, daydreaming in specific situations
  2. Low tolerance for persistence on tasks that seem irrelevant
  3. Judgment lags behind development of intellect
  4. Intensity may lead to power struggles with authorities
  5. 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.


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  • Silver Poet profile image

    Silver Poet 7 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

    Many persons with ADHD are also extremely bright. It is sometimes difficult for them to apply their gifted-ness because of their lack of concentrating ability. Hopefully those who need professional assistance will get it.

  • profile image

    teacher 7 years ago

    I love my G&T kids as well as my ADHD kids. I had a student whose teacher in middle school didn't believe in ADHD and refused to let him go to the nurse to take his meds at lunchtime. So mom said 'ok, let's do it YOUR way.' Less than two weeks later he was climbing the walls and driving people crazy. I have one that I have to kick out of class three days in a row if he's on one of his tears. I do teach creatively. So, I don't think it's really fair to blame teachers for a cure all. I think there's got to be parental responsibility, teacher involvement and student accountability. And exercise. Plenty of it. And don't discount a sugar free diet. My own child is G&T. She eats sugar and she's insane. It didn't take long to figure that out.

  • fishtiger58 profile image

    fishtiger58 8 years ago from Momence, Illinois

    I remember my son's pre k teacher saying to me that he asks questions no 4 year old should know to ask. He is now a senior in high school and is the salutatorian of his class. He will be going to Perdue on a full 4 year scholarship. Really great article.

  • OTmommy profile image

    OTmommy 8 years ago from Southern USA

    This article has great information and links! I have a daughter who is definately bright but has many traits of GT, and will soon be tested for it through our school's gifted and talented program. Her never endings questions and boundless amount of energy don't bother me. Most adults say to me how smart she is and that she is such a problem-solver. I just want her to receive the most appropriate education.

  • lashaemrey58 profile image

    lashaemrey58 8 years ago


  • Lady Guinevere profile image

    Debra Allen 9 years ago from West By God

    I forgot to mention. Look up information on Indigo and Crystal Children. That will be helpful too.

  • Lady Guinevere profile image

    Debra Allen 9 years ago from West By God

    Wow, yes they are very similar. You have a hard road ahead of you. I really don't think there is such a thing as ADD. It all boils down to john and mary paying attention to the teacher who is oblivious to anything but peace and quiet and a classroom full of robots. Once they took Phys Ed out of the schools they really began to see the changes in children's personalities all the way to their emotional and mental functions. Then they put it back in the schools--some at leat. My children are grown and out of the school system. What the schools should do is give much more play time and incorporate all the reading writing and math into the arts and craative things--not the opposite.

    My daughter was very active and seemed to never stop. We didn't supress that-we let it grow and she was fine. It is when the school system supresses and tries to control every little thing that the children do is when they have problems. Some children and adults do not adhere well to that.

    To suppliment and grow my daughters curiousity and creativity I used to take her and her sister out to say Dairy Queen, then I would tell them how they made the ice cream and where all the things were that they made there and just a general background. They liked it--because they saw it as an outing and they got to learn how things are made and done. I would do this sort of thing in just about any setting. It would spark more questions and answers and keep her mind going. My daughter never went to sleep until after 11:00 P.M. and this was from the age of 3 up until Middle School. I finally after several nights of trying to get her to go to sleep just told her to go to her room and she could do anything she wanted like read and draw and that type stuff but not to come out until mom and dad were awake. It worked and we didn'thave any unruly behavior. You just have to find what works for you child and NEVER give up becasue a gifted child will and does know it. Don't under estimate them either--they know things that you don't think they do and they are very perceptive.