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:
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:
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:
For more information about the concept of overexcitabilities see Overexcitabilities Used to Predict Giftedness.
Getting an Assessment:
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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?
Mis-Diagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted
Children (ADD vs Gifted)
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