The Difference 1 Melissa Simpson Deslie Thomas ADHD or Giftedness: How Do You Know the Difference? Diane Latimer, M.A, School of Professional Psychology, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, and James T. Webb, Ph.D, Professor and Associate Dean, gave a story that illustrates the difficulty of knowing the difference between ADHD and giftedness, “Howard's teachers say he just isn't working up to his ability. He doesn't finish his assignments, or just puts down answers without showing his work; his handwriting and spelling are poor. He sits and fidgets in class, talks to others, and often disrupts class by interrupting others. He used to shout out the answers to the teachers' questions (they were usually right), but now he day-dreams a lot and seems distracted. Does Howard have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is he gifted, or both?” (Latimer) Many people do not understand that when a child is diagnosed with ADHD, he or she may also have abilities to succeed in a talented and gifted program. As long as a child is gifted, the talented and gifted program can influence the ADHD child’s life positively. To fully comprehend what needs to be done to help, parents and teachers need to know the characteristics of ADHD and gifted students, as well as support, assist, and find curriculum that will meet the child’s needs. Determining whether a child may have ADHD or giftedness is difficult but very important. Parents and teachers need to know what learning needs a child may have. Although the characteristics are similar for both ADHD and giftedness, there are differences. An incorrect The Difference 2 assessment of the child’s need can be devastating to the student, parent, and teacher. Finding the student’s learning needs is the first step to helping a child. Definitions of giftedness and ADHD First, parents and teachers need to understand what ADHD and giftedness are. Dawn Beckley, from the University of Connecticut, describes giftedness as, “high intellectual abilities or potential, rather than specific accomplishments. Most commonly depicted as having exceptional abilities or potential for learning and problem solving.” Continuing on, Beckley says a learning difficulty is best defined as “problems in learning due to a cognitive-processing difficulty in which the dysfunction affects one or more cognitive processes instead of obstructing overall intellectual ability.” The best way to identify these characteristics in a student is by the “inconsistency between their measured potential and their actual performance on academic tasks (Beckley).” Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in the Webster Dictionary is defined as “a condition (mostly in boys) characterized by behavioral and learning disorders. A disorder in which hyperactivity is present.” Beckley describes a twice-exceptional student as those that generally meet the “eligibility criteria for both giftedness and learning disabilities.” When dealing with twice-exceptional students, the student may work in a special educational program where the disorder may be addressed, while excelling in another subject and being placed in a gifted program. Major factors to consider in diagnosing children are the personality and behavioral problems. A child’s actions can be a greater determining factor than how well he or she performs academically (Beckley). The Difference 3 Characteristics to determine professional evaluation Latimer and Webb list 14 characteristics of ADHD from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. If a student appears to have 8 or more of the 14, they can be classified as ADHD. Referral to a professional would still be necessary. To be considered for a referral, these characteristics should be apparent for at least six months, and appear before age 7. The 14 diagnostic characteristics are as follows: 1. often fidgets with hands or feet and squirms in seat 2. has difficulty remaining seated when required 3. is easily distracted by extraneous stimuli 4. has difficulty awaiting turns in games or group situations 5. often blurts out answers to questions before they have been completed 6. has difficulty following through on instructions from others 7. has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities 8. often shifts from one uncompleted activity to another 9. has difficulty playing quiet 10. often talks excessively 11. often interrupts or intrudes on others 12. often does not seem to listen to what is being said to him or her 13. often loses things necessary for tasks or activities at school or at home 14. often engages in physically dangerous activities without considering possible consequences. (Latimer) Although these behaviors sound like they could definitely be pointed towards ADHD, many people do not know that a lot of these behaviors can be found in talented and gifted students as The Difference 4 well. Therefore, a professional evaluation is necessary; the characteristics are so similar it can be very hard to tell, and it can lead the person astray. The need of a professional evaluation will be looked at more intently later. Rebecca Mann, in a presentation on “Twice-Exceptional Gifted and Learning Disability,” says that there are several questions parents should ask themselves in order to help them in their search