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Differentiating Giftedness From ADHD

written by: Mayflor Markusic • edited by: goldwriter • updated: 1/5/2012

Oftentimes, a child's gifted ability is mistaken as ADHD because of the similarities between the symptoms of the latter and the conduct disorders of the former. As a result, gifted and talented children remain unidentified. How can you differentiate between giftedness and ADHD?

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    Has Your Child Been Misdiagnosed?

    Giftedness and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are two cases of special education needs that are widely different from each other. The latter is a developmental condition that will need medical intervention in order for the affected child to function at near normal levels. The former, on the other hand, does not need medical attention. Giftedness is not an illness, but it is not anywhere near normal.

    Unlike ADHD children who need to develop coping skills to attain acceptable levels of normalcy, the gifted and talented children are not being helped so that they become "normal." In fact, the giftedness of these special children are developed so that they reach their fullest potential. Unfortunately, one of the too common problems and challenges of gifted children is being diagnosed incorrectly. The characteristics of giftedness is often mistaken as symptoms of ADHD.

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    Similarity of Behaviors

    It is understandable for most people to wrongly interpret the behavior of gifted children as the behavioral symptoms of ADHD. The observed conduct disorders of gifted children appears like the more publicized characteristics of ADHD children. For example, both the ADHD child and the gifted child will have a poorly sustained attention span. In the case of the ADHD child, the poor attention is probably caused by an altered brain function. The gifted child, on the other hand, is not paying attention because of boredom.

    Another similarity of behavior is the seemingly inability to persist at a given task. That is, both the ADHD child and the gifted child usually end up with too many unfinished projects that can easily frustrate a teacher. And still another similarity is the almost unexplained defiance against figures of authority or against social rules. And last but not the least, both the ADHD child and the gifted child will exhibit restlessness.

    Fortunately for the special education teachers, there are ways to separate the gifted children from those who have ADHD.

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    Ways to Differentiate

    A close examination of similar behaviors would differentiate the gifted child from the ADHD child. For example, the poorly sustained attention of gifted children is due to the lack of intellectual challenge presented before them. These children move on to daydreaming because the world that they created in their minds is more interesting. The special education teacher may present a more interesting task and check if the child is actually capable of sustained attention. If child is, then the child is gifted and not suffering from ADHD.

    Another way to differentiate giftedness from ADHD is to examine the tasks that the children have left uncompleted. If the uncompleted task has no immediate results, it could have been left behind by a child with ADHD. This is because instant gratification is important to the ADHD child. If the uncompleted task has no relevance or of low importance, it could have been left behind by a bored gifted child. Challenge and meaningfulness are important to the gifted child.

    The giftedness of a child does not automatically endow him with wisdom or patience. This is why he will exhibit defiance against authority and social rules. The gifted child would want to challenge the authority, which may end up in a power struggle between the teacher and the student. The ADHD child, on the other hand, simply has no concept of authority and could not easily follow the rules of social behavior.

    Although both the gifted child and the ADHD child will appear restless, the conduct disorders of the gifted child will occur only in specific situations. At other situations, he/she will demonstrate fairly consistent levels of academic performance. The ADHD child will be restless and disruptive in all situations and will exhibit extremely variable levels of performance.

    These are just some of the ways to differentiate the gifted and talented children from those who have ADHD. Knowing the difference between the superficially similar behaviors between the gifted children and the ADHD children will lead to a correct diagnosis. Ultimately, it will lead to the significant reduction of social problems and the development of the full potential of gifted and talented children.