Gifted children possess several social and emotional characteristics that are sometimes mistaken for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by professionals who may not fully understand what it means to be “gifted.”
A misdiagnosis of ADHD can often be tied to situational factors. For example, consider a gifted child that spends a great deal of their regular classroom time waiting for other children to finish assignments that the gifted child has already completed. Because gifted children are able to understand new concepts and retain novel information more quickly than their peers, they may easily become under-stimulated and bored, which in turn can lead them to behave in disruptive ways such as talking to their neighbours or completing projects that are out of step with what the teacher has asked.
Being more intense and more sensitive are characteristics of gifted children that are often misinterpreted by adults that are witnessing a gifted child’s emotional responses, rivalry with siblings, power struggles with authority figures, physical restlessness, and heightened motor activity. A lack of understanding of these characteristics by parents, educators and even health professionals can lead to a mistaken diagnosis of ADHD.
This topic is discussed in detail in the book titled Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults (2005) by James Webb, Edward Amend, Nadia Webb, Jean Goerss, Paul Beljan, and Richard Olenchak. I recommend this book to my clients because it outlines how normal behaviours for gifted children can be pathologized when not viewed from the appropriate perspective.
I also recommend additional books on the topic of giftedness.
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Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta