ADHD or Gifted?

What parents need to know.

If you have a bright, bouncy child and you (or a well-meaning teacher) suspect attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - beware! Many experts believe that ADHD is often overdiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Characteristics of ADHD may be shown by many normally-developing children and can also be confused with symptoms of other conditions, such as depression, anxiety, minor seizure disorder or even giftedness.

In fact, distinguishing between giftedness and ADHD is often very difficult to do. Gifted children can appear distracted, inattentive, impulsive and hyperactive too - as a result of boredom related to a mismatch between their intellectual needs and learning environment, or due to their need for an abundance of stimulation.

While children can certainly both be gifted and have ADHD, it pays to be cautious when considering a diagnosis. Medication is often the primary form of treatment for ADHD, and it's not necessary - and potentially harmful - to treat a child for a neurochemical imbalance when providing a more challenging or meaningful curriculum might solve the problem instead.

Keep in mind that it's often best to consider the simplest, least "pathological" explanation for a child's behavior first, before moving on to a medical diagnosis. For this reason, parents of intellectually bright children should seek the advice of someone familiar with both giftedness and ADHD when considering a diagnosis or treatment plan for their own children.

Some signs which may indicate that a child's inattentiveness or hyperactivity is more due to intellectual giftedness rather than ADHD include:

  • Can concentrate for long periods of time on activities that are intellectually challenging, like reading or working on a school project (video games and TV don't count since these activities have built in bells and whistles that are designed to hold the attention of audiences with short attention spans).
  • Tends to becomes overactive or disruptive when working on assigned tasks that are below his or her ability level.
  • Seems to not be paying attention during class or during a conversation - but then is able to correctly answer questions or come up with relevant comments when prompted to do so.