Giftedness versus ADHD? Potential misdiagnosis.

Giftedness versus ADHD? Potential misdiagnosis.

Dr Shelley Hyman

A child who is gifted shows similar behaviours to a child who has ADHD. This includes high activity levels, difficulty paying attention, difficulty following rules and difficulty persisting at a task.

However, what is different is that children who are gifted tend to only show these behaviours in certain environments such as in school when they are bored in class because the pace is too slow for them and they feel like they are just repeating things they already know.

Whereas, when gifted children are at home, they do not show those behaviours anymore. Children with ADHD however, will tend to show these behaviours in at least 2 or more situations such as at school and at home.

This important distinction between the two conditions is important especially when it comes to diagnosis children with ADHD. When children are diagnosed with ADHD and put on medication, the stimulant drugs given can affect their cognitive processes and has other negative side effects such as depression, anxiety, reduced sleep and reduced apetite.

So if children who are gifted but are misdiagnosed with ADHD and given this treatment, it can have detrimental effects on them in the long-term.

Hartnett and colleagues (2004) investigated the likelihood of misdiagnosing children with giftedness and ADHD. Participants were graduate students enrolling in a counselling course at university. They were given a hypothetical case study of a young boy who was described with characteristics of both giftedness and ADHD.

They were asked to make a diagnosis of the young boy. One group was given suggestions as to whether he could have ADHD and/or giftedness and the other group was given no suggestions.

Results showed that those given suggestions of giftedness led participants away from the diagnosis of ADHD. However those given no suggestions were more likely to diagnosis the boy with ADHD.

This implies that counsellors and psychologists may not be given information about the similar behaviours that occur in children with ADHD and those who are giftedness, in their training. It is particularly important that they are informed to avoid misdiagnosis of ADHD.

Alanna Wong


  • Hartnett, D. N., Nelson, J. M., & Rinn, A. N. (2004). Gifted or ADHD? The possibilities of misdiagnosis. Roeper Review, 26(2), 73-76.
Dr Shelley Hyman

About Dr Shelley Hyman

Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist. BSc (psychol) Hons, MClinNeuropsych, PhD (Med) MAPS CCN. Founder and director of the centre that was founded in 2006.

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