Giftedness Looks Similar to A.D.D./A.D.H.D.

T he excerpted lists below (the complete lists can be found here) enumerate some of the characteristics of giftedness and A.D.H.D. There are similarities. There are differences. It’s easy to see how one can be confused for the other.

Characteristics of Gifted Students Who Are Bored

  • Poor attention and daydreaming when bored
  • Low tolerance for persistence on tasks that seem irrelevant
  • Begin many projects, see few to completion
  • May appear careless
  • Highly sensitive to criticism
  • Do not exhibit problem behaviors in all situations
  • More consistent levels of performance at a fairly consistent pace
    (Cline, 1999; Webb & Latimer, 1993)

Characteristics of Students with ADHD

  • Poorly sustained attention
  • Diminished persistence on tasks not having immediate consequences
  • Often shift from one uncompleted activity to another
  • May appear inattentive to details
  • Highly sensitive to criticism
  • Problem behaviors exist in all settings, but in some are more severe
  • Variability in task performance and time used to accomplish tasks.
    (Barkley, 1990; Cline, 1999; Webb & Latimer, 1993)

You can see the complete list here:

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  • Katy B.

    Thank you for posting this. I was identified early on as a “gifted” student but was not diagnosed with ADHD until just this year (I’m 33 now). For me, although a majority of criteria for both apply, I feel the diagnosis of ADHD is correct for me due to impairment. School/growing up wasn’t horrible, but I did feel very pressured by the fact that it was conspicuous that I wasn’t meeting the usual expectations for “smart” students. Fortunately I had teachers and parents who, for the most part, simply enjoyed my eccentricities…I wasn’t meeting my potential, but I wasn’t an abject failure either. Adulthood was when the challenges became too much, and that’s a whole other story.

    An additional layer that adds flavor to the discussion…that ADHD traits can express themselves different in boys and girls…in the article “Messy Purse Girls” (…in the article they talk about differences between the dopamine receptivity in boys and girls, and that this difference could result in girls exhibiting more impairment during and after puberty, where boys would before puberty…for me, personally this rings true.

    Add this variable to the “giftedness” variable and it seems obvious to me why I was not id’ed as ADHD earlier. I look forward to further research in my lifetime that will enable us to draw more meaningful lines between the forces acting on particular individuals’ minds…and allow us to address people’s needs more effectively.

  • Jeff


    Thank you for adding your voice and experience to the dialogue. There’s no doubt that there’s a problem when one is both gifted and A.D.D. I think that’s what I found most interesting about this list. Much of my life has been a case of not living up to my potential. Oh well…such is the life of an

  • Katy B.

    Then of course, we have to ask ourselves “is it me, or are the expectations the screwed up part”…haha…this dilemma I take on a case by case basis. Sometimes we fail to meet our potential, and sometimes, people heap ridiculous demands on us that have more to do with their egos than anything else :P

  • Jeff


    This reminds me of an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon concerning school grades and expectations. The dialogue from the cartoon is reproduced below. This comes from Wikipedia. The setting is a classroom. Calvin and Susie are sitting at their desks. They just received their test scores back. Calvin explains his poor grades to Susie Derkins [a classmate].

    - CALVIN: What grade did you get?
    - SUSIE: I got an A.
    - CALVIN: Really? Boy, I’d hate to be you. I got a C.
    - SUSIE: Why on Earth would you rather get a C than an A?
    - CALVIN: I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep everyone’s expectations.


    Here’s the “official” Calvin and Hobbes collection:

  • Scott Hutson


    Great example! Calvin: I find my life is alot easier the lower I keep everyone’s expectations!

  • betsy davenport, phd

    High intelligence masks AD/HD and AD/HD masks high intelligence.

    The people with AD/HD who are using brainpower for coping have to use what is left over, which might be a kind of average amount of brain power. So they look to others kind of average. Functionally, they are.

    Not all people with AD/HD are highly intelligent.

    Not all highly intelligent people have AD/HD.

    It is one of those things that just won’t die. Too attractive, I guess.

    But even if it were true that AD/HD conveys gifts, SO WHATTT??

  • Scott Hutson

    Tapping into the brain accidentaly….When I was in ICU for 48 hr’s,after an Asympomtatic Seizure, my wife and mother-in-law were sitting in the room w/me. Every time I would try to say something, it would come out in reverse letters. (If you have ever seen the guy on a show called Hee-Haw, he would tell a story that way,it was kinda funny).

    When this happened,I spoke very fast,and it came out exactly that way! I could’nt finish a sentence without breaking out into laughter,from hearing myself do this.This kind of laughter is something I have been able to have before or after. I could’nt talk like that even if I tried,before or after that.

    This went on for about 30 minutes. Before too long,my wife,M-I-Law,and even the nurses out at the desk,were laughing so hard,one of the nurses had to come in and tell me to stop(when she could catch her breath and get it out).

    The brain/mind has ability,it seems,but tapping into it…?All I can say is, that was one of weirdest things I have ever expierianced in my life.


  • Scott Hutson

    When I said I have been able to laugh that way before and after..I meant I have NEVER been able to laugh that way before or after.Sorry, I should preview my stuff.

  • Katy B.

    That’s a good point Betsy…and one of the reasons I sought treatment in the first place was that it was painful to me that in many ways I was shooting my potential in the ass by letting what I came to know as ADHD run my life, while my highly intelligent non-ADHD friends were doing the things that “smart people are supposed to do”, for lack of a better phrase.

    My life had become an eccentric collage of the few times I had been able to pull my shit together, laced with disappointments caused by the less helpful aspects of ADHD. Absolutely a frustrating experience, I assure you. I’m at peace with my eccentricity now, but really am working to find treatment methods that will allow me to “better” my average for success.

  • Scott Hutson


    The characteristics of gifted, and characteristics of ADHD students. The complete lists @ Very interesting. I don’t consider(and never will) myself gifted as a child. But I do know I was and am an I don’t consider myself gifted now(and never will).

    But according to the lists…About being bored. You are very right Jeff, about.. One can easily be confused for the other. It’s wrong about me(the bored list),because I qualified. It sucks being an,but it’s not that bad being un-gifted. For me anyway.


  • Katy B.

    Well…and here’s one of the pitfalls of the label “gifted” itself. It’s easy to take it out of context and assume that it means more than it does. Really…isn’t it just a label for people who for whatever reason are “gifted” in certain kinds of thinking that are valued in a particular kind of academic setting?

    I’m not smoking any sunshine here about “everyone’s frickin’ special” blahblahblah…I just think that certain types of doing and thinking can SOMETIMES be a little overvalued, as they are not as universally helpful in all situations…I know lots of “gifted” people who can’t think their damn way out of a paper bag when it comes to practical details…and I’m sad to say that I find that hilarious…but come on, it’s sort of funny.

    Anyway…clearly, whether you would be considered one of “those” people Scott, it is evident in your posts that you are in fact gifted with intelligence and humor ;)

  • Scott Hutson


    Well Thank You! I may be a gifted poet..Because of my ability to find so many words that ryme with “Nantucket”…Who knows?:)

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