of whether the child has ADHD or giftedness. Does the child show these behaviors at home, or does the child exhibit these behaviors at certain times of the day, or in different environments? Have any curricular modifications been made in an attempt to change these behaviors? Is the child unable to concentrate even when interested in the subject? Has the child been interviewed about their feelings on the behavior? (Mann) Answering these questions via observation will help determine if further evaluation is needed. Characteristics of gifted ADHD children vs. normal ADHD children Deidre V. Lovecky, PH.D, at the CHADD International Conference, says that gifted students with ADHD have an odd way of taking graded tests. Difficult questions don’t seem to be a problem, while the easier questions are commonly missed. Also, they learn fast. Although gifted ADHD students can learn fast, they tend to forget how to use strategies effectively to problem solve. They know strategies such as mnemonic devices and category grouping, but they tend to forget to use these strategies to solve problems. Gifted ADHD students do better in one particular area rather then in many areas. Often times that particular area has harder concepts. For example, Lovecky says, “Abstract reasoning in particular is often well developed and in advance of other more basic skill levels.” Interestingly basic skills come unnaturally for these gifted children with ADHD since their advanced skills are so refined. The Difference 5 Beckley says that ADHD, gifted students are shy, mostly because they get discouraged easily. Their intelligent, creative minds come to a halt as they begin to experience continuous failure at school, while at the same time not understanding the success they are achieving in other areas. Often times, the misunderstanding will lead the ADHD, gifted student into isolation because they do not feel that they fit in. For a child with ADHD, the automatic skills that are difficult for them to grasp can become the core of more problems. Because of the lack of these basic skills, “these students are often referred to as street smart with school problems” (Beckley). Lovecky states several more examples that set ADHD, gifted students apart from normal ADHD students: They are more emotional, more sensitive, heavy worriers. Behavior is either more mature or less mature than an average ADHD student. They seek complexity (including the way they socialize). One interesting difference is their persistence on fairness: “A gifted, ADHD student insists on fairness in game rules, until he or she starts to lose. Then fairness becomes less salient than winning” (Lovecky). ADHD compared to giftedness characteristics The behaviors associated with ADHD are similar to behaviors associated with giftedness. Latimer has come up with a chart to identify these behaviors. Refer to the chart below to see similar characteristics. The Difference 6 BEHAVIORS ASSOCIATED WITH ADHD BEHAVIORS ASSOCIATED WITH (BARKLEY, 1990) GIFTEDNESS (WEBB, 1993) 1. poorly sustained attention in almost all 1. poor attention, boredom, daydreaming in situations specific situations 2. diminished persistence on tasks not 2. low tolerance for persistence on tasks that having immediate consequences seem irrelevant 3. judgment lags behind development of 3. impulsivity, poor delay of gratification intellect 4. impaired adherence to commands to 4. intensity may lead to power struggles with regulate or inhibit behavior in social contexts authorities 5. more active, restless than normal children 5. high activity level; may need less sleep 6. difficulty adhering to rules and regulations 6. questions rules, customs and traditions (Latimer) As you can tell from the chart above, it is very hard to distinguish between ADHD and giftedness; the chart helps clarify why often times a thorough evaluation is needed. It is important to note the setting in which a child experiences these problems. ADHD children will exhibit problems in all environment situations (sometimes more heavily in certain environments then others) while a gifted student will not be consistent with these behaviors in every environment setting they are placed in (Latimer). Lovecky says that some of the main strategies that gifted, ADHD students struggle with include the ability to think sequentially, putting everything together in a situation, and picking out main features in a given set of data. Therefore, because they struggle with some basic strategies, they complete less work or rush through it, take more time on simple assignments, and are indecisive about project topics. Simple things such as working in groups becomes a challenge, and often times ADHD, gifted students don’t find that their work is all that rewarding to them (Lovecky). Latimer states that gifted students, on the other hand, will spend one-fourth to one-half of their time in a regular classroom waiting for other students to catch up, especially in group The Difference 7 settings. With free time on their hands, what would the response be? They tend to be disruptive and loud for amusement during free time. Thus, many people mistake this misbehavior for ADHD (Latimer). Below you will find a more complete list of characteristics that set apart ADHD, gifted students from normal gifted students, as