Frustration is common for students with ADHD. For twice-exceptional students who are gifted and have ADHD, that frustration can be quite extreme and, at times, unpredictable. According to Dr. Jerome Schultz, ADHD can impact a gifted student’s ability to focus, successfully complete school work, and interact positively with peers (1998). How do we, as teachers of twice-exceptional students, help them be successful in the classroom?
How do you support your gifted students with ADHD?
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Understanding ADHD and Giftedness
Before we can begin instructing gifted students with ADHD, we must understand the unique challenges they face. Gifted students who have been diagnosed with ADHD often act without thinking, much like their peers who have ADHD but are not gifted (Shultz, 1998). However, the twice-exceptional student may find that his or her impulsivity leads to the right decision more often than his or her counterpart. That said, gifted students with ADHD are often confused and upset because they may not succeed on a consistent basis. They don’t always understand why they can succeed on some days and in some situations but not in others. It is very important for these students to understand what ADHD is and how it can affect the learning process. Counseling is often helpful for twice-exceptional students because it helps them understand how their brains work and how it affects their learning.
In addition, giftedness may mask ADHD and prevent or delay diagnosis. For example, when a gifted child with ADHD is focused on an activity that he or she truly enjoys, like reading, it may appear that the student can focus for long periods of time, and, therefore, does not have ADHD. This state of intense focus is sometimes called “flow.” Many times, being in the “flow” is seen as a positive thing, but for the gifted student with ADHD, switching from the enjoyable task to another task, he or she may struggle more than students with ADHD who are not gifted. It can be difficult for the gifted student to leave the “flow” (sengifted.org).
Likewise, ADHD can, at times, lower performance in the classroom and delay the recognition of gifted abilities (Neihart). When giftedness is not recognized early on in a student’s academic career, the student may not achieve consistently to the level he or she is capable of and this can result in low self-esteem.
Finally, gifted students with ADHD are not as socially and emotionally mature as their peers who are gifted but do not have ADHD. In some cases, the twice-exceptional student may be behind in maturity by as much as three years. This can make the social aspect of school particularly hard for the student to navigate.
Three Effective Strategies
So, as teachers, what can we do? What strategies can we utilize in the classroom to help our twice-exceptional students be successful? There are three ways that we can offer interventions and support to our gifted students with ADHD.
Group Students Thoughtfully
Group twice-exceptional gifted students with other gifted students because twice-exceptional students need to be challenged intellectually and academically. They also need the social interaction that comes with interacting with other gifted children. When creating groups and placing students, place them with other gifted kids who are understanding while also providing the intellectual stimulation that comes from socializing with other gifted children.
Design unique interventions for each specific student that is twice-exceptional. Many times, typical ADHD interventions are not suitable for gifted children with ADHD. For example, one of the most common interventions for students with ADHD is the shortening or simplifying of material and assignments, and in most cases, this strategy helps the student focus on an abbreviated amount of material. However, for the gifted child with ADHD, an abbreviated assignment may actually lead to more feelings of boredom and frustration because gifted children need high amounts of stimulation.
Teachers of gifted students with ADHD must be careful to focus on developing the students’ talents while also attending to the ADHD. Some interventions might be allowing the student to add an interactive portion to a project based on their interest areas, research a topic of interest to the student, or include a creative element to an existing assignment.
For example, my students read the novel Night by Elie Wiesel each year. At the end of the unit, students research people named Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel. Students then choose one of the people on the list and write a research paper on that person. A gifted student with ADHD who has particular interests in visual media or film or who enjoys speaking can take the project a step further by creating a news broadcast with photos, video clips, and quotes about the individual. Another creative option is to create a Google Slide presentation on Elie Wiesel’s life and present it to the class. In fact, you might consider offering all students the opportunity to write a shorter research essay (two pages, for example) and then translate parts of it, or the rest of it, into visual media formats, using the same structure in an infographic, slide presentation, etc., as one would in the essay so everyone learns the same organizing principles. Students who have trouble focusing, yet find their flow with visual media or find motivation knowing an audience will listen to an oral presentation, will find a new sense of connection to this rather than a purely independent, written assignment. Likewise, a strong writer with ADHD might prefer to do an essay of twice the length and not present or use visual media, and that is where they find their flow.
