Because there is an overlap between patterns seen in students with inattentive type ADHD and in gifted students a careful assessment is important. A parent who searches the internet for information on gifted children with ADD (ADHD) will find an array of confusing and contradictory information. Many articles argue against using the ADHD label for gifted students because of the negative image associated with ADHD. What these articles ignore, however, is the high, but often hidden price paid by gifted students with undiagnosed ADHD.
What do bright students with inattentive ADD (ADHD) look like?
Children of above average intelligence, with few hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, typically pose no behavior problems in the classroom and often work hard to hide their ADD (ADHD) struggles. This pattern of working hard to hide ADHD struggles is especially true for gifted females. These children often do well in elementary school, where their intelligence more than compensates for the challenges posed by ADD (ADHD).
For some bright students, their unraveling begins in middle school when the demands for productivity, independence, and organization increase dramatically. This is a time when there is a sharply increased demand on the “executive functions” of the brain.
Other students with ADD (ADHD) continue to earn high grades through high school. While their grades may look good, their behind-the-scenes behaviors tell a different story of chronic anxiety, all-night study sessions, homework that takes hours longer than their gifted non-ADD(ADHD) counterparts, struggles with procrastination, and last-minute completion of papers and projects.
Some students with ADD (ADHD) may not encounter significant struggles until they are away at college — where the structures, routines, and supports of home are suddenly missing.
The more academically inclined and more intelligent the student with ADD (ADHD), the later he or she will encounter serious challenges). Some go as far as graduation from medical school, but are unable to pass their medical boards; others complete all requirements for a Ph.D., but never complete the dissertation. And many pass these hurdles, only to encounter significant struggles around executive functioning as they pursue a career in law, medicine, science or other professional pursuits.
Obtaining a correct diagnosis can be difficult
Many gifted students with ADHD are told by professionals that an ADHD diagnosis is impossible given their high level of achievement. This sad, but common occurrence — a denial of the possibility of ADHD — results in many gifted individuals never receiving treatment that can help them to feel and function at their best. Although achievement may be high, what is often ignored is the very high price paid to do so — including chronic anxiety, sleep deprivation, neglected relationships, non-existent social life, disorganized living environment and nagging self-doubts.
What to do if you suspect your gifted child has ADD (ADHD)
ADHD should not be rejected as a possibility because your child is currently doing well academically. Even when academic performance is high, the hidden cost of ADD (ADHD) is often taking a toll. Gifted students with ADD (ADHD) often struggle with anxiety, even when grades are high. They may suffer from boredom when required to do unnecessary, repetitive work that less gifted students may need. The low frustration tolerance of ADHD, combined with the boredom experienced by a gifted student doing unchallenging work, makes such work especially difficult to tolerate.
At the Chesapeake Center we have a particular interest in working with gifted individuals with ADHD at all age levels from elementary school through adulthood. We have worked with highly gifted children and adolescents, with students at highly competitive universities, and with highly accomplished adults who, nevertheless, have struggled with ADHD patterns that cause stress, frustration and inability to function at their full potential.