Gifted vs ADHD: Navigating the Complex Twice Exceptional Journey

Gifted vs ADHD
Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Gifted vs ADHD: Navigating the Complex Twice Exceptional Journey

Giftedness and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are two distinct characteristics. When combined, they create a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Parents must strive to learn more about the world of their twice-exceptional (2e) children. Doing so allows them to better support them in their giftedness and ADHD journey.

Gifted vs. ADHD

Giftedness refers to an exceptional level of cognitive ability or ability in one or more areas. These children often demonstrate remarkable intelligence, advanced problem-solving skills, and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Their intellectual prowess sets them apart from their peers as they excel in various academic and creative pursuits.  

Gifted kids aren’t just smart, they display at least one area that they demonstrate advanced knowledge or skills in. I recently worked with an adult named George who was identified as gifted in math as a young child. 

On the other hand, having a diagnosis of ADHD means that your child experiences challenges related to attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Children with ADHD often find it difficult to focus. They also may struggle with impulse control and often display high levels of energy and restlessness. These traits often lead to difficulties in school and social situations.

Now, let's take a closer look at a phenomenon commonly associated with ADHD and giftedness, hyperfocus, which can be a strength or hindrance. Hyperfocus is a state where individuals with ADHD become fully engrossed in a specific task or activity. They can even get to the point of excluding everything else from their awareness (Groen et al., 2020). While it's a challenge, it can also be a strength when properly managed.

When harnessed effectively, hyperfocus can lead to high levels of productivity and creativity. It allows individuals to dive deep into their interests and accomplish tasks with remarkable precision.

What is Twice Exceptional?

When a child is twice exceptional, they possess exceptional cognitive abilities associated with giftedness and the challenges linked to ADHD, autism, or some other clinical condition. This combination creates a complex and often perplexing profile. These children may exhibit moments of brilliance and creativity, followed by instances of hyperactivity, impulsivity, or distraction.

In essence, being twice exceptional means navigating a dynamic spectrum of abilities and difficulties. The challenge lies in recognizing and appreciating this intricate blend and finding the best ways to support these exceptional children on their unique journeys (Foley-Nicpon et al., 2013).

What is Twice Exceptional

Challenges Faced by 2e Children

Challenges encountered by twice-exceptional individuals are varied and demand a nuanced understanding. These challenges encompass a wide spectrum and impact their academic performance, social interactions, and overall well-being. Here's some of their challenges:

Academic Performance

The academic landscape can pose substantial hurdles for 2e students. Their ADHD-related difficulties, such as attention deficit disorders and executive functioning issues, may hinder their ability to complete tasks efficiently. It can affect their grades and make it challenging for them to meet the academic standards expected at their grade levels.

Social Interactions

Navigating social interactions can be particularly tricky for 2e children. They may struggle with social skills and experience difficulties in forming and maintaining friendships. Their impulsivity and tendency to hyperfocus on their interests can sometimes make it hard for them to engage in age-appropriate social activities.

Behavioral Concerns

Behavioral problems are not uncommon for 2e children. Impulsive behaviors are a hallmark of ADHD. They can lead to issues like disruptions in the classroom, conflicts with peers, and disciplinary actions. These behaviors can also affect their learning experiences.

Asynchronous Development

Asynchronous development is a notable challenge for 2e children (Silverman, 1997). It refers to the disparity between their intellectual capabilities and emotional development. They may excel intellectually but struggle with emotional regulation, causing emotional outbursts or difficulties in coping with frustration. 

I often see very bright children who absorb everything at such a high level but still only have typical emotional development to manage what they are seeing, hearing and feeling. That can be very overwhelming for the 2e child and parent. 

Social Challenges

Social challenges encompass various difficulties in interacting with peers. These can include trouble understanding social cues, misinterpreting social situations, or experiencing rejection due to differences in communication, knowledge of their environment and behavior.

Some 2e children may feel that other kids don’t share the same interests. I remember a boy named John who complained about his cousin calling him a, “Baby” even though they were both five years old. John explained, “Silas just cries all the time.”

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Some 2e children may exhibit oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) traits, characterized by a pattern of defiant, disobedient, and hostile behaviors. These behaviors can compound the challenges they face in school and at home.

Mental Health Condition

The combination of giftedness and ADHD can create a unique breeding ground for mental health concerns. The stress and pressure to meet academic expectations, along with the challenges of ADHD, contribute to conditions like anxiety or depression.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) for Twice Exceptional Children

Creating an effective Individualized Education Program (IEP) for twice-exceptional children is a complex but essential task. An IEP is a tailored plan designed to address their unique blend of strengths and challenges of a 2e child.

One must initiate the IEP process with a thorough assessment of the child's abilities, challenges, and specific needs. This assessment may include cognitive skills testing, behavioral observations, and an evaluation of their clinical symptoms.

Next, a multidisciplinary team meets  and  collaborates on the development of the IEP. The team may include educators, special education specialists, therapists, and healthcare professionals with expertise in ADHD and gifted students.

The IEP plan should include not just academic accommodations. It should also contain tailored learning objectives, behavioral and emotional support, and social skills development. Commit to regular IEP reviews and adjustments to adapt to the child's evolving needs. And as they grow and develop, their IEP may require modifications to continue effectively addressing their challenges and strengths.

Familiarize yourself with the legal framework governing special education, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Ensure that the IEP complies with these regulations to secure the child's rights to appropriate educational services.

