Does My Child Have ADHD or Giftedness?

Not sure if your child has ADHD or giftedness? Know the keys to find out through their differences and similarities.
Does My Child Have ADHD or Giftedness?

Last update: 18 March, 2022

Not sure if your child has ADHD or giftedness? The most important thing in these cases is to go to a specialized professional so that you can make a good differential diagnosis. However, knowing the differences between both disorders and the reasons why they’re often confused will allow you to approach the subject as prepared as possible.

In the following paragraphs, we’ll see what each of these phenomena consists of (what symptoms children with ADHD or giftedness present) and what the differences in behavior between the two are, divided into specific areas.

Knowing what’s hidden behind your child’s behavior can help you enhance their learning and improve their quality of life, both at school and at home.

Does my child have ADHD or giftedness?

ADHD or giftedness? These are two highly differentiated phenomena, although in some cases, they appear together. First of all, we’re going to describe what we’re talking about in each case.

A distracted child with ADHD or high giftedness.

What is a child with ADHD like?

In the case of ADHD, this is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder. It’s classified as such in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and refers to three types of symptoms:

Depending on the symptom that predominates, ADHD can have different types: With a predominance of attention deficit (or inattention), with a predominance of hyperactivity, and finally, the combined type. In order to be diagnosed, the symptoms must last at least six months and present with a maladaptive intensity in relation to the child’s level of development.

At the same time, the symptoms must be present before the age of twelve, interfere with the child’s functioning, and occur in two or more settings (for example, at school and at home). Therefore, depending on the subtype of ADHD, children with this disorder can be very mobile (as if they had a motor inside), highly impulsive, and have difficulty concentrating (deficit in sustained attention).

Gifted children

On the other hand, high capacities refer more to intelligence and learning rather than to behavior. This concept includes, in turn, three different terms: Giftedness, talent, and precocity. Therefore, gifted children constitute a very heterogeneous group characterized by the following:

  • Significantly higher than average scores on standardized psychometric tests of general intelligence. That is, at least two standard deviations above the mean.
  • Above-average scores on aptitude tests.

The concept of giftedness encompasses many types of learners. At the same time, highly gifted children who, according to Renzulli, are very intelligent, creative, original children with sufficient motivation to guarantee the materialization of their potential (involvement in the task).

There are also talented children, that is, those who show high performance in one or several specific areas of knowledge, such as verbal, creative, logical, mathematical… In other words, they stand out a lot in a subject or field.

On the other hand, there are the “little geniuses“, a more colloquial term that refers to those children with a high intelligence (giftedness) who, in addition, contribute something very valuable to society, for example, in art, in science, etc…

ADHD or giftedness?

ADHD or giftedness, that is the question. Although they’re different concepts, they can often be confused in children and you may find it difficult to know what exactly your child has.

This is so because both children with ADHD and those with high abilities can be distracted, bored in class, lost in thought, needing to switch quickly from one task to another, bothering classmates, interfering with the rhythm of the lesson class, overflowing with energy, etc.

That is, the symptomatology may be the same; however, the causes, as we’ve seen, have a very different origin. But how can you tell them apart? Beyond making a good diagnosis (and focusing on the differential diagnosis, issued by a specialized professional), you can observe certain differences regarding behavior in both cases, which we’ll list below.

Differences between ADHD and giftedness

To find out if your child has ADHD or giftedness, you can look at a series of behaviors, which differ from case to case. Let’s see some examples:

  • Attention problems: In ADHD, they appear when completing tasks and following instructions, while in high capacities, they occur in specific situations in which the child is bored.
  • Mental effort: In ADHD the child is easily exhausted by tasks that require prolonged mental effort; On the other hand, in high capacities, there’s a great capacity for abstraction and concentration if the task attracts them.
A boy with ADHD in therapy with his mother.
  • Hyperactivity: In the case of ADHD, the child may jump, climb, or run in inappropriate situations… And in the case of giftedness, behavioral control is much greater.
  • Impulsivity: A child with ADHD tends to interrupt conversations and has a hard time taking turns when it comes to games or speaking; in the case of children with giftedness, on the other hand, they’re very good listeners.
  • Danger awareness: Low in ADHD and high in giftedness.
  • Behavior problems: Common in ADHD; in giftedness, they only appear in specific situations.
  • Performance and motivation: Performance is inconsistent in ADHD and motivation is low (if left untreated). In children with high capacities, greater motivation appears, especially in their areas of interest.
  • Concentration: Difficulties to recover attention and return to work in ADHD, while this is easy in the case of giftedness.
  • Concentration periods: Short in ADHD, prolonged in high capacities.

“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself.”

-John Dewey-

As we can see, ADHD and giftedness consist of highly differentiated disorders. However, there are gifted children who also have ADHD (although this isn’t always the case). Knowing their differences will allow you to enhance the development of your child (or your student), adapting to their interests, motivations, cognitive abilities, strengths and weaknesses, and behavior.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • American Psychiatric Association -APA- (2014). DSM-5. Manual diagnóstico y estadístico de los trastornos mentales. Madrid. Panamericana.
  • Belloch, A., Sandín, B. y Ramos, F. (2010). Manual de Psicopatología. Volumen II. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
  • Caballo, V. y Simón, M. A. (2002). Manual de Psicopatología Clínica Infantil y del adolescente. Trastornos generales. Pirámide: Madrid.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.