Born to Explore!   The Other Side of ADD


Home
What is ADD?
Causes
Positive/Alternative
Books
Discussion Board

Links
About BTE

stars-5-0.gif (240 bytes)

Books I recommend:

edtrait

The Edison Trait: Saving the Spirit of Your Nonconforming Child (Dynamos, Discoverers and Dreamers)

 

BEYOND.GIF (8227 bytes)

Beyond ADD: Hunting for Reasons in the Past & the Present by Thom Hartmann

 

The Minds of Boys:
Saving our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life

The ADD Nutrition Solution

More   books...

 

 

Gifted or ADD?

Parents, if your child seems bright then please, please, PLEASE have a qualified psychologist evaluate him or her for giftedness BEFORE you accept a diagnosis of ADD and medication.

Gifted children and adults are at high risk for being identified as ADD.  Most people, including most medical professionals, do not realize giftedness is often associated with the following behaviors:

  • underachieving
  • anger and frustration 
  • high energy, intensity, fidgeting, impulsivity
  • individualistic, nonconforming, stubborn
  • disorganization, sloppy, poor handwriting
  • forgetful, absentminded, daydreams
  • emotional, moody
  • low interest in details

Moreover, sometimes adults do not realize a child is gifted because they don't really know what "gifted" means.  Or they may believe a child is both ADD and gifted. As a result, many gifted children these days are being medicated for a brain defect they probably don't have. 

Most people have an incorrect view of gifted children and adults.  The "gifted" are supposed to be model students, teaching themselves how to spell and perfect their grammar, win spelling bees, have perfect social skills and become neurosurgeons.  This is true of SOME gifted children and adults.   Many others, however, act out and space out in boring school settings, and their increasing anger and frustration may lead to oppositional behavior and underachievement.   They may have sloppy handwriting because of fast thought processes, miss details, and be unorganized and forgetful. Gifted adults are not always easy to spot, either.   They are housewives, teachers, and carpenters, and they may not even realize they are gifted.  Some even believe they are stupid.

There is some evidence that as many as half of all kids with IQs above 130 get below average grades, and in one study 13% of high school drop outs were gifted. In another study, a full 25% of children diagnosed with ADHD tested so high in creativity tests they qualified for state scholarships.  I recently spoke with a consultant for the gifted who said about half of the gifted boys referred to her had been told they were probably ADD.  Complicating matters is the uneven types of intelligence many people have.  People labeled ADD often have a "visual/spatial" type of intelligence that confuses many teachers and parents.   They might have trouble reading or spelling but have outstanding abstract reasoning abilities and become bored very quickly in traditional schools.

Proponents of the gifted assert that it is usually problems with the school environment that are to blame for behavior problems and underachievement, not any problem with the child.  You will not hear this from school officials or most psychiatrists, however.  They believe it must be a brain defect.

Parents, if your child seems bright then please, please, PLEASE have a qualified person evaluate him or her for giftedness BEFORE you accept a diagnosis of ADD and medication.

Gifted children MUST have an education that fits their needs.  If they don't, they should be expected to act out or space out, and it is NOT their fault!  Placing them on medication so that they can tolerate a more boring school is absurd.  There are much better options available, such as home schooling, alternative schools and grade skipping. 

How is "Gifted" Defined? There is no consensus as to how "gifted" should be defined, except everyone seems to agree that people with an IQ of 130 or greater are definitely gifted.  But people with lower overall IQs can also be gifted by other avenues:

  • Creative-Gifted: Demonstrated creativity or high score on the Torrence Creativity test (above an IQ of 120 there is no correlation between IQ and creativity scores);
  • Demonstration of exceptional skills in a domain, like math or art;
  • Visual-Spatial thinkers are often gifted but may score below their actual level of intelligence on IQ tests (very high abstract reasoning, visual-spatial skills);
  • Sometimes "gifted" is defined as the smartest two percent, which correlates to an IQ of 125.

The fuzzy nature of the term "gifted" is apparent when one considers an idiot savant who cannot handle simple math but is a gifted pianist. 

The IQ cutoff of 130 is completely arbitrary. It's not like one child with an IQ of 130 is gifted rather than ADD and the next child with an IQ of 125 is "disordered" simply because he does not meet the threshold for giftedness.   A child with an IQ of 120 may be considered "bright" or "superior" rather than gifted, but is just as likely to be bored by a school ciriculum designed for kids with an IQ of 85.

