Giftedness and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) share several characteristics, which can make them difficult to tell apart. It’s also not uncommon for gifted children to also have ADHD.
There appears to be an increased rate of ADHD among gifted children, though experts are still trying to fully understand the link between the two. Children with both giftedness and ADHD are sometimes called “twice exceptional” or “2e,” though these aren’t official medical terms.
Both giftedness and ADHD are considered learning differences, and they may have overlapping characteristics.
ADHD is a mental health condition that causes a range of symptoms. Children are described as “gifted” if they have intelligence, abilities, or talents that are higher than average for their age.
Both ADHD and giftedness affect how you learn and function, and each comes with certain challenges and strengths, especially in the classroom. Like any child, those with ADHD and giftedness need support that’s specific to their challenges, strengths, and interests.
Here’s a closer look at the link between ADHD and giftedness and tips for supporting your child’s needs.
ADHD and giftedness can show up differently across people. Not everybody with ADHD has the same experiences or symptoms. Similarly, not all gifted children share the same set of characteristics.
Some of the symptoms of ADHD may look like signs of giftedness, and vice versa. This has led some experts to wonder whether some gifted children have been misdiagnosed with ADHD. But, a 2023 study suggests most children with both giftedness and ADHD have been correctly diagnosed.
The following chart breaks down some common overlapping symptoms and how they might show up:
|Pays little attention when bored
|Difficulty paying attention, even when they aren’t bored
|May have a great deal of energy and attention for certain tasks
|May have a great deal of energy and attention for certain tasks
|May prioritize own tasks or pursuits over other tasks
|Difficulty with independent task completion
|More interested in own ideas than others’
|Difficulty listening attentively
|May feel unmotivated to do tasks that aren’t stimulating or relevant to their interests
|Difficulty sticking with tasks, even when interested
|May be either disorganized or very organized
|Tends to have difficulty being organized
|Questions authority and challenges rules
|Difficulty following directions
|Possibly more energetic than peers
|Usually more energetic than peers
|May be impulsive
|May be highly creative
|Tend to be creative, inventive thinkers
Telling the two apart
Often, the key difference between ADHD and giftedness is how the conditions are discussed in terms of function.
Because ADHD is a learning difference, the symptoms are defined by how they affect day-to-day functioning. This is why the term “difficulty” is often mentioned in the above table. Giftedness, on the other hand, is seen as a talent and strength. In mainstream schooling, ADHD is often considered a challenge, while giftedness is considered a strength.
But, both giftedness and ADHD come with strengths and challenges.
Gifted children may easily get bored and daydream, which may negatively affect their behavior and performance. Likewise, ADHD has benefits. For example, those with ADHD often have the ability to hyperfocus on certain tasks and don’t break concentration until the task is complete.
Supporting children in harnessing their strengths — whether they’re gifted, have ADHD, both, or neither — can improve their self-esteem and daily functioning.
Yes, giftedness may “mask” ADHD, and ADHD may “mask” giftedness. In other words, the symptoms of one can make those of the other difficult to see.
For example, a child with ADHD who is highly intelligent may perform well at school and show a high level of talent. Because they’re a high achiever, the parents and teachers may overlook ADHD symptoms such as high energy or challenges with organization.
Even so, this child may find it difficult to carry out certain functions and could benefit from therapy, specialized learning strategies, or medication.
In contrast, ADHD may lead a gifted child to underperform in school. The child’s talents may go unnoticed because they find certain day-to-day tasks difficult. For example, they may struggle to concentrate or complete tasks, so their ideas and projects are either left incomplete or eclipsed by their difficulties at school.
A 2023 study looked at a sample of children with ADHD and found that 8.8% were gifted.
But, it’s difficult to estimate how many gifted children have ADHD (or vice versa) for many reasons:
- ADHD may go undiagnosed in gifted children.
- Giftedness may be masked by ADHD.
- There’s no consensus on the criteria for “giftedness.”
- “Gifted” is a controversial label.
More research is needed to fully understand how common it is to experience both ADHD and giftedness.
Gifted children who have ADHD may need extra support in certain areas of their lives. Caregivers can encourage them to practice their talents while also helping them practice important life skills that may be made difficult by the symptoms of ADHD.
The following tips can help you support your child both in and out of the classroom:
- Communicate with educators about your child’s needs and strengths.
- Encourage children to pursue their interests and hobbies.
- Find opportunities for enrichment, such as summer programs, home projects, and extramural activities.
- Encourage them to connect with peers who are a similar mental age and who have similar interests and talents.
- Work with educators to develop a 504 Plan or individualized education plan that covers accommodations they might need, such as extra time on tests or assistive technologies.
- Practice executive functioning skills, such as organization, planning, and time management, in school and at home.
- Identify role models who have ADHD and are gifted in their area of interest.
- Find a support group for parents who have gifted children with ADHD.
- Give your child space to discuss their interests as well as their feelings.
ADHD and giftedness are often considered learning differences, as they affect how you learn. There’s a good deal of overlap in their symptoms and characteristics, which can make them challenging to distinguish from one another. Plus, it’s not uncommon for gifted children to also have ADHD.
Children who are gifted, have ADHD, or both may require extra support in practicing executive functions and pursuing their interests.