School Advocacy

How to Nourish and Nurture a Gifted Child with ADHD

Academically gifted children with ADHD are called “twice-exceptional” or “2e.” They are also incredibly misunderstood and underserved. Here’s what you need to know to secure the resources, accommodations, and understanding that she needs.

2e student reading a book

Twice-exceptionality means the coexistence of high intelligence or giftedness and a condition like attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) in the same child. It makes life and school confusing for parents, teachers, and kids, since the disability often prevents a child from expressing and developing her strengths.

A child doesn’t have to be “globally gifted” or have a high IQ — 130 or above, say — to be twice exceptional (2e). In fact, most 2e children have significant discrepancies within IQ, so an IQ score is not an accurate measure of what they can achieve. If a child has a significant strength in any area — verbal ability, nonverbal ability, fluid reasoning, or visual-spatial thinking — I consider her to be gifted. And if she also has ADHD, she is twice-exceptional.

As a psychologist specializing in the 2e population — and also the parent of 2e children with ADHD — I’d like to share some thoughts on how parents can support and advocate for the twice exceptional teen or child.

1. Get an accurate diagnosis.

2e children with ADHD are often underdiagnosed and misdiagnosed.

Sarah was a well-behaved, daydreamy girl making average grades in school. It was her anxiety that prompted an evaluation. Sarah turned out to be gifted and also to have inattentive ADHD. If she hadn’t shown emotional secondary effects, she might have continued to “fly under the radar” for her entire school career.

Max was distracted in class and constantly out of his chair. He challenged authority and argued with everyone. He was diagnosed with hyperactive/impulsive ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. No one bothered to “diagnose” his giftedness, or consider the impact his intelligence and boredom in class had on his behavior. To help a 2e child, you need to see his areas of strength and areas of challenge.

[Self-Test: Could Your Child Have Inattentive ADHD?]

2. Advocate and educate.

Armed with accurate information as to what your child needs, you’re in a better position to advocate for gifted services, an IEP, a 504 Plan, or whatever else. You will probably need to educate your child’s principal and teachers about twice-exceptionality. They may not have even heard of it, and some will have trouble understanding how a child could be gifted and have a disability. Perhaps you can enlist the support of key school staff, such as the coordinator or programs for gifted children, school psychologist, and principal. You may have to reach out to other parents and form a committee. Be a squeaky wheel, as your child’s greatest champion.

3. Focus on strengths and interests.

Developing the child’s strengths and interests is far more productive than focusing solely on their weaknesses. Too often, strengths are neglected in an effort to “fix” the child and get her to conform to the expectations of others. Lobby for your child’s gifted needs, as a gifted person. This could take the form of participation in a program for gifted children, grade or subject matter acceleration, placement in challenging classes, and after-school and summer enrichment activities.

Be guided in this effort by your child’s interests.

Dreamy Sarah loved stories, so her parents supplied books, took her to a storytelling conference, set her up with voice dictation software for creative writing, and enrolled her in a speech competition. She took advanced classes in English.

Max liked to know how things work, so his parents let him take things apart, took him to science museums, and enrolled him in a robotics class. He took advanced classes in math and science. A nice benefit of enrichment in areas of interest is that it can increase your child’s motivation across the board.

4. Don’t forget about addressing challenges.

Your child will probably need support to address areas of challenge. This may take the form of behavioral support, medication, executive function coaching, and accommodations, like movement breaks, at school.

Inattentive Sarah benefited the most from executive function coaching. She learned strategies for keeping track of assignments, dealing with procrastination, and managing her time. Max benefited from medication and getting involved in the martial arts (which teach discipline and respect). At school, Sarah needed teacher reminders and extra time to complete assignments because she was distracted by her own thoughts. Max needed social skills training to help him control his impulsivity.

[How Do I Create an IEP for My Child? Find Out in this Free Resource]

Each 2e child is unique and has different needs. When designing an intervention and accommodation plan for a 2e child, think about the impact their giftedness will have on what will and won’t work. Typical behavioral modification programs may backfire. Your tech-savvy 2e/ADHD teen may be able to hack any parental controls you try to put on screen time. Ask your child what she needs to get where she wants to go — and listen to what she says.

5. Celebrate your child’s uniqueness.

Twice-exceptional at least! I say “twice” and “at least” because many 2e children have multiple exceptionalities. It may be hard to accept that your child is 2e, but consider two important things. First, your child is likely to have real advantages by virtue of having ADHD. Individuals with ADHD tend to be more creative, have higher energy, enthusiasm, curiosity, spontaneity, plus an ability to multitask. The divergent thinking and fresh perspectives they bring to problems could be just what our world needs today.

And that’s not all. Your child is intellectually gifted, with all the benefits that brings. When you accept and appreciate your child for who he or she is, your perspective as parent will shift. Instead of always trying to “fix” your child’s “disability,” you can celebrate her abilities. See the good in her. See what she can do rather than what she can’t. Work with her to develop her talents and help her achieve her goals. There is beauty and advantage in being “different.”

Devon MacEachron, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist who is knowledgeable about twice-exceptional and gifted learners. You can reach her at

[My Twice-Exceptional Son Isn’t a Problem to Be Fixed]

3 Comments & Reviews

  1. Isn’t it time to stop using so many labels?

    So many end up using their labels to excuse their behavior. Sad, but true.

    We’ve medicated so many over the years that it’s no longer an exception.

    Perhaps the DSM Could be kicked out of the psycho Babble world and some honest counselling could ensue!

    1. Labels are both good and bad. Labeling is a Schools way to say you need a diagnosis to get the 504 or IEP. That’s the good part. Understanding what the confusion is about such as asynchronous development makes the parent and teachers understand that the same ADHD kid could actually be gifted. The bad part would be the label that you are a “special” child which social media frowns at. Political correctness is a sign of the times and 2E can be discriminating…and this 2E not being neurotypicals is no different,

    2. This comment exemplifies EXACTLY why advocacy is still needed for anyone whose thoughts feelings and or actions fall outside the normative range of a population. For example the meaning of explanation and excuse are not even close to being synonymous. In fact, considering their actual definitions reveals that they are practically antonyms. This is clarified by comparing The single most salient word used in their respective definitions, in same order are clarify and justify.

      Thus, it is incorrect to assert their interchangeability. Because using objective, fact based information to specifically identify traits in order to determine whether their presentation warrants a “label”, is not an attempt to justify, excuse or ignore it. As opposed to excusing, demonstrating an understanding that one expresses said traits, accepting that reality and then addressing them, are features indicative of a person who is doing what is meant when using the phrase “taking personal responsibility and accountability”!

      The real problem seems to be that a conflict exists between claiming belief and acting in an ethically virtuous manner. This (U S.) society stakes a considerable amount its claim of virtue with the vast majority of its citizens claiming adherance to virtue ethics such as justice, beneficence, human rights, compassion and autonomy. This is a non exhaustive though sufficient list for illustrating the ethical inconsistencies between what we claim to believe and what our actions and words actually reflect.

      The sentiment expressed above with the words “So many use labels to excuse their behavior. Sad but true.” Because these words and their sentiments are not exclusive to the author of the above post. Rather inclusive of a vast majority of the population. Sad but true.

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