Gifted, creative, or ADHD?

The last few weeks have brought several articles on ADHD and its impact on kids. SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) had a news release on how it plans to alert pediatricians on the similarities of ADHD and gifted traits (and for this I am grateful). The New York Times released a controversial opinion piece on how ADHD drugs don’t work long term, and the Times’ Motherlode blog replied with a thoughtful post. Finally, the Wall Street Journal’s article on Ritalin and creativity suggested that creativity is greatly dampened by ADHD medications.

Well. Great. More noise about ADHD and how it is over-diagnosed and over-prescribed and not a danged thing on what to do about it. Drives me batsnot crazy. See, our 2e son has ADHD.

Or does he?

Could it simply be that he is gifted and his wiring just keeps his body moving non-stop? That school bored him to the point that he tuned out? (Um, yeah, it did…but that’s a post for a different day). That our parenting in his early years affected his brain development and thus his behavior?

Possibly, absolutely, and are you freaking kidding me?

A has always been on the move. Always. In utero he did laps until he played soccer with my kidneys. I stopped wearing shoes with laces when he was two, because I couldn’t get them on fast enough when he’d bolt from Music Together classes. When he was three I asked his pediatrician if he thought A was ADHDish. The answer was yes, but too young to make an official determination. At four we embarked on a yearlong quest to find any other reason for his hyperactivity and difficulty paying attention. Occupational therapy, vision therapy, diet changes, sleep studies, and a tonsillectomy for sleep apnea followed. All this time the curiosity intensified, and he was deemed to be twice-exceptional. At five we finally caved and put him on medication.

And saw this:

This picture means more to me than most. This was the first time my son voluntarily sat down and quietly drew out an idea he had in his head. December 2006. I still have the intricate picture he was working on.

The last five years he’s been doh-see-dohing with various medications, trying to find that delicate balance of efficacy and acceptable side effects. The biggie is loss of appetite. For me that would be awesomesauce; for my 25th percentile son it’s a very fine line. On meds he can focus enough to read, work on inventions, do school with me, has a higher frustration tolerance, and is basically easier to live with. We see the giftedness. Off meds he pings around the house and talking to him is like shouting through a waterfall. And I’m not just talking evenings; he went 18 months off meds a few years ago after some scary side effects joined forces with weight loss. He went back on last spring when it was either that or I was going to wring his neck. That’s where the other E comes out to play.

So are we medicating him simply for our benefit, to make parenting him easier? Are the medications inhibiting his creativity, his ability to express himself? Is his gifted wiring just such that he has to move nonstop and get lost in his own mind, unwilling or unable to listen to others?

Or are these articles simply noise? None of them seem to be written by a parent of an ADHD kid. Sure, it’s easy for an adult to say having ADHD as a kid made him more creative, but I bet his parent was at wits’ end most days. My job is to get this kid to adulthood in one piece, ready challenge life on his terms. If meds help get him there when everything else has failed, does that mean I have failed him? Of course not. I already beat myself up that he’s so thin because of the side effects, I don’t need that joining in.

So here’s what I want to say to all the ADHD OpEd writers (with the exception of SENG, which I think is doing the absolute right thing in raising awareness of ADHD/gifted similarities): Be quiet. Stop. Enough. You do not speak of nor represent all those who have to cope with ADHD. For some the diagnosis and medications were a last resort, and even then the second guessing doesn’t stop. I am not damaging my child by keeping him on ADHD medications, nor am I dulling his creativity. I am providing what he needs, when he needs it, to get him to where he needs to be.

The rest is just noise.

38 thoughts on “Gifted, creative, or ADHD?

  1. This is a great article on what it’s like to medicate your kid – the tug of conscience, the frustration, the sense of relief, the worry: all of it. For some kids on meds, it is like the meds give them a break from all of the mental and physical chatter long enough for them to organize what they need, mentally, so they can finally express themselves.

    I was not a huge proponent of meds for a very long time, but having witnessed positive changes when they are prescribed accurately and dosed precisely (so you keep the kid intact and don’t turn them into a zombie), the benefits for the kid are tremendous.

