messy. crazy. amazing. joyful.

We're not all officially ADHD. Dad's unofficial. Our ten-year-old twins have ADHD. Our seven-year old wants to have it because everyone is always talking about it. Our three year old has ADHD--just because she's three. And me, Mom, I think it's contagious. Who can remain untouched in a house where shoes seem to be lost every morning, instructions are routinely thrown aside, and fights erupt over which continent capybaras come from?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gifted? ADHD? or Both?

She just gives off a "brilliant" vibe.

Disclaimer: One of my children is gifted, maybe two. But I’m not bragging. It has nothing to do with me, and it comes along with a lot of social/emotional baggage. So please don’t think I think I’m cool or that they are geniuses.

Okay, I’ve got a whole new angle to analyze—the gifted thing. I knew Luke was gifted, but I just thought that meant he could read like a demon when he was barely out of diapers. And I knew Izzy was gifted in some areas, but once again, I just enjoyed her intricately made 3-D paper emperor moth creations and tried to ignore the miles of scotch tape stuck to my desk. But my school just started a group for parents of gifted children, and I felt like I should learn a little bit more about gifted education—especially because I always seem to be focusing on the kids’ ADHD struggles. After just one meeting, and reading one chapter of our book, I realized just how misunderstood giftedness is, especially by me.

I didn’t realize the social and emotional implications of giftedness. And I didn’t know that “Twice Exceptional” is an actual term for those who have exceptional talents and learning disabilities at the same time. I just thought it was the name of a blog I had noticed on a mom's view of adhd (and had never taken the time to look at). Well, now I have checked it out. According to the twice-exceptional (2e) web site: “This term refers to the fact that some gifted children are exceptional both because of their strengths and because of their limitations. Coupled with high intelligence, these children also may have one or more learning disabilities, attention deficit, emotional or behavior problems, or other types of learning difficulties.” 

So I had a little moment of clarity at my parenting group, thinking, “Ah ha, there’s actually a name for Luke’s condition. He is 2e, gifted and ADHD at the same time, and Izzy may be too.” But then the group leader started talking about how so many gifted children are misdiagnosed as having ADHD and how so many of the characteristics and social/emotional symptoms cross over. And the other parents started talking about how they refused to accept the diagnosis of ADHD for their children, and had taken them to 5 different doctors, and would absolutely not give their children drugs, and had taken them out of regular school and home schooled them, etc. etc. Well, all the old guilt and confusion washed over me for a while. How did I know that the kids had ADHD and were not simply gifted children whose social and emotional needs weren’t met? Are their drugs really working or is it just a placebo for me and their teachers? If the signs are the same, then how can I ever tell if they are gifted, ADHD, or both?

After I got home, my husband talked me off the ledge, and I did some yoga breathing. I realized I didn’t need to make any huge changes in my kids’ lives because things are going fairly well right now. But I will continue my little journey of discovery, and if it turns out that they are gifted and not ADHD, then we’ll change course. Unfortunately, I can’t figure everything out at once, but I’ve just got to accept that with a little Zen patience I think.

Here are some myths and truths about gifted children:

Common Myths About Gifted Students

*Gifted students are a homogeneous group, all high achievers.
*Gifted students do not need help. If they are really gifted, they can manage on their own.
*Gifted students have fewer problems than others because their intelligence and abilities somehow exempt them from the hassles of daily life.
*The future of a gifted student is assured: a world of opportunities lies before the student.
*Gifted students are self-directed; they know where they are heading.
*The social and emotional development of the gifted student is at the same level as his or her intellectual development.
*Gifted students are nerds and social isolates.
*The primary value of the gifted student lies in his or her brain power.
*The gifted student's family always prizes his or her abilities.
*Gifted students need to serve as examples to others and they should always assume extra responsibility.
*Gifted students make everyone else smarter.
*Gifted students can accomplish anything they put their minds to. All they have to do is apply themselves.
*Gifted students are naturally creative and do not need encouragement.
*Gifted children are easy to raise and a welcome addition to any classroom.

Truths About Gifted Students

*Gifted students are often perfectionistic and idealistic. They may equate achievement and grades with self-esteem and self-worth, which sometimes leads to fear of failure and interferes with achievement.
*Gifted students may experience heightened sensitivity to their own expectations and those of others, resulting in guilt over achievements or grades perceived to be low.
*Gifted students are asynchronous. Their chronological age, social, physical, emotional, and intellectual development may all be at different levels. For example, a 5-year-old may be able to read and comprehend a third-grade book but may not be able to write legibly.
*Some gifted children are "mappers" (sequential learners), while others are "leapers" (spatial learners). Leapers may not know how they got a "right answer." Mappers may get lost in the steps leading to the right answer.
*Gifted students may be so far ahead of their chronological age mates that they know more than half the curriculum before the school year begins! Their boredom can result in low achievement and grades.
*Gifted children are problem solvers. They benefit from working on open-ended, interdisciplinary problems; for example, how to solve a shortage of community resources. *Gifted students often refuse to work for grades alone.
*Gifted students often think abstractly and with such complexity that they may need help with concrete study- and test-taking skills. They may not be able to select one answer in a multiple choice question because they see how all the answers might be correct.
*Gifted students who do well in school may define success as getting an "A" and failure as any grade less than an "A." By early adolescence they may be unwilling to try anything where they are not certain of guaranteed success.

Adapted from College Planning for Gifted Students, 2nd edition, by Sandra Berger.