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Are you ADD -- or just gifted?

1  Excerpt of interview with Stephanie S. Tolan by Douglas Eby

Tolan writes novels for children and young adults, is co-author of the book "Guiding the Gifted Child", writes about giftedness for Advanced Development Journal and Roeper Review, and is a consultant on highly gifted children. 

"The larger world does not connect ADD with giftedness at all," Tolan notes. "Occasionally they mention creativity. And ADD is now the current 'in' thing to be as an adult, as well. It was only little boys, then it got to be little girls, then grownups as well. Very many creative people go around now announcing they are ADD. I could announce that I am, too. But I happen to know that I'm not; I'm just highly creative, and it does have a nasty tendency to make the little details of ordinary life a little more difficult.

"I used to say my son functioned like a short circuit because he was sparking all the time. It's web thinking, it's connected thinking. You take two steps down a path and you see a junction, and you may end up very far from where you intended. And it may be a wonderful place to be, but it isn't what you intended, and if you're in an environment like a school that says you must attend to these things, in this order, then a highly creative, a highly gifted person is going to have difficulty with that.

"And it's so much more complex than that. Dabrowski points out that psychomotor overexcitability is one of the pieces of giftedness, so they have this incredible energy, and they're bored out of their minds in school, and they're expected to follow straight lines from 'A' to 'B' to 'C', none of which they can handle, so it looks like pathology, and they get drugged.

"It may be true that some adults really have ADD, but I find it so unlikely. If you look at the list of characteristics of ADD, and the characteristics of gifted, they are virtually the same."

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main interview with Stephanie Tolan by Douglas Eby

2  Excerpt from "ADHD and Children Who Are Gifted", ERIC Digest #522.

Authors: Webb, James T.; Latimer, Diane, Council for Exceptional Children, Reston, Va.; ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education, Reston, VA.

"Frequently, bright children have been referred to psychologists or pediatricians because they exhibited certain behaviors (e.g.,restlessness, in attention, impulsivity, high activity level, day-dreaming) commonly associated with a diagnosis of ADHD. Formally, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R) (American Psychiatric Association) lists 14 characteristics that maybe found in children diagnosed as having ADHD. At least 8 of these characteristics must be present, the onset must be before age 7, and they must be present for at least six months.

Almost all of these behaviors, however, might be found in bright, talented, creative, gifted children.

Children who are fortunate enough to have a thorough physical evaluation (which includes screening for allergies and other metabolic disorders) and extensive psychological evaluations, which include assessment of intelligence, achievement, and emotional status, have a better chance of being accurately identified. A child may be gifted and have ADHD. Without a thorough professional evaluation, it is difficult to tell."


Seeing the difference between behaviors that are sometimes associated with giftedness but also characteristic of ADHD is not easy, as the following parallel lists show.


1. Poorly sustained attention in almost all situations

2. Diminished persistence on tasks not having immediate consequences

3. Impulsivity, poor delay of gratification

4. Impaired adherence to commands to regulate or inhibit behavior in social contexts

5. More active, restless than normal children

6. Difficulty adhering to rules and regulations


1. Poor attention, boredom, daydreaming in specific situations

2. Low tolerance for persistence on tasks that seem irrelevant

3. Judgment lags behind development of intellect

4. Intensity may lead to power struggles with authorities

5. High activity level; may need less sleep

6. Questions rules, customs and traditions


It is important to examine the situations in which a child's behaviors are problematic. Gifted children typically do not exhibit problems in all situations. For example, they may be seen as ADHD-like by one classroom teacher, but not by another; or they may be seen as ADHD at school, but not by the scout leader or music teacher. Close examination of the troublesome situation generally reveals other factors which are prompting the problem behaviors.

By contrast, children with ADHD typically exhibit the problem behaviors in virtually all settings "including at home and at school" though the extent of their problem behaviors may fluctuate significantly from setting to setting (Barkley, 1990), depending largely on the structure of that situation. That is, the behaviors exist in all settings, but are more of a problem in some settings than in others.

In the classroom, a gifted child's perceived inability to stay on task is likely to be related to boredom, curriculum, mismatched learning style, or other environmental factors. Gifted children may spend from one-fourth to one-half of their regular classroom time waiting for others to catch up -- even more if they are in a heterogeneously grouped class. Their specific level of academic achievement is often two to four grade levels above their actual grade placement. Such children often respond to non-challenging or slow-moving classroom situations by "off-task" behavior, disruptions, or other attempts at self-amusement. This use of extra time is often the cause of the referral for an ADHD evaluation.

Hyperactive is a word often used to describe gifted children as well as children with ADHD. As with attention span, children with ADHD have a high activity level, but this activity level is often found across situations (Barkley, 1990). A large proportion of gifted children are highly active too. As many as one-fourth may require less sleep; however, their activity is generally focused and directed (Clark,1992; Webb, Meckstroth, & Tolan, 1982), in contrast to the behavior of children with ADHD.

The intensity of gifted children's concentration often permits them to spend long periods of time and much energy focusing on whatever truly interests them. Their specific interests may not coincide, however, with the desires and expectations of teachers or parents. While the child who is hyperactive has a very brief attention span in virtually every situation (usually except for television or computer games), children who are gifted can concentrate comfortably for long periods on tasks that interest them, and do not require immediate completion of those tasks or immediate consequences.

The activities of children with ADHD tend to be both continual and random; the gifted child's activity usually is episodic and directed to specific goals. While difficulties and adherence to rules and regulations has only begun to be accepted as a sign of ADHD (Barkley, 1990), gifted children may actively question rules, customs and traditions, sometimes creating complex rules which they expect others to respect or obey. Some engage in power struggles. These behaviors can cause discomfort for parents, teachers, and peers.

One characteristic of ADHD that does not have a counterpart in children who are gifted is variability of task performance. In almost every setting, children with ADHD tend to be highly inconsistent in the quality of their performance (i.e., grades, chores) and the amount of time used to accomplish tasks (Barkley, 1990).

Children who are gifted routinely maintain consistent efforts and high grades in classes when they like the teacher and are intellectually challenged, although they may resist some aspects of the work, particularly repetition of tasks perceived as dull. Some gifted children may become intensely focused and determined (an aspect of their intensity) to produce a product that meets their self-imposed standards.

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  Related Talent Development Resources pages :

ADD / ADHD : articles sites books.

High Ability

Giftedness : articles

Giftedness : books

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