  2. Thank you for this.
    The paediatrition who finally prescribed medication for my sin with ADHD said she sees ADHD highly over-diagnosed and highly under-diagnosed. People like you and me go to great, and often expensive, lengths to rule out all the things that can be misdiagnosed as ADHD, which is the responsible approach.

    Too many diagnoses are made by a general practitioner from a single Connors Assessment without looking further into causation, leading to overdiagnosis.

    Then, because responsible parents are concerned about medicating their children for problems they don’t have, lots of parents avoid assessment entirely.

    Our route to diagnosis and medication was long and convoluted. In retrospect, I was too scared of the possibility of misdiagnosis and over-medication, and my child would have benefitted from us starting the assessments earlier.

    But, we are all doing the best we can to ensure these wonderful, challenging kids have good lives.

    1. Yes. Expensive. Very, very expensive lengths. Our ped, when he finally acknowledged that ADHD might be an issue, sent us to a psychiatrist who specialized in that. We all made very VERY sure that it was the correct dx, because it is so over-diagnosed, and because he was so young. I don’t regret it…until I do.:/

  3. Julie

    I struggled with the same questions. I fought medicine until a pediatrician told me that she hated ADHD medicines but that he would probably never reach his potential without them. I cried for a week. My son is now almost 16. He wanted to go off meds last summer. He lasted 2 weeks and then HE realized that the only thing he could concentrate on for more than 15 minutes was video games. This is a kid who, on meds, plays wonderful jazz music and uses electronics to invent instruments and will probably go to college early. He is a kind, caring kid, too. Oh, and he didn’t eat off the meds either because he couldn’t sit still long enough.
    I believe that ADHD is like high blood pressure. There are people like my father who could control his blood pressure with diet and exercise if they wanted but use medicines instead. There are other people with real heart issues who need those medicines. The problem with any disease is that outsiders can’t see the difference but insist on putting their two cents in.

    1. Julie, that is the perfect analogy. It is a lot like high blood pressure, you’re right. As for outsiders…well, I’m getting better at taking a “honey badger” approach.😉

  4. Great post! I think for some 2e kids… the delay in medication can sometimes cause more 2eness..Our list of glitches for one daughter shrank drastically once on medication. Short term memory, behavior, reading fluency, processing speed ALL improved. She’s now playing catch-up in some areas. Her creativity has not suffered one bit. She is one child that would have benefited from an earlier diagnosis at age 5 instead of 8.

  5. Beautifully presented. As we learn more and more about our own situation and what the research says, it can become overwhelming. Solutions are hard to come by when the educational expectations are that once the right environment is presented, that fit will make all the difference. That’s a tall order and was unrealistic for us when we are more engaged with more information than the schools are. Many pieces make for a beautiful picture; that changes all the time.
    Thank you for writing. I hope you have a fantastic day.

  6. Pingback: My thoughts on ADHD and gifted

  7. My husband diagnosed himself as ADHD. It fit why he was bored in school, acting out to entertain himself and didn’t care about his grades in our tiny, non-academic-oriented school. (One of those, if you played a sport, you graduated.)
    It wasn’t until I started reading about giftedness and overexcitabilities for our son that I noticed a lot of the items sounded like my husband, as well. I completely agree with your statement “Could it simply be that he is gifted and his wiring just keeps his body moving non-stop? That school bored him to the point that he tuned out? (Um, yeah, it did…but that’s a post for a different day). That our parenting in his early years affected his brain development and thus his behavior?”

    Also, while medication isn’t necessary for everyone with ADHD diagnosis, it is for others. Some children have bad reactions to the medication and benefit better by behavior modification techniques. Others need the medicine. And, it’s probably helping your son in the long run. He is able to focus more and do things he enjoys completely. THAT is what should be important to anyone that matters about his well-being.

    1. While he really does need the medication now, it is still my hope that it’s a tool to get him to where he won’t need it anymore. Meds did that for my brother, I’m hopeful for my son.

