The Gifted Child

Too often gifted or creative children are misdiagnosed as ADHD

The Gifted Child

Approximately 11 percent of all U.S. children aged 4-17 years are diagnosed with ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In high school children alone, the diagnosis has been made in 15 percent.About 70 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD are prescribed drugs, according to Richard Scheffler, professor of health economics and public policy at the University of California-Berkeley and co-author of the book The ADHD Explosion. The symptoms of this “disorder” are so subjective that gifted children are being put at risk of being labeled with ADHD and forced onto powerful stimulants that the Drug Enforcement Administration warns are more potent than cocaine.

According to an article on ADHD symptoms, James T. Webb, Ph.D., and Diane Latimer concluded, “almost all of these behaviors might be found in bright, talented, creative, gifted children. ”  They listed behaviors that they state are common to gifted children that can be mistaken for ADHD:

Behaviors Associated with Giftedness:   

  • Poor attention, boredom, daydreaming in specific situations
  • Low tolerance for persistence on tasks that seem irrelevant
  • Judgment lags behind development of intellect
  • Intensity may lead to power struggles with authorities
  • High activity level; may need less sleep
  • Questions rules, customs, and traditions

Behavior Associated with ADHD:

  • Poorly sustained attention in almost all situations
  • Diminished persistence on tasks not having immediate consequences
  • Impulsivity, poor delay of gratification
  • Impaired adherence to commands to regulate or inhibit behavior in social contexts
  • More active, restless than normal children
Were luminaries such as Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill around today, psychiatrists would most likely label and drug them for ADHD. Einstein’s genius was supposedly marred by his losing his keys and being forgetful, according to one ADHD proponent. Churchill was more likely to focus on those studies that he was interested in.

Teachers considered Thomas Edison a poor student and “addled.” “One day I overheard the teacher tell the inspector that I was ‘addled’ and it would not be worthwhile keeping me in school any longer,” Edison said. Hurt by this, he told his mother. “She came out as my strong defender. ..She brought me back to the school and angrily told the teacher that he didn’t know what he was talking about, that I had more brains than he himself…. In fact, she was the most enthusiastic champion a boy ever had, and I determined right then that I would be worthy of her and show her that her confidence was not misplaced.”

Every society has its great minds which should not be lost to psychotropic drugs that alter their perception and thinking.

Erik von Hahn, M.D., FAAP, writing in the American Academy of Pediatrics News, said gifted children generally “may show behaviors that mimic ADHD. For example, they may appear hyperactive because they ask many questions and are so excited about learning. Or, they may fail to participate in age-expected activities because of their over-focus on an area of interest. Finally, boredom can lead to inattention as well as feelings of depression.” Further, “In such cases, the child does not have ADHD or another disability, and the appropriate intervention is to provide needed stimulation. Otherwise, the child is at risk for academic and social failure despite superior potential.”

According to data provided by the Gifted Resource Center of New England, many gifted and talented children (and adults) are being misdiagnosed by psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, and other health care professionals. The most common misdiagnoses are ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Mood Disorders such as Depression and Bipolar Disorder. Specific social and emotional characteristics of gifted children are wrongly assumed, by these professionals, to be signs of mental disorder.

Marianne Kuzujanakis, MD, MPH, a pediatrician and a Director of SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) also says that normal giftedness can easily be confused with a mental disorder, “Gifted kids may talk a lot, have high levels of energy, and be impulsive or inattentive or distractible in some settings—similar to symptoms of ADHD. It’s not unusual for gifted kids to struggle socially, have meltdowns over minor issues, or have unusual all-consuming interests—all pointing to an inappropriate diagnosis of autism. Often perfectionistic, the gifted are more likely to be introverted and may feel alone and alien in a world that doesn’t fully understand them.”

Stephanie Tolan, who researches the phenomenon of giftedness, said that “almost every parent I talk to has had to deal with, either as a casual observation/suggestion or as a very serious threat, ‘your child can’t come to school anymore until you have him medicated.’”

Dangerous Adverse Effects

The psychiatric drugs recommended for children diagnosed ADHD are dangerous.  Researchers from the University of Delaware and Drexel University College of Medicine reviewed the latest research on the effects of psychostimulants like methylphenidate and found that these drugs can impact the brain’s plasticity, interfering with people’s ability to plan ahead and switch between tasks.

Dr. Richard Saul is a behavioral neurologist from Chicago who said addiction to stimulants is not rare; it is common. “The drugs’ addictive qualities are obvious. We only need to observe the many patients who are forced to periodically increase their dosage if they want to concentrate. This is because the body stops producing the appropriate levels of neurotransmitters that ADHD meds replace—a trademark of addictive substances,” he wrote in TIME magazine.  He also says, “There are many side effects to ADHD medication that most people are not aware of: increased anxiety, irritable or depressed mood, severe weight loss due to appetite suppression, and even potential for suicide.”

False Labeling Epidemics in the Rush to Drug Children

Prof. Allen Frances, the former Chairman of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) Task Force, a professor emeritus of psychiatry, Duke University, said that the rates of ADHD have tripled since DSM-IV was published in 1994, creating “false epidemics” of ADHD. Add to that the 3-5 percent of kids who are particularly gifted are at special risk for being tagged with an inappropriate diagnosis of mental disorder, he said. “One of the disasters of the diagnostic inflation is that expectable and desirable individual difference is so often mislabeled as a mental disorder.”

Contributing to this has been new drug treatments that were aggressively marketed, Frances said. Sales of stimulants in 2012 were nearly $9 billion, more than five times the $1.7 billion a decade before, according to the data company IMS Health. In 2015, sales reached $12.9 billion.

Other Underlying Issues

In his controversial book ADHD Does Not Exist, Dr. Saul puts forward the case that not one single individual anywhere is afflicted by ADHD, for which the APA even admits there’s no medical test to substantiate it. Saul determined that “There is no such thing as ADHD.” Characterized by an inability to pay attention and sit still, a trait teachers worldwide have observed in many millions of pupils, ADHD is also associated with certain manic and impulsive behavior patterns. Excessive chattering, fidgeting, dislike of waiting, and disorganization are also common.

This level of exuberance is naturally present in many children, yet Dr. Saul finds that ADHD is now frequently used as an “excuse” for those that are difficult to control. It is Dr. Saul’s belief that many underlying problems are being overlooked and left untreated as a result of the lemming-like rush to assume ADHD. He cites poor eyesight and lack of sleep as a strong possibility behind learning difficulties., a national group dedicated to parents, caregivers, and children’s rights lists 50 conditions that mimic so-called ADHD from educational problems to allergies, low blood sugar and hearing problems, to carbon monoxide poisoning and dietary issues.

Many gifted children are never identified. Gifted identification is mandated in only 32 states, and funded in fewer. Most teachers receive only minimal instruction on the identification and management of gifted children.

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