Psychological Misdiagnosis of Gifted and Talented Children
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Gifted and talented children face many challenges. One is living in a world where their traits are often poorly understood. Another is being misdiagnosed. These things put them at risk for problems at home and school.
What It Means to Be Gifted or Talented
There is no one way to define giftedness. IQ tests are the tools that are most used to check for it. But these tests can miss some of the gifted traits that some kids have, such as in art, music, language, science, or math.
Some common traits are:
The Problems That They Face
Gifted and talented children are often not understood by peers, teachers, and even family. As a result, they may have problems, such as:
Doctors who are not familiar with gifted kids may think these problems are the result of a mental or emotional disorder. This may mean they may not get the help they really need.
Some of the common problems gifted children are misdiagnosed with are:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Impatience, sensitivity, and high energy are common in children with ADHD as well as in children who are gifted. Some gifted children do have ADHD, but most do not.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Like children with oppositional defiant disorder, gifted children often appear strong-willed. They do not like to be criticized for their unique way of thinking. They may question rules and have power struggles with people who are in charge.
Depression and Bipolar Disorder
Gifted children may have strong mood swings. They are quick to notice problems. They can feel alienated from others. These traits are often found in children with depression and bipolar disorder. Mood swings do not mean that a gifted child suffers from a mood disorder, but they should be referred to a child psychiatrist.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
Gifted children like to organize things into complex structures. They tend to be perfectionists and idealists. They can get upset when others do not go agree with them. This may be thought to be obsessive-compulsive disorder or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
Gifted children often have unique ways of being social. Their strange comments and jokes may be thought to be signs of Asperger syndrome. People with this problem may be gifted, but they do not respond to ordinary social or emotional cues. They may not make friends right away and often want to be by themselves.
In contrast, gifted children often show a great deal of concern for others. If your gifted child gets along well with both adults and children, then Asperger syndrome is not likely.
Gifted and talented children face many challenges and being misdiagnosed should not be one of them. They can reach their full potential when they are given the right support. If you are worried about your child, visit a child psychologist who has helped other gifted and talented children.
GT World for Gifted and Talented Individuals
National Association of Gifted Children
Gifted Children's Association of BC
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Gifted students. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/school/Pages/Gifted-Students.aspx. Accessed June 10, 2021.
The gifted underachiever. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/school/Pages/The-Gifted-Underachiever.aspx. Accessed June 10, 2021.
Webb J, Amend E, et al. Misdiagnosis and dual diagnosis of gifted children. Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted website. Available at: https://www.sengifted.org/misdiagnosis-initiative. Accessed June 10, 2021.
What is giftedness? National Association for Gifted Children website. Available at: https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/what-giftedness. Accessed June 10, 2021.
Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 6/10/2021
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