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“Where Is the Help for Gifted Kids with ADHD?”

“Though I am reading and listening to all the things, I realize that there’s a dearth of resources and help out there for 2e children. Everywhere I look, I find only partial answers. It’s often the same two or three recommendations buried in a less prominent section of an obscure article or publication. It is incredibly frustrating.”

My child has ADHD. There. I said it. I’m not sure why that’s so hard, but damn it, it is.

To be more specific, my child is what they call “twice exceptional,” or 2e. He’s highly intelligent and has another learning challenge. That challenge could be autism, OCD, dyslexia, or a learning disability, but for my child it is ADHD.

My child’s giftedness is what made his ADHD incredibly difficult to see – and acknowledge.

Confusing 2e Signs – and Denial

The apparent signs of giftedness actually overlap in many places with the symptoms of ADHD. Complicating matters further is the fact that stereotypical symptoms of ADHD — like difficulty focusing, impulsivity, and fidgeting — don’t exactly apply to my child. He focuses hard on enjoyable things and doesn’t care for things that are boring. He occasionally loses patience with mundane daily activities. He sometimes wiggles to get comfortable or sits upside down on chairs. He sometimes appears not to be paying attention when spoken to, but he can repeat back, verbatim, what I’ve just said. He often feels strong emotions, and he sometimes has things he NEEDS to get off his chest before a conversation ends.

[Free Download: What Learning Disabilities Look Like In the Classroom]

But all these behaviors feel typical for a 7-year-old – or at least that’s what I told myself as his teachers hinted at something more. I followed a winding road of denial where my inner dialogue looked something like this:

  • My child is gifted and BORED. Give him some challenging and interesting material, and he’ll excel.
  • ADHD is just for hyper kids or kids who can’t focus. That’s not my kid.
  • My child is soooo good at everything, so he can’t possibly be bad at ___.
  • ADHD is usually genetic. My husband and I have not been diagnosed. We made it through school, each with our own challenges, but nothing like ADHD.
  • There’s so much stigma around ADHD. Kids with it are supposed to be troublesome, disruptive, and give problems to teachers – and I don’t want my son to experience that. Even if he does have ADHD, we can work through his difficulties at home, so he isn’t automatically seen as “a problem” in school.

Confirmation – and a Cry for Help

After enough hints from teachers — some subtle and some less so — we decided to have our child evaluated to put an end to the conversation.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pretty sure my son was highly intelligent, and nothing more. But half correct is still correct, right?

So I say today after the evaluation that my son is gifted, and he has ADHD. He also has sprinklings of anxiety, perfectionism, and traits that could evolve into OCD. Our child is the rainbow glitter of all his parents’ mental health proclivities. You’re welcome for that magical DNA, kiddo.

[Read: Unlocking the Potential of Gifted Kids with ADHD]

On the flip side, now that we know more about our child, we have a tentative path forward. There are books and publications to read, experts to listen to, and podcasts that might help.

Though I am reading and listening to all the things, I realize that there’s a dearth of resources and help out there for 2e children. Everywhere I look, I find only partial answers. It’s often the same two or three recommendations buried in a less prominent section of an obscure article or publication. It is incredibly frustrating.

Branching out doesn’t seem to help much. Does your child have strong feelings? Well, here’s 800 other books to read about how to help your child. But wait, those will be about reward systems and consequences and setting boundaries that won’t work for your child’s brain.

Does your child have difficulty transitioning to less interesting tasks? Well, here’s one tip to try. One that you’ve likely tried already. If it doesn’t work, that’s all we’ve got. See previous 800 book recommendations (that didn’t apply to your child) to manage emotions through these transitions.

Let’s dive deeper into 2e-specific topics. But wait. Did you mean gifted and dyslexic, or gifted and autistic? Maybe you meant gifted and dyslexic and ADHD? No? Just gifted and ADHD? Well, they’re all the same. We bucket them together and talk about them together. You can weed through all the gifted material and all the ADHD material to find the things that are relevant to you.

I get it. I really do. The ADHD population is large. The intellectually gifted population is sort of large. The 2e portion is smaller. And the percent of people who are specifically gifted with just ADHD? Even smaller.

