Distinguishing Between ADHD and the Bright Child
Your child is seemingly inattentive at school, deeply unhappy and highly disruptive in class. School reports say that your child is not working to their potential, does not finish assignments, and frequently puts down answers without showing how they got there.
Handwriting and spelling is poor; answers are shouted to questions all the time, or they may be permanently day dreaming and inattentive. Your child is also described as fidgeting all the time, and is disrupting class by distracting other children.
There is clearly something wrong, but what? In a bid to find an explanation, ADHD may be mentioned by parents or teachers. But is this the only possible explanation, or are there other potential causes?
Characteristics of ADHD?Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is characterised by a combination of symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
At first glance these characteristics might appear to ‘fit the description’ of the behaviours that your child is showing. However, there are many other possible causes for ADHD symptoms that need to be ruled out before pursuing a diagnosis of this disorder.
The Bright or Gifted ChildThe first possibility that must be ruled out is ‘giftedness’, or in other words, an exceptionally bright child.
Characteristics of a Bright or Gifted ChildA gifted child is likely to show the following behaviour patterns:
- Poor attention span in class
- Becomes easily bored with a task or project
- Has a propensity for daydreaming in specific situations
- Becomes irritated by tasks that appear irrelevant to them
- Intellect develops faster than their ability to make judgements, resulting in apparently impulsive behaviour
- Frequently challenges anyone in authority
- Is highly active and may need little sleep
- Questions rules and regulations
Distinguishing Giftedness from ADHDIt is often very difficult to distinguish giftedness from behaviours that can be shown in ADHD. Exceptionally bright children will frequently appear distracted and inattentive. Because they are permanently bored and frustrated, they can get angry easily and lash out at classmates. Whilst waiting for classmates to catch up they can become disruptive. So how can you tell the difference between the ADHD and a very bright child? There are a range of markers that you should consider.
Are the Behaviours Shown in All Settings?Does every teacher report these problems, or is it limited to only some teachers? Are these poor behaviours shown out of a school environment, for example at Scouts, Cubs or Brownies? For ADHD to be a possible diagnosis these behaviours need to be shown consistently in every setting and circumstance.
Is your Child Achieving at School?A gifted child may take one third of the time to complete a set of tasks than their classmates, leaving considerable amounts of time for diversion of their attention to disruptive behaviour. In the early stages, it is likely that they will frequently get answers right. However, when left for too long, a hatred of learning and school can develop that results in a child falling behind in subjects that are not sufficiently intellectually challenging. Gifted children will frequently become hyperactive and disruptive when they are asked to complete tasks that are far below their ability level.
Can Your Child Concentrate for Long Periods?With the exclusion of TV and computer games, can your child concentrate for a long time on a task that appears intellectually challenging such as reading or working on a particular project that interests them? A child with ADHD will be unable to concentrate for any length of time on any project, and will seemingly flit at random from task to task.
Does your Child Appear to be Daydreaming, but Get the Answers Right?A very bright child can split their attention and focus on multiple things at once, with the result that correct answers are readily given even when they do not appear to be paying attention in class.
Consulting an Educational PsychologistAn educational psychologist is fully equipped to carry out a range of tests to determine measures of intelligence and identify giftedness in a child; at the same time they can also identify and rule out any possible learning or other difficulties that could be present in your child.
If your child is identified as gifted, then a whole host of specialist teaching methods and tactics can be employed to engage your child and stretch them intellectually.
If no obvious cause or propensity for giftedness is identified, then it may be time to start examining ADHD as a potential cause for the behavioural symptoms that are being shown.