Dual Exceptionalities (page 3)

By — Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), Division of Learning Disabilities (DLD)
Updated on Mar 8, 2010

Characteristics of Students with ADHD

  • Poorly sustained attention
  • Diminished persistence on tasks not having immediate consequences
  • Often shift from one uncompleted activity to another
  • Impulsivity, poor delay of gratification
  • Impaired adherence to commands to regulate or inhibit behavior in social contexts
  • More active, restless than other children
  • Often talk excessively
  • Often interrupt or intrude on others (e.g., butt into games)
  • Difficulty adhering to rules and regulations
  • Often lose things necessary for tasks or activities at home or school
  • May appear inattentive to details
  • Highly sensitive to criticism
  • Problem behaviors exist in all settings, but in some are more severe
  • Variability in task performance and time used to accomplish tasks.
    (Barkley, 1990; Cline, 1999; Webb & Latimer, 1993)

Questions to Ask in Differentiating between Giftedness and ADHD

  • Could the behaviors be responses to inappropriate placement, insufficient challenge, or lack of intellectual peers?
  • Is the child able to concentrate when interested in the activity?
  • Have any curricular modifications been made in an attempt to change inappropriate behaviors?
  • Has the child been interviewed? What are his/her feelings about the behaviors?
  • Does the child feel out of control? Do the parents perceive the child as being out of control?
  • Do the behaviors occur at certain times of the day, during certain activities, with certain teachers or in certain environments?

Implications for Students with Dual Exceptionalities

Commitment to identifying and nurturing the gifts of students with disabilities implies specific changes in the way educators approach identification, instruction, and classroom dynamics.


  • Include students with disabilities in initial screening phase.
  • Be willing to accept nonconventional indicators of intellectual talent.
  • Look beyond test scores.
  • When applying cutoffs, bear in mind the depression of scores that may occur due to the disability.
  • DO NOT aggregate subtest scores into a composite score.
  • Compare with others who have similar disabilities.
  • Weight more heavily characteristics that enable the child to effectively compensate for the disability.
  • Weight more heavily areas of performance unaffected by the disability.
  • Allow the child to participate in gifted programs on a trial basis. Instruction
  • Be aware of the powerful role of language; reduce communication limitations and develop alternative modes for thinking and communicating.
  • Emphasize high-level abstract thinking, creativity, and a problem-solving approach.
  • Have great expectations: these children often become successful as adults in fields requiring advanced education.
  • Provide for individual pacing in areas of giftedness and disability.
  • Provide challenging activities at an advanced level.
  • Promote active inquiry, experimentation, and discussion.
  • Promote self-direction.
  • Offer options that enable students to use strengths and preferred ways of learning.
  • Use intellectual strengths to develop coping strategies.
  • Assist in strengthening the student's self concept. Classroom Dynamics
  • Discuss disabilities/capabilities and their implications with the class.
  • Expect participation in all activities; strive for normal peer interactions.
  • Facilitate acceptance; model and demand respect for all.
  • Candidly answer peers' questions.
  • Treat a child with a disability the same way a child without a disability is treated.
  • Model celebration of individual differences. Gifted students with disabilities must be provided with appropriate challenges. The personal and societal costs of not developing their potential cannot be overstated.


Barkley, R.A. (1990). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: A handbook for diagnosis and treatment. New York: Guilford Press.

Baum, S.M., Owen, S.V., & Dixon, J. (1991). To be gifted & learning disabled. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.

Cline, S., & Schwartz, D. (1999). Diverse populations of gifted children. NJ: Merrill.

Silverman, L.K. (1989). Invisible gifts, invisible handicaps. Roeper Review, 12(1), 37-42.

Thurlow, M.L., Elliott, J.L. & Ysseldyke, J.E. (1998). Testing students with disabilities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Webb, J.T. & Maker, C.J. (1993). ADHD and children who are gifted. ERIC EC Digest E522.

Whitmore, J.R., & Maker, C.J. (1985). Intellectual giftedness in disabled persons. Rockville, MD: Aspen.

Willard-Holt, C. (1994). Recognizing talent: Cross-case study of two high potential students with cerebral palsy. Storrs, CT: National Research Center on the Gifted/Talented.

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