The Misdiagnosis of Gifted Children

Let’s visit an imaginary world where you, an adult with substantial ability in your area of expertise (whatever that may be), were forced to sit in a second-grade class all day. Imagine that for some reason you don’t understand, your teacher and fellow students and everyone else in the school sees you as a second-grade kid. You are bored. You are outraged, in fact. Why is this being done to you? Why can’t you have more challenging things to learn? Why does everyone think you’re just like these other kids? You can’t stop your hand from using your pencil to tap against the desk, or your foot from tapping in frustration. You get up to pace. You start snapping at other students. Your attention drifts, and you feel like you can’t focus on anything.

Restraining yourself all day, every day, to tolerate this intense boredom and injustice saps your energy so severely that even when you escape the confines of school to a family who also bizarrely views you as a second-grader, even though they know you’re smarter than that, it’s all you can do to lie around zoning out, reading distractedly, or taking your aggression out on them. And then the next day comes, and you have to do it all over again.

This is what it feels like to be a profoundly asynchronous child. You may have adult-level cognitive abilities, but you are second-grade age, so you are forced to go through the exact scenario just described. You may develop nervous habits from the stress and boredom, things like fidgeting, impulsiveness, inability to focus (because, come on, who can focus on excruciatingly boring material day in and day out, without respite?), and more.

Your teacher looks at these behaviors and tells your parents you have ADHD, or oppositional defiant disorder, or any of a number of other disorders, and that they should take you to the doctor to be medicated. Your parents do, and your doctor writes a prescription after a 15-minute visit, and you are deposited back in school, drugged out of your mind.

Another article today described it more succinctly: “Imagine if someone took away your Big Wheel and expected you to operate a sports car without training at 6 years old. Now imagine being punished and humiliated for wrecking.”

These scenarios sound extreme, and they are; but versions of them are being repeated again and again in endless variation with everything from garden-variety gifted kids to profoundly gifted kids across the country. An organization called Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted Children (SENG) made an excellent video about it, aimed at educators and healthcare professionals. But it’s instructive for everyone, and our wish is that everyone see it (and share it).

We have one caveat, the same one the video makes: There are twice-exceptional kids, kids who have advanced cognitive abilities but also learning disabilities. Some kids DO have ADHD, whether gifted or not. But the characteristics of giftedness, the school setting, and a range of other things absolutely must be assessed as part of the diagnosis, and the intellectual needs of the child must be met on an ongoing basis.

By sharing the video, and talking to educators and healthcare professionals about it, you may help change a child’s future. Thank you!