ADD-SOI Center - Attention Deficit Disorders and Structure of Intellect - Manhattan Beach California

Misdiagnosis Not Uncommon in Treating Gifted Children

After listening to a mother's assessment of her eight-year-old son's behavior and reading a school district's report, a pediatrician in California concluded that her child may well be ADHD. "Let's try him on medication for a few weeks, and then we'll know for sure." he offered.

In another part of the country, the examination of a child ended similarly when the psychiatrist informed the child's mother that he was "probably bipolar" and the remedy would be medication.

Both children's mothers were aware that their children were gifted, and differed from "normal" children not just in intellect, but also in intensity, sensitivity, and other areas. These mothers decided to seek second opinions from specialists familiar with social and emotional characteristics of gifted children.

Misdiagnosis by psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians and other health care professions, undertrained to to deal with the gifted population, are common, says James T. Webb, Ph.D., a psychologist in Scottsdale, AZ, who has worked with gifted children for the past 20 years.

The most recurrent misdiagnoses are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (OD). Other children are misdiagnosed as having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Mood Disorder of various kinds, even Bi-Polar Disorders. These errors arise from ignorance about specific social and emotional characteristics of gifted children that professionals mistakenly assume to be signs of pathology.

Even when children have received a correct diagnosis, giftedness remains a factor that must be considered in treatment and should generate a dual diagnosis. For example, existential depression or learning disability, when present in gifted children or adults, requires a different approach than usual because new dimensions are added by the giftedness component.

Webb heads SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted). His paper, "Dual Diagnoses and Misdiagnoses of Gifted Children," and other information dealing with gifted children is available at

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