The gifted child or adolescent with AD/HD may not
fit classical definitions of educationally handicapped or gifted.
On one hand, he may be able to use his skills to cover up the AD/HD
and thus never receive help or guidance. On the other hand, he may be
doubly handicapped, the minority within a minority who cannot fit into
either accelerated classes or special education settings.
Giftedness has been defined in a variety of ways.
In the past, giftedness was defined by a global score on an IQ
test. More recently, professionals have been interested in looking at
different types of talents instead of a global number. The term gifted is
often used to refer to students with academic gifts in language or
mathematics. Individuals with specific gifts in the areas of art, music or
athletic performance are sometimes called talented.
In this paper, I will be focusing on AD/HD students with great
strengths in verbal or mathematical skills.
Gifted children and children with AD/HD can share many characteristics.
Both groups may tend to question authority. A gifted child without AD/HD
may become restless or even disruptive if the curriculum is not
challenging. Some teachers may not appreciate a gifted child’s creative
solutions to problems. Some studies have suggested that gifted children
may be more active and sleep less than normal children. In the past, many
educators felt that the gifted showed “across the board achievement.”
More recent studies show that unevenness in abilities is greater in
the gifted than in people with average intellectual ability. Unlike AD/HD
children, gifted children usually pay attention quite well when placed in
accelerated classes. An exception is the small group of profoundly gifted
children whose abilities are so divergent that regular programs for the
gifted cannot serve them. In
this small group, there may be an increased incidence of educational and
emotional problems whether or not AD/HD is present.
A gifted student with AD/HD may have particular challenges. A bright
individual, often more self-aware, is more likely to perceive himself as
inadequate. If the task is repetitive or below the student’s achievement
level, he will tune out all the faster. Consequently, he will miss out on
vital information presented later in the lesson. The same student,
engaged, can perform brilliantly. Teachers may interpret poor performance
as laziness or conflicts with particular teachers. In some cases, AD/HD
students may spend time in resource room, unequipped to meet his or her
a student is gifted and also has AD/HD, while tests may indicate that he
is gifted while he is performing at only an average level in classes. His
homework and class work may be poor but his actual test and exam grades
may be excellent. A student may be placed in a slower curriculum because
the school may place many types of special needs students together. The
student, bored and frustrated, may act out more, making administrators
less likely to place him in a more challenging curriculum. This last
situation may lead to a paradox for the student and his parents. While,
they may feel that an unchallenging curriculum is exacerbating the
child’s inattention or impulsivity, the school, on the other hand, may
resist placing the student into an accelerated class until he can show
Proper evaluation and diagnosis is
comprehensive assessment should include a careful psychiatric evaluation
to diagnose the AD/HD. The psychiatrist should also look closely for signs
of depression, anxiety and other conditions that can co-exist with AD/HD.
Psychological and educational testing are important parts the evaluation
as well. Psychiatrists and psychologists often use continuous performance
tests to help assess AD/HD. The manual for the (Tests of Variables of
Attention) TOVA suggests that a score within the average range may
actually be abnormal in an individual with an IQ in the gifted range. Gaps
between intellectual ability and actual performance may indicate areas of
learning disability. If the student is particularly creative, the parents
may want to bring a portfolio of his work to the assessment.
evaluation is beneficial even if the student doing fairly good work in
school. Many bright adults are not diagnosed until they are much older. As
children, they used their superior intellectual and creative abilities to
develop their own learning strategies. Sometimes, this produces a
creative, individualistic adult. Often, though, they experience the
chronic strain of trying to compensate, and the shame of low achievement.
gifted student may be eager to know more about his diagnosis. He may want
a more technical explanation of the biological and psychological basis of
AD/HD. In some cases, the
clinician and family watch in amazement as the student takes the
information and “runs with it.” A
better understanding makes it easier to develop coping strategies. For
those too inattentive to read books, there are books on tape about AD/HD.
Treatment is often multi-modal.
Many treatments are similar to those recommended for individuals of
average intelligence. These can include medication, behavioral programming
and therapy. For some students, this may decrease or even eliminate the
need for educational accommodation. Such a student may be excited and
relieved when truly able to experience his great talents. If a learning
disability (LD) is present, or if the AD/HD does not respond to
medication, one may need to modify the school situation.
AD/HD students may be enrolled in either public or private schools. In the
public schools, parents and staff can arrange educational modifications
through 504 plans or an IEP (Individual Education Plan).
In other cases, modifications are arranged on an informal basis. A
student with an IQ of 135 who maintains passing grades only through hours
of arduous supervised nightly homework, is still educationally
handicapped. In Pennsylvania, giftedness is specifically recognized as a
special education condition. In some other states, it may be more
difficult to get special education services for highly gifted students who
are performing at grade level. Informal agreements such as preferential
seating, extra homework reminders, and a lower homework volume can help.
Some gifted AD/HD students can benefit from being moved into more
accelerated classes with special accommodations.
private schools work well with bright AD/HD and LD students. The
curriculum, along with smal classes, tutoring on site and involved parent
organizations, can serve such students well, espeically since social
skills development are built in. However, private schools are expensive,
and may have waiting lists.
the past decade, admission to traditional private schools has become much
more competitive. This has made it more difficult for bright students with
even mild AD/HD to secure admission to some schools. Parents should seek
some guidance about which school might be best for their child. Many
students with minimal LD and well-controlled AD/HD can do quite well in
these schools. It is best if the school can provide small classes, some
degree of structure without rigidity. The curriculum should still allow
the student to express his areas of brilliance.
can do many things at home to help stimulate a gifted AD/HD student. The
parents themselves are often bright, energetic, and creative. They can
provide appropriate learning situations for their child or adolescent at
home. They might obtain accelerated material that is presented in a manner
that captures his attention. This could include the truly educational
computer programs, or special science and writing camps. Day trips and
other excursions can provide the opportunity for informal teaching and
learning. For instance, a parent might take his middle school offspring to
yard sales to teach the microeconomic concept of supply and demand. From
there, one can move to a discussion of barter economies in various parts
of the world. A parent can encourage a child or adolescent who is
artistically talented or writes well, a parent can encourage him to keep a
portfolio of his work.
gifted and AD/HD individuals may have to deal with the feeling of being
different from others. Sometimes, bright individuals who experience chronic
frustration can develop narcissism as a defense against low self-esteem.
Be empathic, and nurture his special gifts. At the same time, help him
realize that he must live with other people in the world.
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County Psychiatric Associates
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