Hunters motion seemed to be non-stop. Ms. OLeary was at her wits end. All day long she was telling him to sit down. When Hunter was asked to take out a book, he would get up to sharpen his pencil. When his group was working hard on its writing assignment, he was grabbing the bathroom pass out of Billys hand and running down the hall. Repeated conferences with Hunters parents had brought about no behavioral changes within the classroom.
From the time Amber was born she required very little sleep. This was very distressing for her parents, as it was difficult for them to get the rest they needed. Once she began to talk, she insisted on non-stop attention from the adults around her. Ambers energy seemed boundless. Her parents did all of the normal things to child-proof their house, but Amber kept finding new uses for common things; she was very creative, indeed. Her actions were unpredictable, and her parents constantly feared that she would do herself harm with all her experimenting.
Mrs. Dunrud realized that Nigel was very bright. This was obvious. All one had to do was be alone with him for five minutes and hear about the latest books he was reading or his opinions on current events. The problem was that he was such a wealth of information and had so many opinions that he was seemingly never quiet. He dominated the class discussions, blurted out his answers and was considered obnoxious by almost every one of his classmates.
Defining The Problem:
Two possible explanations for the behaviors listed in the scenarios above include a) the high-energy intensities of some gifted children, and b) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
While we must remember that no set of characteristics applies to all gifted children, it is true that a percentage of gifted students do exhibit characteristics of high energy. The minds of these children are whirring with thoughts and they need to show considerable restraint to project this energy appropriately. Their minds and their bodies are moving very quickly. They seem to have no patience for those around them who are moving at a slower rate. At times this can be very difficult for parents and teachers.
ADHD is a condition which has gained notoriety over recent years. Children with ADHD exhibit a very high level of energy. Unfortunately, the diagnosis of this disorder is not absolute. There is no definitive, objective test which can be administered to determine if a child has the disorder; instead, the diagnosis is accomplished by use of test materials, behavior check lists and a complete history given by parents. Recently, the media has focused on the over-diagnosis of this disorder. Parents, teachers and members of the medical profession have been criticized for encouraging the medication of an excessive number of children (mostly boys) in an effort to create a more calm environment at home and school.
We need to exercise caution because some children with ADHD and some children who are gifted but do not have ADHD, may have some similar characteristics. Many of these seemingly similar characteristics may be caused by other reasons. We mustnt use the quick diagnosis of ADHD as a convenient excuse that prevents an in-depth exploration of what the real "problems" may be - an unchallenging curriculum, social immaturity, or a lack of consistent discipline at home or school. (Delisle, 1995)
A number of questions should be asked by both parents and teachers when trying to determine if a very bright child should be evaluated for ADHD.
- Does the child show these behaviors at home? One of the things we often see when it isnt ADHD is that parents dont see any of these behaviors at home.
- Could lack of interest, boredom, or irrelevancy play a part? Is the child unable to concentrate even when interested in the subject? Typically, highly gifted children cannot be torn away from their passions, while ADHD children may have difficulty concentrating even in areas of strong interest.
- Have any curricular modifications been made in an attempt to change the inappropriate behaviors? If so, what has been the result?
- Has the child been interviewed? What are his or her feelings about the behaviors? It is vitally important that we get the childs input so that we can better understand the problem.
- Does the child feel out of control? Do the parents perceive the child to be out of control? It is important to differentiate between the child who feels out of control and the child who loves movement, loves the activity.
- Has the child been taught strategies to limit stimuli and deal with stress? Has the child been taught appropriate social skills?
- Can the "inattentive" child repeat the instructions? There is a common misconception that if you dont look like youre paying attention youre not getting the information. With our bright kids, we know that they can be doing numerous things at once.
- Do the behaviors occur at certain times of the day, during certain subjects, with certain teachers, in certain environments and not in other circumstances? If the behaviors are motivated by the situation, it may not be a pervasive problem, which then make us assume its not ADHD.
- Is the child getting the appropriate amount of teacher attention? Does the child demand constant attention from the teacher? In many cases, adults have the idea that the gifted kids can take care of themselves, so they dont tend to be asked questions and they arent given the same amount of attention. Sometimes the need to demand constant attention from the teacher is caused by intellectual stimulation.
- Is the child just demonstrating his or her personality, type of giftedness, or intensity?
(Lind and Silverman, 1994)
If the answers to these questions do not indicate any need for environmental or curricular modifications, it may be appropriate to seek medical advice for the problem. It is also important to realize that a small number of children may be gifted and also have ADHD. These children may need to be on medication and have modifications to their environment.
One school of thought is that the ADHD and/or very active-type of behaviors we are so concerned about right now were behaviors that were cherished in times past. These children are the explorers and the risk takers. In todays age, with the way our education is structured and the kinds of things we need in our society, we dont value those behaviors as much anymore. We need to be sure that these children know their value.
Tips For Teachers:
The cause for some mislabeled behavior is often an inappropriate classroom environment. It is important to take a few weeks, or a month to try to alter some of the activities that are going on at school before referring a student as a possible candidate for medication for ADHD. Try to figure out when the inappropriate behaviors occur. Are they, for example, during certain activities? Some children only act out during subjects they already know. Vary the kinds of curriculum available to the child. Take into consideration the childs learning style.
Most children who are gifted require highly stimulating work at their level of achievement. Some whose behavior is out of control may also need compensatory techniques:
- Structure in the form of point systems
- Modification of the work load for practice and rote work
- Specific instruction in writing skills, including organization and elaboration of ideas
- Word processors and computer programs deal with poor handwriting and fast thought processes
Many active gifted children work better in small groups or individually, so pairing them with one or two other gifted children and a mentor may be an ideal situation for acceleration and enrichment.
It is vitally important to use the creative strengths of high-energy gifted children rather than focus only on weaknesses. Focusing on creativity may help them overcome weaknesses by finding ways of compensating directly and by learning creative problem-solving techniques.
Tips For Parents:
ADHD is one of the most complicated syndromes to diagnose. If ADHD is suspected, parents should contact a physician who has studied both ADHD and giftedness and can distinguish between the two.
Parents need to provide structure so children master self-care skills and learn to contribute to the family. It is important not to let either the gifted child with ADHD or the highly active gifted child who does not have ADHD to be a privileged character who does not have to do chores or behave well.
Realistically, we can ask teachers to be aware of the characteristics of giftedness that may manifest themselves as the same characteristics of ADHD, but that doesnt mean the "problem" can be solved by the classroom teacher. Modifications in the classroom can be made, but the gifted child with his or her intensities may be overwhelming to the teacher who is also expected to address the needs of an entire classroom full of diverse students.
Medication is an issue that needs to be considered when either the childs symptoms are too severe or too pervasive to overcome using behavioral means alone.
For Adult Reference:
- Delisle, J. (1995). Au contraire: ADD gifted: How many labels can one child take? Gifted Child Today Magazine. 18(2), 42-43
- Hartley, D.T. (1993). John Adam Hartley: An ADD story. The Gifted Child Today. 16(2), 34-37
- Lind, S. & Silverman, L. (1994). ADHD or gifted? Understanding Our Gifted. 6(5), 13-16.
- Lovecky, D.V. (1994). Gifted children with attention deficit disorder. Understanding Our Gifted. 6(5), 1 and 7-10.
- Lovecky, D.V. (1994) Hidden gifted learner: Creativity and attention deficit disorder. Understanding Our Gifted. 6(6), 3 and 18-19.
- Mendaglio, S. (1995). Children who are gifted/ADHD. Gifted Child Today Magazine. 18(4), 37-38 and 40.
is hearing a student say,
"Thank you for understanding me."
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