Creating an IEP for 2e school-aged children requires a comprehensive and individualized approach that considers both their giftedness and ADHD-related challenges. It aims to provide them with the necessary support to enjoy academic and social success while celebrating their unique qualities.

Parenting Tips for Navigating the Gifted vs. ADHD Journey

Parenting Tips for Navigating the Gifted vs. ADHD Journey

Parenting gifted students with ADHD requires a blend of strategies that cater to their unique combination of strengths and challenges. These parenting tips encompass a range of considerations to help support your twice-exceptional child.

1. Understand ADHD and Giftedness

Start by gaining a deep understanding of both ADHD and giftedness. Educate yourself about the core symptoms of ADHD, executive functioning skills, and the traits of gifted individuals, as well as the assets of ADHD and intellectual giftedness. Try to research more about the most effective treatment plan for an ADHD patient that would complement your child's needs.

2. Promote Open Communication

Establish open and honest communication with your child. Encourage them to express their feelings and concerns. With very bright children, we often neglect their emotional development and that can create problems later in life. The only thing needed to get them warmed up is a safe space for them to discuss their experiences.

3. Create Routine and Structure

Implement consistent routines and structures at home. Predictable schedules and time management can help mitigate some of the challenges associated with ADHD or high emotionality by  a sense of stability.

4. Foster a Supportive Environment

Create a home and school environment that supports your child's learning and emotional needs. Ensure access to educational materials that stimulate their interests in a deep, experiential way and consider sensory-friendly spaces.

5. Incorporate Positive Reinforcement

Utilize positive reinforcement techniques to motivate ADHD students. Celebrate their exceptional skills and achievements to boost their self-esteem and confidence. Doing so will go a long way in boosting your child’s giftedness.

6. Undergo Social Skills Training

Seek social skills training or groups to help your child improve their social interactions. When embedded into their education program, it can provide valuable guidance on navigating social challenges.

7. Teach Stress Management

Teach stress management techniques to help your child cope with the demands of both their giftedness and ADHD. These techniques may include mindfulness exercises or relaxation strategies.

8. Use an Empathetic Approach

Approach parenting with empathy. Understand that your child's behavior may be a manifestation of their challenges. The best way to handle problem behavior is to avoid punitive measures and focus on constructive solutions.

9. Advocate for Your Child

Advocate for your child's academic needs within the school system. Collaborate with teachers and special education professionals to ensure they receive appropriate support to get good grades. Nourish their high intelligence quotient through a gifted program, if possible.

10. Practice Patience and Resilience

Cultivate patience and resilience as a parent. Understand that the journey may be challenging at times, but your support is invaluable to your child's success. To help you out, seek professional guidance from healthcare providers, educators, and therapists who specialize in ADHD children and giftedness. Their expertise can provide valuable insights and strategies.

Balancing Strengths and Weaknesses in 2e Children

Balancing strengths and weaknesses in twice-exceptional children is a dynamic journey. Parents and educators must embark upon with great care. These exceptional children possess a complex blend of exceptional talents and ADHD-related challenges

It’s essential to embracing their individuality and strengths, as it lays the foundation for their growth and development. Shifting the perspective to highlight their strengths, fostering a supportive environment, and encouraging self-exploration can help 2e children flourish.

One crucial aspect of nurturing 2e individuals is the cultivation of self-awareness and emotional development. Encouraging them to understand their strengths and challenges empowers them to take an active role in their growth. 

It's about fostering a sense of self-identity and helping them navigate the intricacies of their own minds. Additionally, providing a consistent routine and stress management techniques helps them cope with the demands of their ADHD-related difficulties. It also promotes emotional balance and well-being.

Education plays a pivotal role in this journey. Advocating for flexible learning approaches within the educational system ensures that the curriculum adapts to their special needs. Collaboration with educators and specialists is vital to address all aspects of their development effectively.

It's a process that requires patience, compassion, and a commitment to celebrating their progress, regardless of its scale. Ultimately, balancing strengths and weaknesses in 2e individuals is about nurturing their individuality. Provide them with the tools and support they need to navigate the complexities of their remarkable minds.

Parent Action Steps

☐ Educate yourself about Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and giftedness.
☐ Foster open and honest communication with your gifted child with ADHD.
☐ Create a supportive home environment that caters to their learning disability or high IQ.
☐ Utilize positive reinforcement techniques to boost your child's self-esteem.
☐ Seek social skills training and encourage positive peer relationships.
☐ Teach stress management techniques like mindfulness and relaxation.
☐ Educate your child about the power of self-advocacy.
☐ Collaborate with educators and specialists to build a tailored education program.
☐ Celebrate your child's small victories and successes.
☐ Cultivate patience and resilience as a parent.
☐ Take this ADHD Quiz to know if your child has ADHD or something else.


Foley-Nicpon, M., Assouline, S. G., & Colangelo, N. (2013). Twice-Exceptional Learners. Gifted Child Quarterly, 57(3), 169–180.

Groen, Y., Priegnitz, U., Fuermaier, A. B. M., Tucha, L., Tucha, O., Aschenbrenner, S., Weisbrod, M., & Garcia Pimenta, M. (2020). Testing the relation between ADHD and hyperfocus experiences. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 107, 103789.

Silverman, L. K. (1997). The construct of asynchronous development. Peabody Journal of Education, 72(3-4), 36–58.

Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.

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Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of  media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.”

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She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Mental Health Professional (CIMHP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).

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