  8. I’m 33 years old. I was recently diagnosed with ADHD (inattentive type). All my life I’ve been labeled an underachiever. A kid who grew into a man who was never quite able to live up to his potential. I always did well. Tests always showed I was exceptionally smart, but because of my poor performance, I was frequently told I was lazy. And I grew to believe that. That I was just lazy, and that if I worked hard enough, I could do all the things I was meant to do. Only, I never could. No matter how hard I pushed myself, I always came up short.

    Until I met the doctor who told me that I might have ADHD. She put me on a low dose of a drug called Focalin, and my life changed. In the last six months, I’ve gone from that guy who could never follow through on anything to the person people always thought I could be. The drug isn’t magic. I still have to work hard. It just gives me the ability to live up to my potential. Finally. I finally feel like the brick walls that have always held me back are gone.

    The funniest part of it all was that when I told my mom about this, I asked her if she’d ever thought that my brother and I might have some type of ADHD (he’s been plagued by the same underachieving label as me). She told me that when I was in third grade, the school had me tested, and told her I might have some type of learning disability. They weren’t doing too much with ADHD back then. My mom decided not to tell me because she feared knowing I had limits might limit me. She didn’t want me to use my disability as a crutch. While well-meaning, we both wonder what would have happened if she’d sought treatment. Would I have graduated at the top of my class rather than barely graduating? Would I have finished college rather than constantly starting and stopping classes?

    I can’t comment on what parents do for their children, I can only offer my story and say that I’ll never know what I could have been if I’d gotten treatment sooner, I only know that since I started treatment, my life has become what I always knew it could be.

    1. Your response is the reason that although I often suggest dietary changes and other strategies with regard to physical exercise and how schooling is structured first, I will never be 100% anti-ADHD meds. I have seen the incorrect dose/wrong drug turn kids into shadows of themselves, but I have also seen the right drug/dose transform students.

      Bravo to you. My older brother was very similar; one day in his freshman year of college when talking to a professor, the professor asked, “So, how have you been managing your dyslexia until now?” His response: “I have dyslexia?” Once he got some help in place, his academic life turned around, but he has always had to work really hard and is now the vice president of a big company and will probably eventually be the CEO. The right diagnosis can be miraculous.

      1. I really think labeling gives a person power. They then have the opportunity to find help (or not) and move on. You can’t fix what you can’t (or won’t) acknowledge.

    2. Shaun, your story sounds like my son, who is about to turn 21. Though he was diagnosed at 14 and we put him on meds and they seemed to work at first, the loss of appetite (he was already underweight), and then later, he said they made him too drowsy to stay awake in class, so he went off his meds. I kept begging him to try different doses, but he refused. We felt like we didn’t want to force him to take something that might destroy his appetite. I will definitely look into that Focalin – He really deserves to live up to his potential, and right now, it seems like he’s only doing about half of what he could be doing…..employment, for instance, would be nice….

    3. Shaun, strangely enough I understand what you describe, even though I don’t have ADHD. I see those very walls with my son, can feel them. I’m so glad that the Focalin has broken those down for you.

  9. karen merrihew

    This article is right on the mark, it could very well have been written about my 7 year old. I think that, for the most part, the decision to medicate is one we agonize over, in part because of the “stigma” that many of these articles put on it. However, as stated, they aren’t necessarily the ones dealing with a child with ADHD in our case, one who, although profoundly gifted, could not control his impluse to run out in front of a car to get his soccer ball, among many other thing. We went to not one, but several doctors, therapists, etc, so that we made an educated decision.
    We now have a child who is able to maintain, who is getting along better with his peers, and is able to be taken to places like a festival, movies, etc, and enjoy these activities with his family. Do I pray that one day he simply grows out of it? Yes- but in the meantime, his quality of life has improved so much, and that means more to me than the opinion of an op ed writer who isn’t living with him.

    1. Quality of life is something that so many people forget. “Oh, he won’t take meds on the weekends, will he?” Really? Because just as he’s gifted 24/7, he has ADHD 24/7 too. Why would we take him off the medication that improves not only his quality of life, but those around him as well?

