Gifted and ADHD

By Jim Forgan, Ph.D.

There are a group of children that have ADHD and are gifted.  Sometimes I get pediatricians referring children to me for testing because the child is getting in trouble in school because he finishes his work so fast that he becomes a behavior problem.  Teachers don’t always know how to handle boys like this because they are active, energetic, and smart!  Thus, doctors often advise parents to get their IQ checked out because he may be gifted.  This is a good first step to help parents figure things out.  Sometimes additional testing is warranted to assess if there is ADHD in addition to gifted testing.  A small group of children are both gifted and ADHD and Mary Anne and I both test for gifted and ADHD.

I give ALL parents that work with me for gifted testing my Forgan Parent Support Systems Gifted Parent Preparation Program so you you know exactly how to prepare your child for testing.  You also receive all forms that are needed if your child qualifies as well as 12 of my exclusive gifted videos!  These videos give your child a tour of my office, include a message from me, and provide interviews with the Weiss School Head of School and a Palm Beach Schools Gifted Contact person.

My co-author of the book Raising Boys with ADHD: Secrets for Parenting Healthy, Happy Sons, Mary Anne Richey, wrote this piece about helping children that are gifted and ADHD.  Gifted children with ADHD have immense potential for learning but also for distractions caused by their own thoughts. They generally have a variety of interests and curiosities which often set their minds a buzz with ideas and plans. In order for classroom material to compete, it must satisfy their heightened need for stimulation – a tough task!

Maximizing these capable learners’ classroom participation is critical.  Keeping them fully engaged not only benefits the students themselves but also the classroom as a whole. One of the real values of gifted classrooms is the sharing of information and ideas among students.

Of course, parents cannot choose their children’s teachers, but pretend for a moment that you could design the perfect classroom. What would it look like? Critical factors to consider include teacher characteristics, classroom organization, and lesson design and presentation.

Teaching children with ADHD sometimes requires a little bit more ingenuity (and a lot more patience). Teachers who have high energy and are structured and loving but firm are usually most effective with bright, active learners. One confounding factor about these children is that their focus is often governed by their motivation, so it is key to have a teacher who tries to make learning interesting. Having a teacher who can appreciate your child’s strengths and not become too annoyed with the impulsivity, activity level or daydreaming will be invaluable.

The following factors have proven to be effective in maximizing education for gifted children:


A positive classroom environment where the teacher has an understanding of ADHD and is familiar with strategies to prompt your child to become an active participant in the learning process.

Seating in a distraction-free area, close to the point of instruction but as far away as possible from air conditioners, high-traffic areas, bathroom access, and other active students.

Provision of a study carrel or separate area of the classroom where a child can choose to go and work when distractions become too great. In some cases, students have referred to these areas as their offices.

Work areas that are kept neat and free of distractions.

Placement of students with ADHD near positive role models.

When possible, core classes that are scheduled early in the day. An optimal schedule for a child with ADHD is to have physical education or recess and lunch at intervals that break up the day.

Supervision, especially during transition times. Especially boys with ADHD are more likely to get in trouble while moving from one area to another.


Specific classroom procedures established and practiced consistently. In kindergarten, children may need practice to understand how to stand in line, take turns, raise their hands, and wait to be called on before speaking.

Organizational skills taught and modeled throughout the school day, with assistance where necessary. Use of color-coded folders for each subject and a separate folder for homework can be very helpful.

Warnings provided before transitions. For example, “Five more minutes before science.”

Achievement motivators that stress effort and persistence. In other words, the child is rewarded for doing his very best, not for producing an “A” result.

Concept of time-out used as a chance to regain control rather than as a punishment.

Acceptable substitutes provided for motor behavior such as allowing the student to squeeze stress balls or chew gum if permitted by the school. Some teachers allow children to move about after tasks are complete, as long as it does not bother other students. Or they might allow a child to stand beside his or her desk and work.

Sincere verbal praise for specific behavior is invaluable as a tool for reinforcing the desired behavior. Make sure to “catch them paying attention.”

Students should be taught how to become independent learners and how to self-monitor their own behavior.

Frequent visual cues between student and teacher help maintain optimal attention and control  behavior. A cue could be a special sign that only the student with ADHD and the teacher know. This is a great proactive way to help a child.



Eye contact established with a child with ADHD  before  key points of instruction are delivered.

Lessons that are challenging without being frustrating.

Hands-on, experiential learning is a favorite for children with ADHD. Their attention to task increases significantly when it is of high interest.

Use of computerized instruction as part of the curriculum is a positive way for most gifted children to learn because it can be stimulating, interactive., and adjusted to ability.

Since many gifted children can be incredibly focused on topics or activities of their choice, an effective motivator can be to allow them extra credit on selected topics with the project to be matched to their learning style. If a boy is talented verbally, then he might research something and present to the class. If he’s good with his hands, he might build a project instead.