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The Differences Between Gifted and Non-Gifted Children with ADHD

written by: Lynn-nore Chittom • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 5/22/2011

This article addresses the relationship between gifted children and ADHD. It provides a detailed description of the characteristics and traits typical of gifted and non-gifted children with the disorder.

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    Gifted versus Bright

    Before addressing the specific relationship between gifted children and ADHD, it is important to have a working understanding of the distinction between bright and gifted. Here is a simple comparison

    Bright Children

    • Know the answers
    • Work hard
    • Pay attention
    • Answer questions
    • Are good at memorizing
    • Complete assignments
    • Learn easily
    • Enjoy school
    • Are Satisfied with their own learning

    Gifted Children

    • Ask questions
    • Are inattentive, but test well
    • Are mentally and physically involved
    • Question the answers
    • Good at guessing
    • Initiate projects
    • Already know the answers
    • Enjoy learning
    • Are highly self-critical of their performance
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    Non-Gifted Children and ADHD

    Average children with ADHD typically struggle in areas of hyperactivity or inattentiveness or both. They may be easily distracted by surrounding activities and feel the need to move around in their seat. They may have difficulties concentrating or paying attention and be prone to daydreaming. They may sometimes over focus on an activity of interest and neglect common tasks in their surroundings. They may be socially awkward and have difficulties with peers their own age, as children with ADHD are generally two to three years behind their peers socially and emotionally. They might be prone to impulsive and potentially dangerous activities.

    These sorts of traits are common for individuals with ADHD and generally present problems for students in school. Non-gifted students with ADHD may not be paying attention when instructions are given and therefore cannot figure out classroom or homework assignments. Their hyperactivity can become distracting in the classroom and lead to discipline issues. Their intense passion for a specific hobby or activity, such as a sport, a toy, a movie, or a game, may distract them from the learning process in the classroom and lead to disciplinary problems as their interests draw attention from other students. Average students with ADHD may be continually frustrated in the classroom as they feel distracted or confined, depending on their tendency toward inattentiveness or hyperactivity.

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    Gifted children and ADHD

    Gifted children with ADHD suffer from many of the same basic ADHD characteristics as non-gifted children, but the outcome is visibly different. While both gifted and non-gifted children may be distracted when instructions are given, gifted children can often determine what is expected of them without additional assistance. When gifted children over focus on an activity they frequently draw attention to themselves through the creativity of their response to the subject of interest. For example, a gifted child with ADHD may feel passionate about a topic such as conservation or recycling and decide to embark on a social campaign to enact change in their neighborhood, school or community. In this way, their ability to over focus works to their advantage.

    In terms of social skills, gifted children with ADHD are also two to three years behind in their maturity; however their ability for compassion and emotion is far superior to their non-gifted peers. Gifted children with ADHD often respond to the needs of those around them with sensitivity, patience, and gentleness. Examples of this can be seen when gifted children with ADHD respond to a hurt friend, a younger child, or an ailing grandparent. Gifted children with ADHD are often surprisingly intuitive about the emotional state of their surroundings, but can likewise exhibit fears which might never occur to average students their age.

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    Hidden Issues

    The primary difficulty in the relationship between gifted children and ADHD is in recognizing their giftedness and identifying their ADHD. Frequently the giftedness masks the ADHD and the ADHD masks the giftedness. For example, students who are making good grades because they are highly capable of figuring out the instructions on their own, might be inadvertently masking the effects of the myriad of distractions they are navigating every day due to their ADHD.

    Often times, this situation presents as a wall that appears in late elementary school when the work becomes more complex and peer distractions in the classroom cause students who were previously able to figure out their work to suddenly fall behind and express feelings of being overwhelmed. In this case the giftedness is masking the ADHD.

    In other cases, students who are highly advanced in their social sensitivities and reasoning abilities do poorly in other basic subjects. For example, a student may do very well in reading comprehension, a skill which is based on superior logic, but may perform poorly in subjects that require attentiveness and memorization such as spelling or math. This inability with basic subject material is due in part to the frustration that gifted children with ADHD experience when they are required to do a task which does not involve creativity. In this situation the ADHD is masking the giftedness because academic achievement appears low.

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    Conclusion

    The primary difference between non-gifted and gifted children with ADHD is their ability to navigate the struggles and challenges presented by their disorder. Where non-gifted children often present with trouble academically, socially and emotionally, gifted children demonstrate surprising strengths in the midst of their weaknesses.