  10. Love this! I struggled for years before putting my daughter on meds for ADHD. Yes, she is extremely “gifted” but just could not concentrate to reach her potential. After several different attempts I think we have found the “best” drugs for her right now. She is able to eat after her weight going down to 11 BMI and she is gaining and holding onto a’s and b’s in school. Keep trying on the drug combos and I hope you conquer the guilt and when you do fill me in on how you did it!!!

  11. cocobean

    My husband’s diagnosis came from a group which had a philosophy that embraced that “adhd” at different levels can be diagnosed as different things. They said they weren’t really as concerned about the label you would get but by the treatment that helped you fix what wasn’t working in your life… I think that’s something I internalized. Sometimes, medicating something is wrong because it wasn’t really a problem in your life – the creativity. Sometimes, medicating is the only way you will have a life. These 2e kids burn brightly – and sometimes it’s a matter of keeping them from burning out.

  12. Lya Laberge

    I fought this hard battle with my son for several years. I pulled my hair, wrung my hands, tried every therapy, hoped things would stick. And when he finally started failing tests because of lack of focus, I was like…fine, meds, you win. My son’s self-esteem had crashed and I couldn’t in good conscience keep trying things that weren’t helping.

    I was terrified of the lack of affect, scared about the side effects, and in general, I probably drove the psychiatrist nuts. Then I gave him his first 18 mg tablet and watched for side effects. Yes, he has a terrible appetite on them. But suddenly, he didn’t misspell words he knew. He could talk cohesively about his day. He started writing when he hated it before. He creates comic books. I’m still scared of meds, but my son needs them.

    There are still those weeks. I’m going through it right now, where he’s gotten three write ups in less than a week and a half. But, I fear it would be much much worse for him without them.

  13. Nobody likes medicating children, i myself dont like the fact that my son is on Ritalin, i dont see anyone saying Hidey Ho, excellent lets all dose our kids with dex or strattera or whatever. Its a hard choice, but a necessary one. My son has benefited from his meds for 2 years now and from a kid that was bottom of the class with no friends to getting invited to kids parties (HALLELLUIA ) and getting a principals award! WHAT?! then a science award! YES! i am so proud of him for overcoming his attention problems but I know that its no miracle cure, i dont accept him saying I did this becausei have ADHD he still needs to strive to be better behaved and think before he acts (WHATEVER). I dont see the benefit of the drug at home, he is full swing or coming off them at 320 when i see him and mornings are a real FREAKIN treat. But i get random people telling me what kind of a bad parent i am for medicating a child who needs help because they have simply watched a program on it once or listened to a little too much talkback radio. Some people say they dont beleieve in ADHD and i say WOW thats a real luxury in our house…. i remember the days.. Dont get me started! i tell people not to judge until they have ran a mile in my shoes…YES RUN! to keep up with the attention deficit child that just dashed down the road. Rant over. peace.

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  15. Ann (MoCo)

    Wow. You hit the nail on the head. I know that our one couldn’t have managed school or anything socisl w/o Adderall andwe definitely couldn’t have managed home life either . It is a CONSTANT dance of guilt as a mom, and for the first year after Dx I tried everyrhing BUT meds. At 17 the kid still denies that we get sling better or that he has less anxiety when he takes it but he does admit that he needs it fir school and wants take it everyday. His dosage hasn’t changed in several years, and yes he is still rather skinny, but it works for him no doubt about it. And last year (junior yr) THIS kid, the a still-a-bit out of it socially, still in the same school with kids who teased him mercilessly four yrs ago, was named the Harvard Book Award winner by the staff for overall performance and contributions to the school community. This momma is still crying happy years over that .

  16. AMEN!!!! My 6yo has the focus of a gnat without his meds, so there’s no way he’d even get through grade 1. How creative is he going to be as an adult when he can’t read or write? Creative and homeless? Not if I can help it! These articles make me so angry. Meds need to be adjusted — ALL meds need to be adjusted. Heart meds need to be tweaked as time goes on, as do blood pressure meds, cholesterol meds, diabetes meds, but no one says anything about them not working in the long term. My son is on meds so that he can slow down enough to experience what life has to offer. I would no more deny him those meds than I would deny a child with diabetes his meds. Nor will I feel guilty about it, because I’m doing what I need to do for my child.

