Gifted and ADD

What should you do when school personnel are not familiar with giftedness traits?
Our daughter's teacher disagreed with us that she might be gifted. The teacher complained that my child was a loner in class, had a low span of attention, and was always seeking attention. At home, my daughter can sit and color or use educational CD-ROMs for up to 2 hours at a time.

Things got worse. The teacher was singling her out by putting her in another location, separating her from her peers. My husband and I were very upset and asked to see the school psychologist. After a meeting with her and the teacher, the conclusion was that my daughter was probably gifted, but also had ADD. The psychologist wanted to spend some time with her, and also wanted to contact the school psychiatrist to observe her during one day at school. She also suggested formal testing at the beginning of the next school year.

Should we get a second opinion? Is it possible for a child to be gifted and also ADD? How can we help our daughter to pay attention?

It is very possible for a child to be both ADHD and gifted, though giftedness can also be mistakenly identified as an attention deficit. Behaviors such as daydreaming, fidgeting (when bored or excited), disorganization, etc. can occur in both cases.

The school psychologist (and psychiatrist) very likely will be fair, unless you have other knowledge that leads you to believe otherwise. The observation will likely consist of the psychologist checking off a certain list of attention-deficit behaviors that your daughter may display. Psychologists also look to see if your child is on-task with the other kids at various points during the observation period. If your child has a formal IQ test, her scores on the various subtests will help them calculate a Freedom from Distractibility score, which can indicate attention difficulties. By the way, the diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) - as it is now known -- includes both Inattentive Type and Hyperactive Type diagnoses. Some children have both diagnoses and this is called Combined Type.

If I were you, I would still seek a second opinion. If the school personnel are not familiar with giftedness traits, they may see a severity of attention problem that isn't really there.

Why not teach your little girl to pay attention more often? At home, have a chart and reward her with a sticker or star when she responds quickly to directions. (An accumulation of these can be exchanged for a special, inexpensive treat.) Coach her to find something interesting about her teacher -- like a piece of jewelry -- and to visually focus on that when the teacher is talking. Perhaps you could persuade the teacher to give her a special signal or code word that alerts her that some important directions are coming, so pay attention. I have done this successfully with many kids.

Noreen Joslyn is a licensed independent social worker in the state of Ohio and is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She has a master's degree in Social Work, specializing in family and children, from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a psychiatric social worker in private practice with Ken DeLuca, Ph.D. & Associates, where she counsels parents and children.

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