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Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Kids

March 15, 2011

Dr. James Webb has realized that most pediatricians and psychologists or social workers have 1 class hour or less of formal education on giftedness. Small wonder, then, that gifted kids are apt to be mis-diagnosed with other syndromes.

Dr. Webb outlined 5 of the most common misdiagnoses (e.g., children are identified with a syndrome that they don’t have, but instead they are gifted):  ADHD/ADD, anger disorders, mood disorders, learning disorders, and ideational/anxiety disorders.  But he caveats that some gifted children do need dual diagnoses, most commonly of giftedness plus learning disorders, ADHD/ADD, OCD (20% of gifted kids), Aspergers, allergies & asthma, reactive hypoglycemia (6-8%), or sleep disorders.

A few pointers:

  • Gifted children often develop “asynchronously”, meaning that some abilities develop faster than others.  This causes two issues.  First, we tend to measure ourselves by our lowest skill, hence gifted kids underestimate their abilities.  Secondly, their judgement lags their intellect.
  • Gifted kids’ brains consume more glucose, particularly when their brains are being engaged.  About 6-8% end up with reactive hypoglycemia, but it commonly gets misdiagnosed as bipolar or ADHD, when the kids simply need protein snacks (not sugar) throughout the day.  So if your child’s moods swing several times a day, try beef jerky, peanut butter and cheese sticks before running to the doctor.   (But watch out for allergies.)
  • Most gifted kids will gravitate toward individual sports.
  • Some gifted kids (or adults) develop existential depression, questioning the meaning of life.  When a child gets into this kind of funk, it is important to communicate that he is not alone.  Help him connect with idealists and causes, or let him read Tillich, Pascal, Kirkegaard, or Nietzsche.  And use touch to help foster a sense of connection.
  • Finding a mate can be tough for a gifted person.  They need opportunities to get to know their intellectual peers, who share their interests, values, and quirky sense of humor.   Dr. Webb hypothesizes that they have a “zone of tolerance” of about +/- 15 IQ points.  When you consider that only 3% of the people in a population are gifted, and half of those are the same sex, finding that potential mate in a heterogeneous population is difficult. [Ed. note: Bear this in mind when selecting a college.  Look for honors programs or selective colleges.]

misdiagnosisIf you’re concerned about whether your child may merit a dual diagnosis, read Dr. Webb’s book, Misdiagnosis And Dual Diagnoses Of Gifted Children And Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s, Depression, And Other Disorders.   Or give a copy to your pediatrician.

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