  17. seema mahadeo

    Thank you for posting this. It gives me so much hope knowing my 6yr old son isn’t alone with adhd and ritalin. I am constantly put down for medicating him. Although I don’t like it I know that it is for his own benefit. I am a working single mum and I know the concerns parent of adhd kids have. His mood swings and frustration over petty things are my biggest concern. I am still trying to help him find something he loves but h he cannot decide himself.
    Thus far Ritalin has been the only thing that has helped.
    Eventually I will change the way the world views my child!

  18. Pingback: We Interrupt This Previously Established Timeline… | An Intense Life

  19. I am so glad I came across this blog, and the comments, today of all days. I gave my 9.5 yr old son his first dose (5mg) this morning. He is also extremely gifted, and for a while we kept thinking that that was causing the problems in school, and in social relationships. I mean, he could focus on things that really engaged him. That meant that he could focus, so he didn’t have adhd, right? But his school work is no where near where it should be based on the giftedness, he is alienating all of his classmates, and after battling him for three hours to write four sentences, I have no energy or patience left. This was such an emotional journey to reach the point of asking about medication. We have been seeing psychologist off and on for three years, and have tried so many behavior modifications. We are firm, loving and as consistent as is humanly possible. We have a great team at our school, even though we do not have any sort of IEP. He has a good diet (though we haven’t tried any special diets,) his screen time is incredibly limited and he gets plenty of exercise. And still I really had to think – am I medicating him for him, or for me. I came to the conclusion that it is for both of us, and that is ok. I’m hoping the medication will help him cope in this world, and will cause me less stress, which will help me be a better mom to him. A mom who isn’t constantly frustrated, and feeling like she is still running after a toddler, trying to manage the chaos that follows him. I hope this works. I know we are starting at a really low dose, and that we might not see anything happening yet. But it helps me to hear others say the things I have been thinking. And it helps me to hear that it does work. Because you are right – what you hear most about in the media is the judgement about making the decision, and the cases where it doesn’t work.

    1. Angela, that sounds soooo familiar, right on down to the three hours to write four sentences. REALLY saw that today; I homeschool him, and we both forgot his meds until late morning. It would have totally screwed bedtime so we agreed he’d go without today. ::facepalm:: Well, he had a much better appetite and actually ate lunch, but had the attention span of a cracked out squirrel. Didn’t help that today is the first nice day we’ve had in Chicago since September. He does need the meds, and he and I both need to remember that. That said, we’re still tweaking to find a dose where he’s able to control himself vs. dulled personality and no appetite. It’s a long road, but I don’t regret the meds. He obviously needs them if he can’t concentrate with ZERO distractions.
      Good luck!

  20. Pingback: medication delivery 101 – Creativity a must | Why Not Fathers?

  21. shalonda mardis

    This thread has been quite enlightening. I have watched my 10 year old struggle for the last two years and I have finally exhausted every option and decided to medicate. As a parent I have the responsibility of making the best choices for her. I would be making a grave mistake if I sent her into middle school which will be a difficult transition in its self for her, wtihout the tools she needs to ensure her success. Some of the stories here have made me feel better about my decision to medicate her. I know how I feel when I can’t focus, but I can’t imagine how it must feel to deal with it daily and have it affect you in a way that can be detrimental to your livelihood.

  22. Mal

    THANK YOU! Of course I am scouring the web for more ADHD enlightenment for the umpteenth time since six years ago when my daughter was diagnosed. Six years would seem like it’s enough time to adjust and be confident about the choice to medicate, but yet I feel as overwhelmed by all the opinions, studies and noise as I did the first week. In fact, I might have been at my most confident the first week. I cannot tell you how soothing it is to my overwrought thoughts to have read your blog.

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