composed by Mann. SIGNS OF GIFTEDNESS SIGNS OF LEARNING DISABILITIES excellent long-term memory poor short-term memory extensive vocabulary speaking vocabulary more sophisticated than excels in reading comprehension written excels in mathematical reasoning struggles with decoding words advanced verbal skills in discussions does poorly at computation excels in computers refuses to do written work grasps abstract concepts handwriting is illegible performs better with challenging work has difficulty with spelling and phonics thrives on complexity struggles with easy, sequential material highly creative, imaginative difficulty with rote memorization reasons well often inattentive in class is a keen observer emotions can overpower reasoning may have acute hearing poor auditory memory has very interesting ideas, extremely poor listening skills curious weak in language mechanics had high degree of energy may be unable to learn unless interested perceptive performs poorly on timed tests insightful (seems “wise”) hopelessly disorganized excellent sense of humor finds clever ways to avoid weak areas may excel at art, science, geometry, may fail at foreign languages and subject mechanics, technology, or music emphasizing audition, sequencing, memory (Mann) Latimer says that one thing that both ADHD, gifted students and average gifted students have in common is their hyper-focus, or hyperactivity. Almost one-fourth of these students probably don’t need as much sleep. Although the activity levels are high for both, a normal gifted student’s activity is generally directed and focused, while an ADHD gifted students is not (Latimer). Lovecky says that when a normal gifted student becomes involved with a self-chosen activity, they can stay on the task for hours at a time, getting excited and being very independent The Difference 8 from outside enforcement. Therefore, they spend more time doing what interests them by themselves (Lovecky). In comparison to their activities, Latimer says that “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” (Latimer). What teachers and parents can do to help When the diagnosis is finally determined, the teacher then needs to work with that student in a way that will help the child succeed in his or her own manner. Researchers have found a few theories that will help a teacher work with a gifted student, both normal gifted and ADHD, gifted. Gifted students benefit from learning together and should be placed with similar students in their areas of strength. It has been extremely difficult for regular education teachers to differentiate curriculum to meet the needs of gifted students in mixed ability classrooms. Many gifted students think and learn differently from their chronological age mates who are not gifted. They tend to better understand, accept, and use their learning differences as assets when they are grouped together. When they are provided with consistent appropriate academic challenge, they tend to be more comfortable with themselves, and others. When cooperative learning has been overdone in the regular education classroom, gifted students often become tutors and learn less academic content. The other students may depend on them to do most of the work, or do the work that is difficult, and therefore the regular education students also learn less academic content. Gifted students frequently already know many of the concepts introduced in the regular education class thus waste time. They often develop bad habits, such as daydreaming. Gifted students are more likely to socialize “normally” when they are with students who share their The Difference 9 interests and learning style. This most likely occurs with intellectual age mates, regardless of chronological age (GT-Placement FAQ). A gifted student deserves the same amount of time and help from the teacher. Although the learning level is higher, the student will still need help. All students deserve the right to be challenged at their own level. Teachers need to give these gifted students that opportunity (“Cluster Grouping” 1). Teachers and parents have a huge influence on how the students can succeed in the schools and classrooms. The teachers and parents need to be willing to take the responsibility to help the students whenever and wherever possible. It should be the focus for teachers and parents to help the child no matter the need. Teachers need to have training to help the children who perform at a higher level. Because gifted and ADHD students have learning needs that differ from other students, teachers need to take the time and effort to assist these students (“Cluster Grouping” 2). Below are ways a teacher can be a support to their students: 1. recognize and nurture behaviors usually demonstrated by gifted students 2. create a learning environment in which all students will be stretched to learn 3. allow students to demonstrate and get credit for previous mastery of concepts 4. provide opportunities for faster pacing of new material 5. incorporate students’ passionate interests into their independent studies 6. facilitate sophisticated research investigations 7. provide flexible grouping opportunities for the entire class Although these responsibilities are tougher and will take more time, teachers need to be able to help the students (“Cluster Grouping” 