Gifted Student with Attention Deficit Disorder

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

unique needs. 



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

improved performance.


Proper evaluation and diagnosis is

essential. The

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

Offices in Monkton and Lutherville, Maryland