Of special interest here is the concept of the visual/spatial thinker.  These people are at high risk for an ADD diagnosis and are also likely to be gifted.  They are often brighter than their IQ scores. Visual/spatial thinkers often have outstanding abilities in abstract reasoning, visual/spatial skills, and problem solving.  However, they have relative weaknesses in processing auditory information and sequencing, and are often poor at spelling and phonics.  Such people are also called "right-brained."  Visual/spatial children are at high risk for school problems because they become bored very quickly and dislike repetition and drills.  They are likely to act out or space out in school. Such children often need to be accelerated or homeschooled. The Gifted Development Center has done quite a bit of research on visual-spatial learners and has some excellent information at www.gifteddevelopment.com/VSL_List.htm.

Why do Gifted people act the way they do?   One reason is that gifted people become bored easily in settings that average people find tolerable (like school or work).  Boredom leads to restlessness, and restlessness leads to all sorts of problems.  Fast thought processes can lead not only to boredom but to poor handwriting, errors in simple work, disorganization and sloppiness.

In addition, brighter people tend to exhibit more "overexcitabilities" than average people. This has been well demonstrated in studies.  The five overexcitabilities that have been identified are:

Overexcitibilities Negative Perspective
Physical hyperactive, fidgety, restless, impulsive
Emotional moody, temperamental, prone to depression and anxiety
Intellectual head in the clouds, inattentive to surroundings
Sensual picky eater, over-reacts to physical discomforts
Imaginational daydreams, inattentive

For more information about the concept of overexcitabilities see Overexcitabilities Used to Predict Giftedness.

Getting an Assessment:
Your school system may have some resources available as a start.  If you use them, you must be on your guard, because serious mistakes can be made.  Of special concern is the inability of school to identify very gifted student, such as those with IQs of 160, or 170.  Such students are more common than most people realize and require VERY different schooling. A child with an IQ of 170 is completely different from a child with an IQ of 130. I recommend that parents go beyond the school system if at all possible. 

Look for a QUALIFIED psychologist. You can start with a list maintained by Hoagies Gifted Education Page at www.hoagiesgifted.org/psych.htm.   An appropriate assessment is going to cost you some money.  BUT, your child's future depends on it, so open up your wallet and start counting.  Make sure the consultant knows about creative/gifted characteristics and visual/spatial learning styles, because these are common with kids labeled ADD.  If your child will be tested for creativity (recommended for ADD children) the Torrence Test for creativity should be used.  An outside consultant is far more likely to give you an unbiased opinion about what you need to do for your child's education.  Most people associated with the school are more interested in preserving the status quo at the school rather than in helping your child.   School personnel are extremely unlikely to advocated grade skipping, for example.

Grade Skipping:
This is an excellent option for some kids, but you can expect the school to oppose it because of ignorance and misplaced egalitarianism. Children without any serious existing social problems should adjust quite well. I have found excellent information about grade skipping at Hoagies Gifted, including information about studies (all studies support grade skipping) and how to put together a portfolio in support of a grade skip.  Parents of underachieving gifted students may have an especially difficult time convincing the school their child deserves a skip, since personnel tend to believe such children don't deserve to be accelerated. 

A very important point with grade skipping is that it is done on a trial basis for six to ten weeks.  It will be easy to see if it's not working, and the child is simply place back in his or her former level.

Great resources at Hoagies Gifted:
Advocating for a Grade Skip: A Portfolio of Research
Grade Skipped and Successful

Another method of acceleration is to allow a child to attend higher grades for certain subjects.  For example, a 2nd grade child who is ahead in math, but not in reading, would visit a 3rd grade classroom for math. 

Enrichment Programs
School "Gifted" programs usually are in the form of enrichment rather than acceleration.  These programs have drawbacks and are not usually as successful as acceleration.   Such programs can backfire on the students because they are identified publicly as gifted and may become afraid of failing when they get back to their regular class.  Or, they may feel like they are being punished for being smart by having to do more work.  An excellent essay on the subject posted at Hoagies Gifted is "Horizontal Enrichment vs. Vertical Acceleration."  

Alternative Education:
Homeschooling is by far the most popular option and growing rapidly in popularity.   This is an outstanding option for parents who can do it. People worry WAY too much about "socialization."  Kids these days don't learn socialization skills at school, they learn anti-socialization skills.   Like teasing, bullying, and how to form clicks and exclude anyone who doesn't "fit in".  The school-yard and bus-ride pecking order is similar to "Lord of the Flies." Often gifted children and children identified as ADD take the brunt of this sort of abuse and may be traumatized for life.  There are plenty of socialization opportunities for homeschoolers, including sports, clubs, playing with friends, camps, volunteering, etc.

