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Can Gifted Children Be Misdiagnosed With Multiple Disorders?

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 1/17/2012

Has your gifted child been diagnosed with ADHD, OCD, ODD, or a different disorder? Make sure that the diagnosis is correct before acting on it. The misdiagnosis of gifted children can be catastrophic, and yet it happens all the time.

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    Why Your Child Might Be Misdiagnosed

    Gifted children have many skills and abilities that are beyond that of the regular population. Ironically, it is those very skills and abilities that can cause them to be misdiagnosed. After all, most people are not as intense as some gifted children, who tend to question and express idealism. In addition, gifted children often have difficulty getting along with their peers because they are on a different intellectual level, which can lead to various problems. Identifying the misdiagnosis of gifted children can be essential in getting the services that can help those children learn effectively.

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    Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

    Because gifted children are often especially intense, emotionally sensitive, and physically active, they may be misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Although some gifted children do, in fact, struggle with ADHD, many do not. A good litmus test for whether your child truly exhibits signs of ADHD is whether her impulsive behaviors occur only in certain places, or at certain times of the day. For example, a gifted student may seem impulsive or inattentive at school, but calm and attentive in an after-school program she enjoys. This scenario probably rules out ADHD, and other contributing factors should be considered.

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    Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

    Gifted children often question authority even more than their peers. After all, they understand the logic behind many rules and phenomena, so when they don’t understand the rationale behind a demand, they may insist that it is illogical and refuse to obey. They tend to question much more than their peers, which can be seen as defiant, and can therefore be misdiagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) because of their seemingly rebellious behavior.

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    Mood Disorders

    Some gifted children are misdiagnosed with mood disorders. Although depression is not uncommon in gifted children, it is often caused by shattered idealism or the feeling of being an outsider, rather than by a mood disorder. Helping your child socialize more effectively can often minimize the effects of this depression and shorten its duration.

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    Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

    From a young age, gifted children often like to organize objects and events into logical orders. They also may become obsessed with perfection, to the point where they seem unable to tolerate small mistakes. This can lead to a misdiagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder. This misdiagnosis of gifted children may not seem as extreme as some of the others, but carrying around a label that does not belong to them can make children feel even more “different” and misunderstood.

References

Parenting Gifted and Talented Children

Looking for some tips for parents of gifted and talented children? The articles in this series will discuss the issues you're wondering about concerning your gifted child.
  1. When to Be Concerned About Giftedness: Possible Problems with Talented Kids
  2. Can Gifted Children Be Misdiagnosed With Multiple Disorders?
  3. Is Your Toddler Gifted? Effective Activities for Gifted Toddlers