Dealing with a daughter with ADHD and Giftedness

An Open Letter to Friends About Our Daughter’s ADHD & Giftedness Diagnosis

The past year has been a whirlwind of “secret” appointments for our family. Why? We were getting Isabella assessed, as we have always been aware her brain works differently than other kids her age.

From kindergarten on, teachers have commented on her need to police the classroom, lack of focus and impulsivity. She didn’t seem to connect with her peers very well and was often bullied. We had already noticed things at home to support these comments. She seemed bright, but also gullible, moody and unfocused.

I was also struggling to find parents that could understand what I was going through. Making parental friends was hard; I couldn’t relate. I didn’t connect with any of their stories and would make up relatable things to say about Isabella.

In Grade 2, she experienced so much anxiety over simple tasks that we had her in school-led therapy (at her teacher’s request). When the anxiety tips from the psychologist didn’t help, we begin to wonder if her anxiety was a symptom of something larger.

This year, we pursued testing at a private family psychology clinic. Extensive research was done by two psychologists there. Initially, we were told it would be two sessions with Isabella, one with us and a rating scale to fill out. Instead, it was three sessions with Isabella (about 9 hours in total), two sessions with us, and countless rating scales and questionnaires. They even sent pages and pages for her teacher to fill out and spoke on the phone with her teacher countless times.

Isabella’s assessment came back -and Josh and I agree with the diagnosis, as does her pediatrician and her teacher!

Isabella is Gifted and has Moderate ADHD (combined presentation).

*JUST AS A NOTE: WE DO NOT USE THE TERM GIFTED OR SMART AROUND ISABELLA. WE HAVE TOLD HER THAT HER BRAIN IS SPECIAL AND UNIQUE, AS TELLING HER SHE IS GIFTED AND SMART WOULD PUT TOO MUCH PRESSURE ON HER TO “PROVE IT” OR BE PERFECT. PLEASE RESPECT THAT. WE HAVE TOLD HER SHE IS ADHD, WHICH MAKES HER BRAIN WORK IN ANOTHER SPECIAL WAY, AND SHE IS BEGINNING TO UNDERSTAND THAT AS WE ALL RESEARCH IT TOGETHER. *

Yes, Isabella is gifted, and it’s not what you think. Gifted is a loaded term. The word gift implies that one has been given something; that this person has an advantage over their peers. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let’s talk about Giftedness.

It affects only 2% of the population. There are a lot of misconceptions that this is our “golden ticket” and that it’s neat and tidy- tied with a bow. But it’s not. It’s messy, worrying and hard to parent because of something called “asynchronous development”. Asynchronous development is defined as follows:

Asynchronous development refers to an uneven intellectual, physical, and emotional development. … The gifted child’s intellectual development can be more advanced than her physical and emotional development, which progress at a different rate”  (VeryWell Family)

Put another way:

“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” (The Columbus Group, 1991).

Gifted kids appear to be “many ages at once” and Isabella can be very emotionally intense and sensitive. Her mind and cognitive function are that of a teen but she has a ten year old’s (or younger) emotions. In moments, she can go from having a mature, intellectual conversation with me to a tantrum because her favourite snack is gone. This is because her body houses thoughts her emotions can’t process (and that her peers can’t understand). An example of emotional intensity would be Isabella losing sleep over the effects of climate change and worrying that we are going the way of the dinosaurs- slowly extinct.

A blogger said it best when she broke it down this way:

“Parenting asynchronous kids can be challenging for a number of reasons, including:

  • You never know what age you’re going to get in a given situation. On any given day, I experience a plethora of ages from my son and it can change from minute to minute. We can have an amazing, mature, and thought-provoking conversation one minute and then in the next moment he can throw a fit to rival that of any 2-year-old.
  • You must deal with expectations and judgment from others.
  • When your 5-year-old converses like a 15-year-old, folks often expect more of him. The reality is, he’s still very much five and that can be difficult for others to wrap their mind around. Teachers, coaches, and other individuals may mistakenly expect more out of your precocious little one.
  • You find yourself constantly explaining this child to others, and you are relentlessly advocating for his needs. It can be challenging to find friends, activities, books, media, etc. that meet your child’s unique needs.” 
  • (Source: https://ihomeschoolnetwork.com/parenting-gifted-asynchronous-kids/, Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley)

I know you don’t often see this side of her. This is because Josh and I, as her parents, instinctively know what to do to keep her calm and focused in public. We know how to recognize the signs and stop her “spinning out” (for lack of a better term) before it stops. Isabella also realizes what is acceptable in public and will have her meltdowns in private places (bathrooms) or can try to hold it in until we get home, where she melts down (because she feels safe).