2). The Difference 10 A strategy to help assist teachers in dealing with gifted and ADHD students is by organizing cluster groups of students who perform at similar levels. Beckley says, “Gifted students feel more comfortable when there are other students just like them in the class.” By placing these students together, they can work with one another and help each other succeed rather than working alone and feeling they are the only one with these differences. Curricular needs The most important factors when determining the needs of a gifted or ADHD student is their strengths and interests. The student needs something that will challenge and develop strengths and interests in a way that will work for him or her. Beckley says the curricular programs need to focus on “preventing the disability from becoming a barrier in the development and expression of the child’s talent.” A student recognizes that there is a difference with himself or herself and the rest of the class. So teachers must give the student guidance while helping him or her to understand the nature of his or her learning needs. Beckley goes on to say, “While making students aware of the way in which their disability interferes with their learning, their gifts need to be cultivated. Teachers need to help students shape a healthy, realistic self-concept in which students accept their personal strengths and weaknesses.” Many times a parent becomes more obsessed with the fact that their child has a disorder or problem, rather than trying to work with it. Yes, the child may learn differently, but that doesn’t mean he or she can’t learn. The child needs help from the parent and teacher in developing and nurturing his or her learning abilities. The curriculum plays an appropriate part of helping a gifted student. The curriculum needs to relate to the “specific intellectual giftedness and to their specific learning disability. The Difference 11 Students need assistance in areas of weakness, but they also require time to recognize and develop their gifts. Like all students, they especially need enriching and stimulating cognitive experiences where they can use problem-solving abilities and independent research skills.” When looking into curriculum, most important is the fact that the student needs a challenging program, but “provides structure and strategies to accommodate weaknesses (Beckley).” Conclusion Relating back to the story of Howard, he needs a professional evaluation to determine whether he has giftedness and/or ADHD. The first step in helping a child like Howard is observing his learning characteristics for a period of time and which settings he or she displays those characteristics. Teachers and parents need to cooperate with one another and set curricular standards that the student will benefit from. The child cannot be left alone and needs support from parents and teachers. It is difficult growing up, but having a difference, can make it even harder for a child. Most importantly, teachers and parents need to be there for the child and support him or her in the stage of development. The Difference 12 Work Cited “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Webster Dictionary. Beckley, Dawn. “Gifted and Learning Disabled: Twice Exceptional Students.” Spring 1998. University of Connecticut. 6 February 2005. The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. <http://www.sp.uconn.edu/~nrcgt/news/spring98/sprng984.html>. “Cluster Grouping of Gifted Students: How to Provide Full-Time Services on a Part-Time Budget.” The Council for Exceptional Children. The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC ED). 1 February 2005. <http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/edu/eric/e607.html>. “GT-Placement.” The Council for Exceptional Children. The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC). August 1998. 31 January 2005. <http://hoagiesgifted.org/eric/faq/gt-place.html>. Latimer, Diane, and Webb, James T. “ADHD and Children who are Gifted.” 1993. ERIC Digest #522. 6 February 2005. The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. <http://www.1donline.org/1d_indepth/add_adhd/eric522.html#anchor367466>. Lovecky, Deidre V. “Gifted Children with AD/HD.” 8 October 1999. Gifted Resource Center of New England. 6 February 2005. The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. <http://www.grcne.com/giftedADHD.html>. Mann, Rebecca L. “Twice-Exceptional Gifted and Learning Disabled.” New Hampshire Association for Gifted Education. 6 February 2005. <http://www.nhage.org/GTLD%20Presentation.ppt#256,1,Twice Exceptional - Gifted and Learning Disabled>. The Difference 13 Parke, Beverly N. “Challenging Gifted Students in the Regular Classroom.” December 1992. The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. The Council for Exceptional Children. 31 January 2005. <http://www.jhu.edu/gifted/imagine/linkG.htm>. Pehkonen, Laura B. Tag Students: What Do They Need To Succeed? TAG Program Consultant Oregon Department of Education. Handout from Susan Grover, Rexburg, Idaho. Plucker, Jonathon. “Is Gifted Education Still Viable?” Education Week. 11 March 1998. Editorial Projects in Education, Inc. 27 January 2005. Education Week keyword: Gifted Students. <http://www.edweek.org>.
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