Wednesday, February 15, 2006

"He is quite intelligent, but daydreams..."

The Ask the Teacher column in a recent Boston Globe had an interesting question from a parent. Her son was "quite intelligent, but daydreams," got distracted easily in class and didn't always finish his work on time. A battery of tests had ruled out ADHD. The columnist, fortunately, suggested that the parent have her son tested for giftedness. "The behaviors you describe tend to trigger thoughts of an attention disorder," the columnist wrote, "but they're similar to those seen in gifted children."

As someone who daydreams, gets distracted easily and hates having my time wasted by assignments that don't make sense, this column struck a note for me. When doing research for Genius Denied, and since, I've heard anecdotal evidence of schools that issue their own diagnosis of ADHD, then expect the parent to shop around for an actual physician willing to confirm it. There are kids with ADHD, sure, that need to be treated. But there are also kids who don't fit into the lock-step watch-the-teacher, sit-still-until-we-call-on-you school mode. I shudder to think how many of the latter are having their personalities medicated away. I shudder more given recent headlines about the potential cardiac side effects of ADHD medication (the FDA is considering a black box warning for the drugs).

Anyway, one solution is to have school districts train more teachers to recognize the symptoms of giftedness, and how those can mimic symptoms of ADHD. The Houston Independent School District is actually proposing such training. According to this article from the Houston Chronicle, all kindergarten teachers would be trained to recognize signs of advanced intellectual ability. HISD is considering this in part to increase the representation of minority children and children from low income backgrounds in the gifted program, but my guess is it will result in fewer ADHD misdiagnoses as well.


jamie said...

Hi Folks,
I am an public educator and a parent of a highly gifted child. As a parent, I am frustrated with the lack of cooperation that my daughters school provides for her type of intelligence. It happens to be my place of work too. Anyway, we had my daughter tested for ADHD and of course they put her on medicine. However, the further I went down the road to research on ADHD and giftedness I noticed all the similarities. Essentially, I was drugging my child, so she could fit into the box and feel "normal". This is so wrong. She is no longer on any medicine, and of course we are struggling with the teacher, psychologists and administrators to provide curriculum and the necessary challenge. My next step is to enroll at my expense my daughter in GATE programs provided on-line through Stanford and CTY. I feel like the only possible way to really give her what she needs is to take her out and homeschool her. I would like to hear what others have to say on the misdiagnosed Gifted child.

Laura Vanderkam said...

Jamie- so sorry to hear about your experience. I'm glad you were able to figure out what was really going on with your daughter. Stanford and CTY programs are an excellent place to start while you search for a long term solution.

Hopefully other parents will see this thread and post about their experiences.

Linda H. said...

Can anyone point in the direction of some research on this issue? I am a teacher and this reminds me of one of my highly capable kids and I am concerned we may not be meeting her needs. I need more information!

Laura Vanderkam said...

Linda- Here's one list of the characteristics of highly gifted children.

I'd caution that the "long attention span" one depends on the kid being interested in something. If she is, nothing can tear her away. If she isn't, the DSM-IV diagnoses for ADHD might come into play:

Jason Smith said...

I fit all of those criteria in grade school except I believe I was worse in the day dreaming category. My elementary school grades were a dismal string of C's and U's (unsatisfactories), and experiences there mostly miserable.

However despite this inauspicious start - and equally unpromising junior high and high school performance - I ended up by most standards doing ok. I did well in college, took an masters and even finished a Ph.D. My job is not great but it is intellectually challenging, and the income is sufficient to live comfortably - although I have not upgraded my digs much since the start of graduate school (two decades ago).

Would being drugged in 2nd grade have changed my life for the better? I doubt it.

Would intervention via a gifted program have helped? Again no way to prove it but I am sure I would have had a more personally satisfying educational experience.

In reflecting back, perhaps as or more important than the intellectual potential development issue, is the role of gifted programs is to allowing children who fall in that category to enjoy their childhood. While there is some evidence that schools for the gifted lead to improved achievement the evidence is even stronger that they lead to a much more satisfying social and intellectual experience for the children and adolescents enrolled in them.

We are one of the few societies with the resources to bestow this gift on all of our children, independent of how they are gifted. It is a shame that we are still so far from achieving this goal - or even uniformly agreeing it is a goal worth achieving.


Anonymous said...

I have two sons that are A.D.D, one of supieor IQ of 138, but processing in the bottom 5th percentile. He has always been very sensitive to sound, light and touch. My son has always spent hours on homework, because it was never good enough, though 8th grade he got all A's. Then he started having severe panic/anxiety attacks. The last two years have been a huge battle but we have finally found the key. We are lucky enough to live in a college town and found a professor that is also gifted. My son is now in the 10th grade and be tutored (homeschooled) at the university and attending a toxicology class. He said he finally feels challenged. All I can tell you is that your child has rights and the school is worried about the paper work for the state and forgets about the student. My son's psycologist also came to his IEP, which was a great help. My son is considered twice gifted, gifted for his high IQ, but learning disabled for his low processing because of his O.C.D. Fight for your kids education.

