ADHD...And Gifted? Twice-Exceptional Students

A child with attention deficit and comorbid learning disabilities can also be a gifted student, or 2e. Do you know how to spot a twice-gifted student and help him reach his full potential?

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How to Meet the Learning Needs of Gifted Students with Learning Disabilities

“Unlike mainstream students, twice-exceptional students -- gifted students who have ADD/ADHD and learning disabilities -- struggle with getting their thoughts down on paper, writing legibly, doing calculations accurately, staying organized, and following step-by-step instructions,” says Linda Neumann, editor and co-publisher of 2e: Twice-Exceptional Newsletter. “They appear distracted or lazy, but they are trying very hard.”

As a result, many so-called 2e students feel “dumb” and wind up hating school. “It can be devastating when a student knows he’s smart, but is not able to reach his potential,” says Chris Dendy, who developed a DVD, Real Life ADHD, for children and teens.

Placing a gifted ADD/ADHD child with other gifted students is an automatic but, sometimes, misguided strategy. Without schoolwork that meets their cognitive needs, gifted children with ADD/ADHD find it hard to sustain attention and often develop poor work habits. On the other hand, some gifted students avoid 2e students because of their lack of organizational skills and social skills.

Twice-exceptional students need a program that nurtures their talents while accommodating their weaknesses, says Susan Baum, Ph.D., an educator, researcher, and author of To Be Gifted and Learning Disabled. Gifted children with ADD/ADHD need accelerated learning, even while they are working on the cognitive skills that will support the faster pace. They should have a “differentiated curriculum” -- with options in what they learn and how they learn it.

Teachers and parents should ensure that a 2e student has the support skills to manage his tasks and to compensate for his weaker executive function.

Work with the school to secure services for your child. Some gifted students need more time to complete tasks than other students. They often benefit from using assistive technology, such as a portable word processor or a calculator.

“All of Ben’s problems didn’t disappear when he attended a new school, but his outlook on life improved significantly,” says Debra Hori. “I had my son again, and that was good enough for me.”

Next: Five Tips for Parents of Gifted ADD/ADHD Children

Not sure how to bring up ADHD to your child's teacher? Download your free digital copy of Giving the Teacher a Heads Up for an example. Plus, get email updates on managing ADHD at school.

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