Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Gifted/ADHD Connection

Guest post by Dori Staehle | Cross posted at Next Stage Educational Consulting

It reads like something from a science fiction novel: Millions of schoolchildren lining up everyday for the medication that will make them sit still, pay attention – and behave! Orwell’s1984 or Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron perhaps?

This is life imitating art. We’ve become so convinced that children need to be medicated in order to learn that we’ve completely ignored what’s really causing their inattention and hyperactivity in the first place.

As an educational consultant and private tutor, I’ve seen children medicated needlessly. I’ve seen the prevalent side effects, I’ve heard from frantic Moms after their sons were rushed to the emergency room. The sad fact is that the majority of children who are diagnosed as ADD or ADHD (often by their teachers!), are actually highly gifted, talented, and creative kids. The problem is: No one was looking for that.

Like they say, if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. Since most teacher training programs and even graduate programs don’t cover this, let me explain what giftedness is. Giftedness is a complex phenomenon which encompasses high IQ and creativity, along with heightened sensitivities, and uneven development (combined definition from Dr. Linda Silverman, The Columbus Group, and this writer).

At many of my workshops, I outline the symptoms of ADD/ADHD taken from the psychologist’s “bible”, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).  Then, I add to the right side of the screen the traits of giftedness, as per The Gifted Development Center in Denver. Yes folks, both lists are exactly the same (you can seen this chart here).People who are super-talented, creative, or bright tend to be hyper. They space out when they’re bored or when they’re trying to figure something out. They tend to hyper-focus on areas of interest.

In addition, there are literally hundreds of medical conditions that can produce hyperactivity and inattentiveness (The Hyperactivity Hoax, Dr. Sydney Walker,  Within my student population, 100% were right-brained, 95% were gifted, 90% were highly gifted with IQ’s in the 150-200 range (average IQ is 100), and all of them had allergies, asthma, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), food sensitivities, or a combination of all four.

In 2000, I spoke at a gifted education conference and posited that a huge percentage of students that are being labeled as ADD/ADHD are actually right-brained gifted, talented, and/or creative students. We are, in fact, medicating brilliance. We are also ignoring the underlying medical conditions and not accounting for the biggest trigger: stress.

Schools are left-brained institutions taught by predominantly left-brained individuals (Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child, Jeff Freed). They don’t understand those of us who are right-brained and creative, who think in pictures and tend to be random, not sequential. So, they medicate what they don’t like or don’t understand. Surely, there must be something wrong with these kids’ brains! In fact, ADD used to be known as a brain disorder – even though most of these kids have high IQ’s! You can almost call it a “left-brained conspiracy”. No wonder these kids are stressed out – they’re not allowed to be themselves!

Therefore, it is no surprise that there is a huge incidence of gifted, talented, and creative kids within the homeschooling population ( They can learn in ways that work for them and be with others like them. They can spend a great deal of time on their passions and take breaks or blow off steam when needed. This is their version of normal. Maybe it’s time to accept that and not try to change it.

Dori Staehle has close to 20 years of tutoring and consulting experience and has worked with public, private, and homeschooled students and their families.  She holds a BA in French and German from Wagner College in NY, and an MBA in finance from Fairleigh Dickinson University in NJ. In addition, she has done both graduate and post-graduate work in gifted education and gifted psychology while in CO.

Dori has written and published several articles on gifted education and homeschooling and developed the theory known as The Gifted/ADHD Connection. She is currently writing a book which is tentatively titled Hearing the Music: Why We Chose Homeschooling Instead of Ritalin.


  1. Good post. Imagine what will happen when people can do genetic engineering and not have the diverse array of genotypes we see among people. I bet we will see far less creativity among humans, unfortunately.

  2. I greatly liked your blog. I am a parent of an AHDH child who is 9 years old, and it is nice to see there is another option out there besides medication. I didnt know how to go about it since all you hear about is medicating the child. Thanks for giving parents and teachers a new option!

  3. A couple of people have commented to me lately that they think I am ADD. I felt insulted. I get a lot done and can FOCUS on a lot of different projects at once (ask Lisa). This post makes me feel sooo much better. THANKS

  4. I was so pleased to read this post, as I'm a homeschool parent of an intense, self-motivated, and gifted child. Your words resonate with so many of us.

    Not enough information about gifted children and the risks of misdiagnosis (as well as the complexities of dual diagnoses) have reached all professionals who work with children - both teachers and physicians. I'm on the board of SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted), and we are in the midst of a educational initiative to lessen ADHD misdiagnoses. For more information go to:

    Thank you again.