Anonymous said...

When my son was in 2nd grade, the school asked our permission to complete a "behavior scale" and gave us one to complete at home. Then we had a meeting. We were told that our scale revealed that our dear son was at risk for 9 or 10 catagories like: agression, anxiety, atipicalily, depression and that his in school scale showed him as "significant" even worse in those catagories. Then we were told that even though our son's teacher had 20 years experience and was particularly strong in handling kids with ADHD, that our son's behavior in class was "like nothing she has ever seen before." Our state has a law that school personel are not allowed to give a diagnosis. I thought this was very innapropriate. So we went to a local child psychologist who noted that our son tested "very superior" on the WISC III in many of the substest but average or below average on a few. Although we liked this gentleman, I feel he was unqualified to interpret a WISC III that was so high. His take on our son was that our son might certianly be a little bored at school, but that the behavior problems where due to the splay in his scores, and could be thought of as a "relative" Non Verbal Learning Disorder. When we shared back our "diagnosis" there was another meeting where they showed us checklists about NVLD and ADHD and have multiple school specialists explain to us why ADHD was a better fit than NVLD. If I had know then what I know now i would have realized that unaccomidated giftedness is associated with many of the things they were concerned about. My belief is that a child like this can not be evaluated for NVLD or ADHD unless they are in an academic setting which is appropriate for them. I wish I was in a position to homeschool or try private schools but I am not, and my son reports that he likes his school and his friends. It's two years later, and a wonderful 3rd grade teacher, and a 4th grade teacher who tries her best to accomidate him in the classroom have improved the situation quite a bit. BTW, when we asked the school for single subject acceleration, our son was evaluated by their specialists and found to "not be a very deep thinker in math." and turned down. (He got the highest possible score in reasoning on the WISC IV that they regave him this January.)His behavior at school is "so-so." Thankfully He was accepted into the Davidson Young Scholar Program and I have had so much support and information! It's my glimmer of hope. I am still trying to work within the Public School system.

Anonymous said...

I completely understand this confusion many teachers have between ADHD and giftedness. My youngest son has been having a terrible experience in first grade and although the school doesn't want to say it, they are hinting at all of the ADHD signs. We think he is gifted like his older brother, now a successful h.s. soph. Both boys school behaviors are extremely similar as are their their first grade report cards, especially regarding all of the distractability issues.
The first grade teacher doesn't understand how he could possible be bored. I have read Laura's excellent book. Laura hits the nail on the head. I can completely identify with the topics related to raising gifted children. People have no idea how challenging it is to raise a gifted child, and there is too little that is available in public schools to support these students who have incredible potential.

Bunmi Tella said...

Hi guys,
I'm not quite sure how long this thread has been going, but I only just discovered the Gifted exchange site. My experience started when my son entered Kindergarten last September. He is the youngest child in the class, just missing the october 1st cut off date by 3 days. I was tempted to hold him back, but he was REALLY eager to go to school. About a month into school, his teacher told me they were pulling him out of class for special lessons because his writing was quite bad. This did not really surprise me, he was never really that interested in anything that required fine motor skills. However during the PTC meeting 2 months into school, I was so distressed with the negative feedback I was getting from his teacher. She went on and on about how bad his motors skills were,and the possibility that he might be learning disabled. There was no mention of the fact that he was reading at at least 3rd grade level, and knew things (as a result of his love for children's encychlopedias) that even adults did not know. I was heart broken. Here was a kid who had always received positive feedback about his abilities, now regarded as being unable to do anything right! She complained about his ability to sit still or focus, but I had observered him spend unusually (for his age) long periods of time on tasks, it really was all a matter of interest. After she had finished telling me about all the things he was terrible at, I decided to tell her all the things he was absolutely great at. To her credit, she realised how it was all coming across and we eventually got an intervention meeting. At the meeting I explained that I thought it was too early to decide that there was something physically wrong with my son, he simply needed to practise more, and as prove of that, he had been steadily improving since he started school. I also pointed out that it could not be good for a child to feel like he is never given credit were he excels, but instead is reprimanded constantly, for what I think is age appropriate behavior. He is not incorrigible, just a bit of a dreamer. I am pleased to say, he is now pulled out of class, for help with writing as well as an advanced reading class with another little boy who is an advanced first grade reader. I am very happy with the way his school responded. However the whole situation left me with a really bad taste in my mouth, first because I felt that if I had not intervened, a bright child would have been labelled unruly and below average. Secondly because I felt judged as just another parent who thought their kid was Gods gift to the world, when in fact he was below average. So much so that I almost didn't say anything at all. The truth is I don't need my child to be gifted, and I am secretly hoping it turns out he is not, cause so far it has not brought much that is good to his or my life, and thats a shame.

AJ1987 said...

