Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Gifted/ADHD Connection

Guest post by Dori Staehle | Cross posted at Next Stage Educational Consulting

It reads like something from a science fiction novel: Millions of schoolchildren lining up everyday for the medication that will make them sit still, pay attention – and behave! Orwell’s1984 or Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron perhaps?

This is life imitating art. We’ve become so convinced that children need to be medicated in order to learn that we’ve completely ignored what’s really causing their inattention and hyperactivity in the first place.

As an educational consultant and private tutor, I’ve seen children medicated needlessly. I’ve seen the prevalent side effects, I’ve heard from frantic Moms after their sons were rushed to the emergency room. The sad fact is that the majority of children who are diagnosed as ADD or ADHD (often by their teachers!), are actually highly gifted, talented, and creative kids. The problem is: No one was looking for that.

Like they say, if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. Since most teacher training programs and even graduate programs don’t cover this, let me explain what giftedness is. Giftedness is a complex phenomenon which encompasses high IQ and creativity, along with heightened sensitivities, and uneven development (combined definition from Dr. Linda Silverman, The Columbus Group, and this writer).

At many of my workshops, I outline the symptoms of ADD/ADHD taken from the psychologist’s “bible”, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).  Then, I add to the right side of the screen the traits of giftedness, as per The Gifted Development Center in Denver. Yes folks, both lists are exactly the same (you can seen this chart here).People who are super-talented, creative, or bright tend to be hyper. They space out when they’re bored or when they’re trying to figure something out. They tend to hyper-focus on areas of interest.

In addition, there are literally hundreds of medical conditions that can produce hyperactivity and inattentiveness (The Hyperactivity Hoax, Dr. Sydney Walker,  Within my student population, 100% were right-brained, 95% were gifted, 90% were highly gifted with IQ’s in the 150-200 range (average IQ is 100), and all of them had allergies, asthma, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), food sensitivities, or a combination of all four.

In 2000, I spoke at a gifted education conference and posited that a huge percentage of students that are being labeled as ADD/ADHD are actually right-brained gifted, talented, and/or creative students. We are, in fact, medicating brilliance. We are also ignoring the underlying medical conditions and not accounting for the biggest trigger: stress.

Schools are left-brained institutions taught by predominantly left-brained individuals (Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child, Jeff Freed). They don’t understand those of us who are right-brained and creative, who think in pictures and tend to be random, not sequential. So, they medicate what they don’t like or don’t understand. Surely, there must be something wrong with these kids’ brains! In fact, ADD used to be known as a brain disorder – even though most of these kids have high IQ’s! You can almost call it a “left-brained conspiracy”. No wonder these kids are stressed out – they’re not allowed to be themselves!

Therefore, it is no surprise that there is a huge incidence of gifted, talented, and creative kids within the homeschooling population ( They can learn in ways that work for them and be with others like them. They can spend a great deal of time on their passions and take breaks or blow off steam when needed. This is their version of normal. Maybe it’s time to accept that and not try to change it.

Dori Staehle has close to 20 years of tutoring and consulting experience and has worked with public, private, and homeschooled students and their families.  She holds a BA in French and German from Wagner College in NY, and an MBA in finance from Fairleigh Dickinson University in NJ. In addition, she has done both graduate and post-graduate work in gifted education and gifted psychology while in CO.

Dori has written and published several articles on gifted education and homeschooling and developed the theory known as The Gifted/ADHD Connection. She is currently writing a book which is tentatively titled Hearing the Music: Why We Chose Homeschooling Instead of Ritalin.

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