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Characteristics of Gifted and ADHD

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Updated May 16, 2014

Part 3 - Lists of Characteristics Similar in Giftedness and ADHD

Research indicates that in many cases, a child is diagnosed with ADHD when in fact the child is gifted and reacting to an inappropriate curriculum (Webb & Latimer, 1993). The key to distinguishing between the two is the pervasiveness of the "acting out" behaviors. If the acting out is specific to certain situations, the child's behavior is more likely related to giftedness; whereas, if the behavior is consistent across all situations, the child's behavior is more likely related to ADHD. It is also possible for a child to be BOTH gifted and ADHD. The following lists highlight the similarities between giftedness and ADHD.

Characteristics of Gifted Students Who Are Bored
  • Poor attention and daydreaming when bored
  • Low tolerance for persistence on tasks that seem irrelevant
  • Begin many projects, see few to completion
  • Development of judgment lags behind intellectual growth
  • Intensity may lead to power struggles with authorities
  • High activity level; may need less sleep
  • Difficulty restraining desire to talk; may be disruptive
  • Question rules, customs, and traditions
  • Lose work, forget homework, are disorganized
  • May appear careless
  • Highly sensitive to criticism
  • Do not exhibit problem behaviors in all situations
  • More consistent levels of performance at a fairly consistent pace
    (Cline, 1999; Webb & Latimer, 1993)

Characteristics of Students with ADHD
  • Poorly sustained attention
  • Diminished persistence on tasks not having immediate consequences
  • Often shift from one uncompleted activity to another
  • Impulsivity, poor delay of gratification
  • Impaired adherence to commands to regulate or inhibit behavior in social contexts
  • More active, restless than other children
  • Often talk excessively
  • Often interrupt or intrude on others (e.g., butt into games)
  • Difficulty adhering to rules and regulations
  • Often lose things necessary for tasks or activities at home or school
  • May appear inattentive to details
  • Highly sensitive to criticism
  • Problem behaviors exist in all settings, but in some are more severe
  • Variability in task performance and time used to accomplish tasks.
    (Barkley, 1990; Cline, 1999; Webb & Latimer, 1993)
Questions to Ask in Differentiating between Giftedness and ADHD
  • Could the behaviors be responses to inappropriate placement, insufficient challenge, or lack of intellectual peers?
  • Is the child able to concentrate when interested in the activity?
  • Have any curricular modifications been made in an attempt to change inappropriate behaviors?
  • Has the child been interviewed? What are his/her feelings about the behaviors?
  • Does the child feel out of control? Do the parents perceive the child as being out of control?
  • Do the behaviors occur at certain times of the day, during certain activities, with certain teachers or in certain environments?

Gifted students with disabilities must be provided with appropriate challenges. The personal and societal costs of not developing their potential cannot be overstated.

ERIC EC Digest #E574
Author: Colleen Willard-Holt
May 1999
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