She finally said it “I don’t think your boy has ADHD”. My first thought was, “You haven’t seen him off medication!” And so we trialed a few days at his gifted enrichment programme without it, and he was “manageable”.
Her perspective: gifted children often get misdiagnosed as having ADHD due to gifted overexciteabilities, which the majority of the medical profession have never heard of! I certainly hadn’t.
I recall one of my son’s kindergarten teachers telling me “Perhaps he is just gifted” in response to his social issues at age four. I have been told preschool teachers are really on to it at picking these things up for what they actually are.
And ADHD has never sat well with me. When I told people my son was assessed as being highly gifted their response was “of course”. When I told people of his ADHD diagnosis three years previously their response was “Really?”
Answering the questionnaire they used to diagnose this condition made me think that he DOES have ADHD. So many boxes of ADHD traits were ticked ‘often’ or ‘very often’. And medication did reduce his mild “hyperactivity” plus it improved his ability to follow instructions, and to sit at school and do the work set… until he got bored that is!
But then I learnt about gifted overexciteabilties, and that they seem to be more pronounced in accordance with the degree of giftedness. It seems true that a large number of gifted children are misdiagnosed with ADHD, so it is something that really stirred inside me and warranted further investigation.
Gifted overexcitabilities (OEs) are when we have a heightened response to stimuli. This response can be positive or negative. OEs have been categorised as psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational and emotional.
Psychomotor OE can look similar to the ADHD traits of hyperactivity and impulsivity. It can stem from either nervousness or a surplus of energy. With the earlier, it can be seen by activity such as tics, nail biting (my son is a nail biter – fingers and toes), rapid or compulsive speech and impulsive behaviour – yes and yes. When expressed as a surplus of energy it can be seen a need for action.
Sensual OE is where the response from the senses of sight, smell, touch, taste or hearing is heightened. They could have an increased and early appreciation of music (yes) or art; or they could be overly fond of jewellery. Or they may find clothing tags, classroom noise (yes), or smells from the cafeteria so distracting that they are unable to do schoolwork. They are likely to be “fussy” eaters – my son only likes his veges raw and crunchy.
Those high in intellectual OEs have a NEED to understand and gain knowledge. They are intensely curious, often avid readers (well that definitely applies), and usually keen observers with remarkably detailed visual recall (yes, again). They are able to concentrate on something that has engaged their interest for a long time, and are persistent problem-solvers – DS10 is great at that in our house. Their tendency to focus on moral thinking often translates into strong concerns about moral and ethical issues such as fairness in the playground or classroom (yes, again), lack of respect for children, or being concerned about “adult” issues such as poverty, war and politics. Intellectually OE people are also quite independent thinkers and sometimes appear critical of and impatient with others who cannot keep up with their intellectual pace – YES!!!!
Imaginational OE can again be confused with the attention deficit aspect of ADHD with frequent distraction, wandering attention and daydreaming (yes). People with this OE have an incredibly free imagination. They are able to visualise images in absolute detail and are likely to have elaborate dreams. Often they mix truth with fiction, or create their own private world (with detailed scenes) to escape boredom. They may have difficulty completing tasks when some incredible idea sends them off on an imaginative tangent.
Emotional OEs are where emotions are felt intensely. They have strong emotional attachments to people, places, and things. Those high in this OE also identify remarkably with others’ feelings. Children high in emotional OE are often accused of “overreacting.” Their compassion and concern for others, their focus on relationships, and the intensity of their feelings may interfere with everyday tasks. Anxieties and fears are more likely in this group, as well as feelings of guilt or self-judgement and concern about death.
So after all this where do I stand with our twice-exceptional boy?
I spent months pondering about this, and stepped down as coordinator of our local ADHD parent support group because of doubts over whether my son had been misdiagnosed. In fact I thought our GP was thinking the same thing, until I got to a referral meeting only to find out he was re-questioning an autism diagnosis instead!
It might be time for another medication free holiday. But dare I continue that into the school term, when I know the education system is not geared for these characteristics, and when he is doing so well at the moment. Or do I continue to do what I feel is necessary to help him succeed in the environment he is currently in? For now, I choose the latter.