Also-

Giftedness and achievement are not the same thing. Many gifted kids balk and become upset when challenged, even when the ability is there. A teacher would never give a gifted student extra work because of the special and unique way their brains are wired. For example, if Isabella was asked to look up, “What do gorillas eat?”, she would look up “How changes to habitat is affecting what food sources are available” and then get frustrated at the quantity of information she is being “forced” to write down. It isn’t because she is trying to do extra work but because that’s how the question makes sense to her.

Because her brain is thinking big picture thoughts all the time, she has trouble “closing the tabs” and staying within the requirements of assignments. This can present as a learning disorder because the brain is wired so differently: some gifted students require aides in school, rather than more challenging work.

This way of thinking and learning can cause perfectionism and anxiety. Peers have trouble connecting with her since she is so “in her head” that she can seem aloof and hard to talk to. Parenting and teaching methods need to be changed and we are all currently researching the best ways to help Isabella thrive.

It all has to be different and tailored to her needs. The diagnosis is really new and we are in the process of research and discovery right now. I am learning that I need to “Konmari” her room and to stick to a strict daily routine, with changes penciled in beforehand, whenever possible. (At least at first).

For Isabella, as a gifted kid, she struggles with so many things we take for granted, such as:

  • Social skills and people are a mystery to her
  • She feels stupid because people and peers don’t understand her ideas/suggestions which makes her feel it is her fault
  • She feels alien from her peers and struggles with loneliness
  • Has adopted coping techniques at home that can mimic autism

We are still learning and I will post more here once we experience things. Giftedness is a huge thing to handle and we are going to pick the best strategies and techniques that suit Isabella.

On top of that she is dealing with moderate ADHD. I had so many myths in my head about what ADHD is, how it presents itself and how to treat it! We are still in the research phase but will let you know what we discover. What I’ve learned so far has changed my mind about quite a few things, already.

ADHD is a neurological disorder that affects control, executive functioning, and motivation.

The way it was described to us was this: Imagine you are trying to have a warm bath, so you start on the task to fill the bathtub, but the tub has a bunch of holes. You’re so busy trying to plug the holes that you have trouble focusing on having the bath or staying warm.

As a result, life is a constant barrage of stimulating sounds and pictures that distract her. This makes regulating her emotions difficult and she struggles with impulsivity and organization.

Tips I’ve found to help Isabella deal with her ADHD:

  • Use growth mindset rather than fixed mindset. Encourage her to think of where she will be rather than thinking of what she’s struggling with now
  • Educate yourself on ADHD
  • Keep to a routine!
  • Be clear and consistent with your expectations when she is around
  • Schedule changes ahead of time

We haven’t decided if we will try meds or not. Josh and I are going to try psychological behaviours, diet changes (less processed food and sugar, little to no candy), sleep schedules, and exercise first and see how that goes. There is a lot of debate on medicine and some people have had great success with it while some kids never need it. It’s on a case-by-case basis, definitely. I’m confident that we will pick the right path for her since we see her daily, how she handles school, and her struggles with self-control and emotions. I see how much harder it is for her to learn and I want to make her life easier, so she can thrive.

It has been a lot for us to figure out and very emotionally draining for Josh and I. We wouldn’t trade her for the world, but she can be challenging to parent, and we are relieved to have answers, so we can tailor our environment and parenting to help Izzy succeed.

I’m sorry this was such a beast of a thing to read. We were actually given a “concise” 20-page report by the psychologist, so just be glad I didn’t write all of that! Haha. The psychologists said Isabella is a wonderfully complex human being and they will be thinking of her case in years to come. I hope my explanation helps you understand. Thanks, my dear readers for reading this.

I am open to any questions and discussions! If you are a parent with a “twice-exceptional”, gifted or ADHD kid, I would love to hear about it. Currently, we don’t have a community of parental support, and I’d love to build an online one. Comment below or DM me. 🙂

I’ll keep sharing as we keep learning. Thank you for reading, it really warms my heart.

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