Homeschooled children are, on average, ahead of their peers academically, often by several years. And they spend less time studying because there is less time wasted.  Homeschooled children are eagerly accepted by colleges, where they perform BETTER than other children. Gifted children usually do very well when they are homeschooled. Studies are showing that homeschooled children are getting a much better education that kids in the public schools (especially in the U.S., partly because standards in American public schools are so low.)

The specific requirements for homeschooling vary.  In the U.S., check with your state. In some regions, children are allowed to attend public school on a part-time basis.

There is a tremendous amount of information about homeschooling on the Internet, and there is no reason for me to duplicate that.  An excellent website to start with is The Homeschool Legal Defense Association.  You can find regional requirements from this website.

There are also alternative types of schools, such as the Montessori School.  For more information see my page on Alternative Education.

Be Cautious With Labels
Labeling a child "gifted" can cause problems.   Children who are told they succeed because they are smart often fear failure.   They feel they are judged by their level of intelligence and success is due not to effort, but to intelligence.  Failure means they may not be as smart as everyone thinks. Therefore, they may avoid trying anything unless they are certain to succeed.

It is much better to tell a child he or she is being advanced because of hard work, because that encourages more effort in the future.  I tell my son he is a better reader because he reads more than his friends, not because he is smarter.  And that he is better in math because he works with numbers more than his friends.  For more information see the article "Praise Children for Effort, Not Intelligence, Study Says."

Can't Someone Be Both Gifted and ADD?
If by "ADD" you mean they meet the diagnostic criteria for ADD, then absolutely.  But that doesn't mean they have a brain defect.  Remember that ADD is really just a description of behavior that MAY OR MAY NOT be caused by a brain defect.

The environmental causes of brain defects leading to ADD include things like lead poisoning and exposure to drugs as a fetus.  These factors also reduce IQ.  So it seems rather improbable that a high-IQ person also has such a brain defect.  Not impossible, but not likely, either.

You cannot tell whether ADD-like behavior in a gifted person is normal gifted behavior or caused by a brain defect. It's simply not possible.   I've read that you can try and identify ADD in gifted people based on whether the gifted person tends to finish the projects they start.  I disagree.  There is natural temperament variation with regard to convergent and divergent thinking.    Divergent thinking is perfectly normal and is related to creative thinking and disorganization.   Under MBTI temperament theory, "Perceivers" prefer to start projects rather than finish them, and tend to be disorganized and run late for appointments.  A gifted Perceiver with overexcitabilities will have a very strong drive to start new projects.  Finishing projects and not starting so many new ones is definitely a learned skill for such people. 

The bottom line is that you cannot tell if a gifted person's behavior is due to a brain defect.  So why identify them as having a brain defect?

If Meds Work, Then Why Not Use Them?
Stimulant medications allow gifted children and adults to attend to things they otherwise find too boring.  That is exactly how the medications feel, too. They make boring things interesting.  Like organizing toys instead of learning how to play chess, practicing addition instead of learning multiplication, or filing papers instead of troubleshooting coorporate problems.

Stimulants allow gifted people to thrive in environments in which they were not meant to be.  A child who is teaching himself division should not be required to spend endless hours in school practicing 5 + 4.  An adult with abstract reasoning abilities in the 99th percentile should not try and spend four hours filing.  The solution to problem behavior in the Gifted is to change the environment, not to change the Gifted person's brain.

Medications DO work, if your goal is to shove a square peg into a round hole.  But is that worthy goal?  Why can't the Gifted be different?   Why should they have to pretend to be like everyone else? Why should a child with an IQ of 140 be forced to twiddle his thumbs for six hours a day in order to please the teacher, and be happy about it?  Does this make sense?

Related Links:

Mis-Diagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children (ADD vs Gifted)
Hoagies Gifted Education Page (Great practical info for parents)
Gifted Development Center (**good info on visual/spatial learners)
Diagnosing ADD in Gifted Children
The National Foundation for Gifted & Creative Children

Why Do So Many Smart Kids With ADD Fail In Our Public Schools, by Thom Hartmann
Educational Options (includes articles about gifted children and adults)
Quotes on Gifted and Creative Children

Simon's Rock College (a college in New England for high school kids)
The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented
Creativity and Counseling ERIC Clearinghouse

The Theory of Positive Disintegration by Kazimierz Dabrowski Presented by Bill Tillier
Fostering Academic Creativity in Gifted Students

Gifted Children With Learning Disabilities
Creativity
ADHD and Children who are Gifted
Gifted and Learning Disabled?
The Torrance Center for Creative Studies, University of Georgia

 

All BTE pages were written by Teresa Gallagher unless otherwise noted and may be photocopied (but not reprinted) without permission.  BTE Web Design now creates websites for small businesses. Perhap "BTE" really means "Born to Entrepreneur..."