  5. I have been contemplating the idea of my 8 year old son who was diagnosed with giftedness, ADHD, and severe dysgraphia. But the idea absolutely overwhelms me. Any suggestions on how I would prepare myself and what type of curriculum I would use?

  6. I have been worried about my 6 year old daughter since she started kindergarten last year and she has showed super hyper activity. The doctors don't believe me when I comment on her energic levels and random freak outs from boredom. Now that I read this article I am going to look into this more closely. Everything mentioned about the gifted children sounds just like my daughter. After a horrible stint at school I pulled her out this year for cyberschooling. That is going amazingly well but she still gets bored doing every day activities and I have been wondering why. Thanks for posting this article. I found it on Facebook that someone posted and I feel like it's going to end up being my answer to a unannwerable question. Thanks.

  7. I'm curious about the fact that every article I find relating to ADHD/giftedness is speaking about gifted children being misdiagnosed as ADHD.

    I was a gifted child. I absolutely excelled at schoolwork but I often did finish whatever I was working on early and then became bored. I had more than one teacher speak to my mother about ADD and my mother consistently refused the suggestion.

    I wasn't hyperactive - in fact, I was intensely shy, quiet, and very much a teacher's pet.

    I'm having trouble understanding why there isn't information available about the possibility of giftedness and ADHD coexisting.

    My IQ is higher than average and I'm very creative. I won numerous competitions throughout school and participated in the Duke Talent Search with very high SAT scores in seventh grade.

    It was an article that started it for me - I read it and then, as I usually do, I researched it extensively before I sought diagnosis.

    I am in my mid-twenties and only recently diagnosed - and only vaguely diagnosed at that, since my ability to read a fiction novel confused my psychiatrist.

    My point is that many, many ADHD children and adults are very smart, very creative, and bored with the common curriculum. I don't think that parents should immediately discount a diagnosis of ADHD, especially not just because their child is gifted. If the child is gifted, the topic should definitely be approached and considered with the diagnosing practitioner and possibly another for a second opinion.

    But there are too many articles out there suggesting that this is either black or white. The idea that most ADHD kids are simply gifted and misdiagnosed is presented much more often than the possibility of the child being both.

    It can be helped by parents being accommodating, structuring their environments, and giving them room for their natural talents to thrive. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that statement.

    The problem is if children with undiagnosed ADHD grow up hearing that they're special and gifted and not living up to their potential (happened to me).

    These children become adults who ARE smart, well-educated and well-read, and highly creative.

    They also become adults who have no idea how to actually live up to their potential. Real life won't adapt to them the way parents do. Real life insists that you deal with the boring along with the interesting. Responsibilities get added with each year and before anyone realizes what's happening they're drowning in their own failures.
    Giftedness was used to explain all of my ADHD symptoms. I can say, from a personal level, that if this giftedness is solely what's responsible for causing my problems then I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

    If by being diagnosed and accepted treatment I'm only 'medicating genius' then I'll happily have the genius taken away.

    I'm honestly not attacking this article. It's just frustrating to search for some insight into the combination and only find a suggestion that it's one instead of the other.

    I really just want to encourage parents who are facing this issue to become educated in both subjects and study the behaviors associated with both. I want them to speak with their children and try to understand the way they think before dismissing either diagnosis.

    My own mom didn't (still doesn't) believe in ADHD. I can say that it is a very real condition that can very seriously affect adults as well as children and I honestly believe the children who grow out of it are largely the ones who were diagnosed in childhood and taught to manage their symptoms and given healthy coping strategies.

  8. Oh how I wish there were more intelligent articles about ADD such as this one. Finally, I hear the truth being told at last! I agree 100% with the statement that ADD is overdiagnosed because the majority of the people in society are linear and left-brained. They just cannot imagine little kids being free to learn by playing. No, they have to be medicated so that they don't play too much, sit still at boring school lectures and regurgitate mind-less data that requires no original thinking.

    Please understand that I am not saying that studying mind-less data is unimportant, it is important to a society. What I am saying is that those of us with the personality mistakenly called ADD, are just as important to the healthy development of a society. Why? Think about it. Who else is curious enough to devise new inventions or new ways of thinking? Who else is sensitive enough to detect new patterns? Or dangerous patterns? Who else is impulsive enough to bravely push these new ideas through the sea of shaming and humiliation that rises whenever someone dares to think differently. That's right, it is the ADD kids that survive the massacre of their childhood development years and become productive adults (without the add drugs).