I have a son who is a freshman in High school. Throughout school until now, he has been an A/B student. Never cracked a book. Aced tests, end of year tests. All his teachers even NOW say he is extremely intelligent...but is easily preoccupied. Now, in high school he is failing. His honors classes, math. The only classes he is making good grades in are English and Computer. I don't understand what is going on. He's very shy and doesn't like to ask teachers questions. Sometimes doesn't do or turn in assignments. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon this blog and find it interesting. I very upset right now with my son's school. He is in the 1st grade and considered a daydreamer. They say he is reading on a 4th or 5th grade level. They had us get him tested for ADD. We tried the medicine to make him more alert.We stopped the medicine because he was reacting to it in a bad way. He says he is bored. He gets the equivelent of straight A'son tests and report cards. He struggles to write anything and complete assignments in class. But given a test he aces it. His teacher says he is endanger of failing the first grade. All because he will not focus and stop daydreaming. They do point out all the negatives. He is good boy and very intelligent. Should I be able to have the school test him? why haven't they done it already? I am so ready myself to just homeschool him. What is wrong with todays public schools!!!

Anonymous said...

I am in a similar situation. My daughter is in the 2nd grade. Her teacher tells me she daydreams, she often doesn't finish assignments within the allotted time, and she gets distracted laughing with the kids around her. She is on the honor roll every grading period, but her teacher says she wants to have a meeting with the other teachers to figure out what to do about her. She says Chloe has a "beautiful vocabulary," but she is concerned about her reading abilities. She says she isn't taking enough Accelerated Reader tests, and she isn't reading books that are challenging enough. I'm not sure if my daughter has ADHD, or if she is simply bored at school. She is very creative, and has won 2 art contests at her school in the grade level. At home, She is very creative and curious about ancient Egypt and insects, etc. But she doesn't enjoy her homework and it is a challenge every day to get her to finish her work in a timely manner. What should I do?

Davidson Institute Staff said...

Dear Anonymous,

You may want to read through the transcript of a recent #gtchat on Twitter entitled “Homework: Battles or Bliss?" at - there are some great resource links in this transcript.

Organized by gifted advocate Deborah Mersino, these chats offer an opportunity to discuss specific topics every Friday. Click here for more information, follow Deborah on Twitter or search for #gtchat on Twitter.

If you would like links to additional resources, please email

Thank you,

Davidson Institute Staff

Anonymous said...

My 7 yr old daughter was accepted into the gifted program at her school today. We had requested she be tested for many of the day-dreaming, bored, but fabulous vocabulary issues I see many of you experienced.

While Im very proud and excited for her, I dont know what should be included in her G-IEP. I have written a million IEP's for Deaf students, but not for a gifted student. What can I expect it to look like?

Advice, opinions, help would be appreciated.

Thank you,

Davidson Institute Staff said...

Hello Michelle,

When it comes to GIEP’s, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has some wonderful resources. For example, this link will take you to a section of their website that might be helpful. Click on the 3rd, 4th, or 5th example, these seem to be most helpful.

Anonymous said...

Nowadays ADHD diagnosis is thrown around too much in my opinion. It is hard for a children whose head is full of different stuff just to sit down and concentrate for a long period of time in a subject he is not interested.

But to know if he really is gifted, You should try to find his talent. Maybe painting, dancing, math. Doctors wont find it for You, it's easier for a doctor just to say that he has ADHD, than looking for reasons much deeper.
I'm not saying that all doctors are like that, but I have met some like that.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know if in every case these "gifted children" had enormous vocabulary responses that exceeded teacher expectations, do they have mastery of the skills presented, are they able to voluntarily initiate higher order questions? I wasn't sure after reading the concerns. Doesn't one need to have a foundation to excel in academics? For example,at what point, if any, should a child be asked to focus and sit still. If a child is bored shouldn't they be encouraged to complete assignments and be self motivated to learn more. Would you ask the DMV to provide a car that fit your needs because you don't drive sitting down or would you say I never depend on my mirrors? Not diagnosing one way or the other but it would help to understand these points of view.

Anonymous said...

This is a old thread but found it due to my son's issues. His Kindergarten teacher is complaining that he day dreams in class and does not complete his assignments. We did get him tested with a psychologist. He came back with an above average IQ score of 152. So was told there is no issues with his intelligence. How do I get him to do his school work?

Apani Smith said...

So glad to have come across this article. My son is in Kindergarten. his teachers and caretakers say he is extremely intelligent and even use the word gifted to describe him. I already knew this. He could read and write before he was in PreK and shows a lot of potential in the arts with drawing and painting. At 6 he says he wants to be a graphic designer. However my boy is having issues in class. Daydreaming, not completing assignments etc. I have tried screaming, threatening, cajoling, bribing, waiting, punishing and none of it consistently works. Now I am trying patience and just doing anything I can to keep him motivated and focus on interests and try to help him make connections between those interests and his education. Its tough. I asked him whats going on and he says he doesn't like school its boring. He wants to do hands on assignments and experiments and he is even uninterested in art class but at home he draws all day and runs thru paper like water. His teacher says he is advanced and gets the work with ease and thinks he should be exposed to work above his grade level but when I told her he says he is bored she can't believe its possible. I am looking to find a way to help him get on track