If you’re thinking ADHD, consider gifted as possibility

iStock_000016837201_ExtraSmallWhen working with a child who is easily distracted and seems hyperactive, it’s reasonable to wonder if the child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But, it may be just as reasonable to wonder if the child is gifted, according to a recent study in the Roeper Review.

“Some researchers suspect that gifted children are disproportionately singled out for ADHD evaluations,” write the researchers. “Gifted individuals often have unusually high energy levels, vivid imaginations, and highly sensitive and emotional dispositions. Within the gifted population, these behaviors could be indicative of ADHD or they could be indicative of a concept known as overexcitabilities.”

In this study of 116 gifted adolescent students attending a summer program for the gifted, researchers found that students flagged as having symptoms of ADHD with Conners’ ADHD/DSM-IV Scales Adolescent also scored highly on the Overexcitabilities Questionnaire-Two (OEQ-II).

Individuals with overexcitabilities (or intensities and sensitivities) take in and process larger than usual amounts of stimuli from the environment, the study says. The more pronounced experiences of children with overexcitabilities leads to enhanced developmental potential, according to Polish psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration.

These individuals frequently question or come into conflict with accepted social mores and reach a higher level of personal development through the process of positive disintegration and reintegration to resolve conflicts between their inner values and society’s values.

There are 5 over-excitabilities in the way individuals experience the world, according to Dabrowski:

  • Sensual —heightened pleasures of the senses
  • Imaginational—vivid and detailed fantasies and use of imagery
  • Psychomotor—extreme activity and energy
  • Intellectual—having a deep need for knowledge and problem solving
  • Emotional—extreme emotional sensitivity.

The Overexcitibilities Questionnaire—Two (OEQ-II) was designed to measure the 5 forms of overexcitability. Students answered 50-self-report items using a 5-point Likert scale with responses ranging from 1 (not at much like me). High scores indicate higher levels of overexcitability.

The study found significant correlations between the psychomotor overexcitability scores and ADHD scores and and between the sensual overexcitability scores and ADHD scores. There was a pronounced correlation between imaginational overexcitability and scores for ADHD on the Conners measure, the authors write. This means that individuals with imaginal overexcitability are most likely to display symptoms characteristic of ADHD which would increase the likelihood of an ADHD misdiagnosis or diagnosis.

“These relationships should not be mistaken for actual misdiagnosis,” the researchers write. “Rather, the authors hope to illuminate the potential relationship between characteristics of overexcitabilities and symptoms of ADHD.”

“Overexcitabilities and ADHD in the Gifted: An Examination,” by Anne Rinn and Marilyn Reynolds, Roeper Review, Volume 34, 2012, pp. 38-45.

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