Another helpful intervention is to identify areas of strength via pre-assessment and differentiate assignments and projects based on that identification. Teachers can pretest the gifted student with ADHD to identify the content that the student has already mastered. Then, the teacher can compact the assignment and allow the twice-exceptional student to complete the project faster, or include additional material, and use any extra time to work on other assignments or projects that fall within the student’s areas of interest. For example, if students are researching a topic in English class and writing a research paper, and the gifted student has already demonstrated mastery of the research process, the teacher may allow the gifted student with ADHD to move at a faster pace and then work on a multimedia project that presents the information included in the paper. It is important to offer these options of pre-assessment to the entire class. Doing so will avoid singling the gifted student out and creating resentment from his or her classmates. The other members of the class may also benefit from the additional options (Bracamonte, 2010).
Coach students for success in organization and study skills.
Twice exceptional students with ADHD will need additional instruction on organization and time management. A timeline of due dates might be helpful in providing the student with a visual aid to remind him or her when assignments are due. Organizing a binder with color-coded folders is another way to help students recognize important information. The colors of each folder (for instance, green for history) can also be integrated into the due date timeline by listing all history due dates in green. This helps the student organize and group the information (Werb, 2020).
Allow gifted students with ADHD to type their work on a computer or laptop. It is easy for a student with ADHD to get distracted and forget his or her thoughts. Students with ADHD often also struggle with neat handwriting. Typing addresses both needs by allowing the students to get the thoughts down quickly and neatly before other things draw his or her attention. (Flint, 2001)
Lori Flint (2001) advises teachers to talk with twice-exceptional students about class expectations. Together, teachers and students can come up with individualized goals and a plan to reach those goals. Teachers should allow the student to choose a reward for meeting goals. The student will be more motivated when the reward is something he or she has chosen. Involving the student in the process is so important. It helps the student focus, feel involved, and be personally invested in achieving success.
It is important for all staff involved in educating a twice-exceptional students to be a team. Classroom placement is very important, and teachers, former teachers, administrators, counselors, parents, and anyone else involved in the placement process should meet to discuss the best fit for the student. The teachers that are successful in teaching gifted students with ADHD are compassionate, accepting, and willing to address both the student’s strengths and weaknesses while still holding the student to high expectations. (Flint, 2001)
If you’re looking for other resources, you might check out opportunities such as the 2E at William and Mary Twice-Exceptional Conference this February.
Teaching twice-exceptional students is challenging and rewarding. What ways do you address the needs of twice-exceptional students in your classroom?
Bracamonte, M. (n.d.). Twice-exceptional Students: Who Are They and What Do They Need? Retrieved December 17, 2019, from http://www.2enewsletter.com/article_2e_what_are_they.html
Flint, L. J. (n.d.). Challenges of Identifying and Serving Gifted Children with ADHD. Retrieved February 5, 2020, from Challenges of Identifying and Serving Gifted Children with ADHD
Kaufman, F., Kalbfleisch, L., & Castellanos, X. (2011, September 3). Attention Deficit Disorders and Gifted Students: What do we really know? [PDF file] Retrieved February 5, 2020, from https://www.sengifted.org/post/attention-deficit-disorders-and-gifted-students-what-do-we really-know
Neihart, M. (n.d.). Gifted Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Retrieved December 7, 2019, from http://www.ldonline.org/article/5631
Schultz, J. (1998, September 30). Correlation Between ADHD and Gifted Children? Retrieved December 17, 2019, from https://www.familyeducation.com/school/signs-symptoms-adhd/correlation-between-add-gifted-children
Werb, E. (2020, February 4). Attention Grabbing Teaching Techniques for Students with ADHD. Retrieved February 5, 2020, from https://www.additudemag.com/attention-grabbing-teaching-techniques-students-with-adhd