Gifted People and ADHD: What You Need to Know
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental difference that affects millions of people worldwide. ADHD is often associated with poor academic performance and behavioral problems. When people think of ADHD they think of a hyper active, little boy who is out of control and getting in trouble all of the time. They don't think of a day dreaming girl with straight A's, or a computer programmer who can't remember to check his emails. Both of these people look successful on the outside, and likely have high anxiety and lots of self doubt on the inside. Recent research supports what I see in my practice all of the time, that many gifted children and adults have ADHD that has gone undetected because it presents in a less obvious way than their average peers.
What I have observed over the years in my practice is what some researchers have also noted. They suggest, the number of gifted people with ADHD is likely similar to that of the general population, but underreported because gifted people tend to score higher on assessments and may seem unimpaired when observed by clinicians who are not familiar with the nuances of the gifted population (Lovecky(0), Misperceptions About giftedness Diagnosis of ADHD and Other Disorders).
With this in mind, let’s explore the relationship between ADHD and giftedness and how to support gifted people with ADHD where they need it the most.
First, I'll define what I mean by giftedness. Gifted individuals are those who naturally demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude or competence in one or more domains. They may possess advanced knowledge, skills, or creativity beyond what is expected for their age or grade level with the ability to learn more quickly and deeply, with fewer repetitions than average in those areas.
ADHD, is a neurological difference that affects attention, hyperactivity, sensory processing and impulsivity. It can have a significant impact on academic performance, social relationships, and emotional well-being. It is a medical diagnosis, and cannot be given by educators, most school psychologists or coaches. While ADHD is often associated with poor academic or work performance, current research shows that gifted people who have ADHD, may not be as obvious as it is in more typical children and adults.
The relationship between giftedness and ADHD is complex. Some studies have suggested that giftedness may protect against the negative consequences of ADHD, such as poor academic performance. However, other studies have shown that ADHD can have a significant impact on the emotional well-being of highly intelligent/gifted individuals.
One reason for this is that ADHD can lead to a sense of "unfinishedness" in highly intelligent/gifted individuals. They may have a greater capacity for complex thinking and problem-solving, but struggle with the organization and execution required to complete tasks. This can lead to frustration, anxiety, and a sense of underachievement.
Another reason is that ADHD can exacerbate the social and emotional challenges that highly intelligent/gifted individuals already face. For example, they may struggle with peer relationships, feel misunderstood or alienated, and experience heightened sensitivity to criticism or rejection.
Additionally, gifted people who have the ability to hyper focus on their interests may struggle to engage in mundane or boring tasks at school and work, which can lead to frustration, under performance and low self esteem, especially when they are criticized or punished by others.
To further complicate the relationship between ADHD and giftedness, current research suggests highly and profoundly gifted children may have a significantly delayed development of higher level executive functioning skills, which can be mistaken for, or coincide with ADHD (Tetrault, Nicole).
So, what can be done to support gifted individuals with ADHD? Here are a few suggestions:
Identify and diagnose ADHD early: Early diagnosis and intervention can help prevent the negative consequences of ADHD and provide support and resources for gifted children and their families. Resist the urge to think of a diagnosis as a label. An appropirate diagnosis can be a powerful tool in helping you to communicate the needs of your child or yourself, and to access important resources available to you.
Create a supportive environment: Gifted people with ADHD may need additional support and accommodations to succeed in the classroom, at home and at work. This may include extra time on tests, a quiet workspace, or access to technology that can assist with organization and task completion.
Address emotional and social challenges: Gifted children and adults with ADHD may benefit from therapy or counseling that addresses the emotional and social challenges they face. Support groups can also provide a sense of community and validation.
Foster strengths and interests: Gifted people with ADHD often have unique strengths and interests that can be harnessed to help them succeed, such as creativity, the ability to hyperfocus, quick thought and high levels of energy. Encouraging and supporting these strengths can help build resilience and self-esteem. Strengths and interests can also be used to help gifted people with ADHD willingly engage in necessary, but uninteresting tasks.
Work with an executive functioning coach or therapist to build executive functioning skills over time. Keep in mind, this may be a longer journey than you think, especially for children, but is one well worth the effort and the patience.
Get plenty of enjoyable exercise: Enjoyable exercise is proven to reduce the symptoms of ADHD. It's also a great stress management tool to combat the extra pressure ADHD can create.
Don't rule out medication. Despite all of the bad press ADHD meds get, 60 years of research shows, this medication is highly effective and safe for those who actually have ADHD. Current studies and brain imaging research shows brains of children with ADHD who have taken medication sometimes develop more neurotypically over time because the medication allows parts of the brain to engage that weren't fully engaging before. If you choose this option, make sure you work closely with a psychiatrist who fully understands ADHD, and preferably gifted people, and be patient. As with any medication, it may take a few tries to get the right one, and the right doseage. It should not change your personality, make you irritable or impair you in some other way. If it does, it is important to tell the psychiatrist you are working with.
In conclusion, the relationship between ADHD and giftedness is complicated. By understanding the challenges that gifted people with ADHD face and providing support and resources, you can help your children and/or yourself succeed and thrive. And remember, you don't have to do it alone!
About the Author:
Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California. She has over 15 years of experrience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body.