“ADD” vs. “Gifted”

9/16/09

I have recently felt compelled to do some research on an issue that has me feeling some consternation and confusion.  There has apparently been a debate going on regarding how one can differentiate between children who are “gifted” and those who have ADD/ADHD.  The problem arises from the fact that the two conditions appear to possess the very same traits and characteristics.  I find it interesting that two children exhibiting the very same behavior can end up where one of them is labeled “gifted” and, therefore, is deserving of enrichment, and the other is given the diagnosis of having a “disorder,” indicating the need for medical or psychological intervention and treatment.

Differentiating Giftedness From ADHD

Now, to me, this is total B.S.  What a wonderful way to totally mess with people’s lives and a child’s sense of self and self-esteem.  How this child is “labeled” will affect his or her entire life!  And no wonder there is anxiety among teachers and medical professionals over this:  how must it feel to have the power to so affect a child’s entire world and future by simply applying a label? 

There are some professionals who have taken the time to outline what differences they say clearly and, in fact, do exist between the two conditions.  When I look at what these “differences” consist of I see no difference at all.  

For instance, I have read several papers that say that a “gifted” child will not pay attention because he/she is BORED.  But that a child with ADD will not pay attention because he/she is simply UNABLE to pay attention.  And, that a “gifted” child when engaged in an interesting activity or exercise is capable of deep and sustained attention, whereas a child with ADD is capable only of “hyper-focusing.”  Excuse me?  These people claim that “hyper-focus,” is inappropriately directed at something that is to no rewarding purpose for the ADD child.  Excuse me?

ADHD and Children Who Are Gifted

Is there a determination on what is appropriately labeled “boring” or “interesting?”  And is it not possible that the “ADD” child is unable to pay attention simply because he/she also finds the material boring?  I repeat:  I find this all to be a bunch of hooey!  No wonder everyone is confused!  Think of the kids involved!  I would not want to be one of them.

Except, guess what?  I WAS.  However, when I was a child, nobody knew anything about ADD.  And nobody was going around labeling kids.  I was pretty hyperactive, and my family will attest to that, and I did daydream a lot.  But I did fine in school and, in fact, was generally ahead of my class; my grades were good.  But I was very bored and I most definitely did not like school.  I would often be reading books in class when I was supposed to be paying attention.  And I never wanted to go to school.

When ADD became known, it became very obvious that the “symptoms” as described, fit me remarkably accurately.  I always did feel like a “misfit” in many ways.  But I never had any trouble learning.  I just had trouble with boredom and frustration.  So is that “ADD” or is it “Giftedness?”  And how do we interpret what being “gifted” really means?  I believe that people who have been given that label have probably been made to feel as much of a problem and a misfit as those who have been labeled as having ADD.

So is there a difference?  First of all, I believe that it is rather silly to try to put all the varying degrees of differentness in human beings into a handful of labeled “types.”  And there is no way to create a “box” that every human being fits into.  I realize that it is only possible to have so many different ways in which children can be taught at school; and some are slow-learners, some are fast-learners, and different kids learn in different ways.  According to some, there are only five ways that people learn:  Verbal, Visual, Tactile, Kinesthetic, and Aural (although there are many theories). And some kids don’t seem to cooperate or pay attention at all but somehow seem to learn regardless; sometimes the lowest performers end up shocking all by scoring off the charts on achievement tests.  So who is “gifted” and who is “disabled?”

As for my view of what ADD is, I believe that there are, and have always been, individuals who come along who are viewed as “misfits” in some way, and that these are people who are typically nonconformists to some degree; free-thinkers, people who question things; creative individuals who “think outside the box”, are innovators and so-called “mavericks.”  These are the people who stand out, who make things happen, make discoveries, and change the world.  Without these people, nothing would ever change.  The human race would never grow or evolve.

But in many cases, people like this have been criticized, laughed at, called “stupid,” or “lazy,” or “crazy” and have suffered for their “condition.”  I believe that typically, people labeled “ADD” are highly intelligent, often creative, and totally capable human beings, but very frequently are left feeling like failures or disappointments.  I think this is especially true of our modern society where our society dictates that we perform in certain ways – perhaps in ways that are uncomfortable and undesirable to this type of person.  And after all, these days, our lives are often difficult – for most everyone – and particularly for those of us who supposedly have ADD.  So we struggle.

But, is ADD a “disorder?” Does having ADD mean being “damaged?”  How fair is that?  I can say that trying to live in this society with ADD does bring problems and difficulties.  Our society is not designed to work well for the small population of people who are a little “different.”  It would not be possible for it to be so, since it is apparently not possible for the world at large to even begin to understand the mind of someone who has ADD!  And here now my anger is revealed.

I am angry at the pain.  I am angry at the confusion and the insecurity, the self-doubt and self-loathing.

So – If we are going to use “labels,” I want to have it straight:  Am I gifted or disabled?  They are now saying that a person can be Both.

What do we Really Know?

Just so, a person can have other conditions along with ADHD.  It seems that ADD diagnoses are often accompanied by other conditions, such as learning disorders like dyslexia, or psychological conditions such as depression.  Could having ADD bring about some of these conditions?  I know in my case if I had known about ADD earlier and if my childhood experience had been different, I might have never experienced the serious depression that I have suffered in my life.  If I had been recognized as the creative and talented person I seem to be, I might have enjoyed my fair share of success instead of life-long frustration.  I submit that ADD is not a condition, but simply a personality type; a type which unfortunately does not integrate well in modern society, or conform to the masses.

Apparently there is a difference in brain anatomy or chemistry in people with ADD.  I would be interested in learning whether people who are labeled “gifted” show any brain differences.  And what does this really mean anyway?  Is there a “right” and “wrong” way for our minds to work?  Who decides?  And who says the “majority” gets to decide what is TRUE or not true.  They already seem to make all the RULES.  I get angry that I HAVE to do things a certain way in order for my life to work.  Because something inside tells me that it shouldn’t HAVE to be that way.  And, in fact, it hasn’t always been this way.

I reject the idea that ADD is a disability.  However, I am on disability.  I have had to admit to some difficulties that have impacted my life and rendered me dysfunctional.  But I put it out there that had some of these people throughout history who are known for their contributions in science, music, art, and literature – those people who we have praised and revered:  if we were to stick them here in our current society, then I would expect that they would also be rendered “disabled.”  And I guess I can be OK with that, as disturbing and distressing as it may be.

But I think we need to leave our children alone.  Let’s not try to put them in boxes with labels on them!  That is the surest way to doom them to disability and despair.  And I know what that feels like.  It is an evil thing.  Why not let them fly, and leave them to be the beautiful individuals they are?  We need them.

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