Why focus on such a small population? Who needs those specifics? Well, experts and researchers, for one. And there’s me. Right now. And years from now when my kid goes through middle school, high school, and college. And even way into the future when my kids are possibly having their own. I need it. As it stands, I’ll keep searching. I’ll read 800 more books. I’ll listen to the podcasts. I’ll keep digging for any tidbit that might help me help my child.

2e Kids: Next Steps

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2 Comments & Reviews

  1. Wow, this really struck a chord with me. I fall into the same camp as your son, my ADHD was diagnosed only a year ago at 23. Upon telling my mother she recalled that on multiple occasions it had been suggested to her that she should have me assessed. It is far easier to accept that your child is gifted than, ADHD. This however is only due to cultural values which dictate that intelligence is a desirable trait and being neuro-divergent is not. Whilst from your article I can see that this is a belief you are working through right now, it is a false belief and one which must not be passed on to your son. Whether ADHD, is a gift or a curse is entirely in the eye of the beholder. As someone who was learnt to embrace it, loves being this way and wouldn’t change it for the world I can confidently say that the negative impacts of ADHD are negligible when contrasted with the damage of being raised to be ashamed of who and what you are.

    As for learning resources about ADHD, there are many, since my “diagnosis”, I’ve searched through dozens of books, research papers, articles, videos and lectures. For me and certainly for your situation there is one book which stands out the most and that is Scattered Minds by Gabor Mate. Despite being a little older than other books it provides incredibly valuable insight. *I am also inclined to believe that the author is 2E ADHD.

    So much of the content out there is focused on the negatives, and whilst this is crucial and important to learn it can get a bit disheartening after a while. I personally loved reading Faster than Normal by Peter Shankman as it breaks this pattern and sheds some light on some often overlooked benefits of ADHD.

    I’ve just fallen out of hyper focus so I’ll finish up by saying that for me switching to less stimulating tasks has always been a very big obstacle for me, it still is and I’ve got a long way to go but audiobooks have been a great help for me personally, constantly giving my incessantly ravenous brain something to chew on while I get through life’s boring stuff!

    Hope some of this can be of value to you, good luck and best wishes!

  2. I don’t know if this helps, but I wanted to share my story, as an adult in the same boat as your son is in now.

    I’m a woman who was diagnosed with inattentive-type ADHD in the last year, at age 48. I was also gifted. Back in the day, my parents saw my intense boredom, so they went to the school and said “Do something”. After some testing, their solution was to have me skip a grade. “Oh, see, the problem is she’s gifted. She needs a bigger challenge.”

    After skipping 2nd grade and testing into the Gifted & Talented program, school was great. It was my relief actually, because the painful boredom was turned down from 10 to 4. There was always something new to learn, especially math and science. It was my escape.

    At first. Because ADHD quickly took away any bonuses being gifted gave.

    It sucked to be that weird kid who got so excited to share she’d interrupt, who missed social cues constantly, who had trouble making friends because of it, who didn’t understand why she couldn’t just breeze through grammar (ugh) like she did through algebra (yay!).

    Later, it all just piled on. My brain was always spinning, I couldn’t focus, or I’d over-focus at the expense of everything else. I kept forgetting things, I was constantly late, I couldn’t stay organized, I kept struggling when things were boring, or overwhelming. This turned into constantly changing jobs, constantly doing poorly at work. I was so sensitive to everyone and everything, and my relationships were always rocky.

    I felt so different, I felt like such a failure. After all, wasn’t I smart? Why were these things so easy for other people, but not for me?

    Turns out you can’t out-smart ADHD.

    I look back and desperately wish we’d known it was ADHD, even if just to validate that “It’s ok, your brain just works a little differently”. Any strategies or medical help would’ve just been a bonus. After all, it’s my brain – I don’t know how to think any differently. All I needed was to learn how to function in a world that doesn’t think like me.

    So for your son, if he’s anything like me, it’s the ADHD that’s the priority. It’s what governs everything. Sure, he can see patterns quicker and make new connections between things easier. Having a learning environment that helps knit those together will take care of that.

    But none of that is going to show him how to live in this world. There are no “Isn’t he special, being so smart?” validations there.

    So personally, I think if the focus is on ADHD strategies, the gifted part will take care of itself.

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