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Is it ADHD or Gifted?

As school moves into routine, you may be hearing that your child is having a hard time sitting still, paying attention, completing school tasks and may even be failing. The thought may be that your child needs a quick evaluation for ADHD at the doctor’s office. But, let’s take a step back for a moment. Gifted children often under perform in school with some studies suggesting as many as 30% drop out of high school. The majority of symptoms often attributed to ADHD are actually the same that can be observed in gifted children. Here are some ideas that may help:

  1. Using a check-list of behaviours as the main method of assessment is a big problem. Symptoms of inattention or distractibility may be due to a gifted child not being challenged in class or not having an opportunity to practice what they are good at. It may have nothing to do with the neural deregulation that we see with ADHD.

  2. Grades are a poor indicator of gifted potential. Many school districts still utilize a strictly “IQ” model of identifying gifted children. Progressive schools will use the Renzulli model of giftedness which points to the need for ability, creativity and task commitment. Your child may be exceptional at reading, or playing an instrument, or chess, or sports, or public speaking, or painting, or drawing, but be disabled in writing. For more on the Renzulli model read this short summary:

  3. Gifted children may also have ADHD and a Learning Disability. This really complicates things and means a comprehensive assessment with very specific school strategies is needed.

  4. Gifted children are very oppositional. You say right, they say left. They are often also much smarter than the teacher, or you, the parent. Gifted children do not have Oppositional Defiant Disorder. They are simply doing what they do, arguing a point, making a statement or fighting for what they believe in. Diagnosing and medicating this gifted trait is a tragedy.

  5. Gifted children need opportunities to work on what they are passionate about. Young children generally are not proficient at most things. You need to foster their interests and give them hours to practice the skills necessary to become great. A child who loves and shows a tendency to excel at chemistry does not need more trips to the local theatre to study the arts. They need a mentor and more time in the chemistry lab. Enrichment should be specific to your child.

  6. It’s very Canadian to believe that your child is not gifted and that likely they inherited some of their gifts from you the parent. But, it’s true. Often you need to really dig, sometimes quite deeply, to find that area or skill that your child has. Don’t let them settle for average when they have the potential for greatness. The challenge is to help them find, nurture, cultivate and celebrate it.

  7. The next time someone tries to tell you your child has ADHD, start thinking of the possibility that perhaps it could be a gifted, very frustrated child who learned to read and do math years ago. Help them love school again by finding out the truth, and then giving them the opportunity for greatness. Get started today.

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