In my many years of working with gifted children I have had exactly two students that I know truly had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

That’s it… two.

I’ve had (more than) my fair share of students that rocked, squirmed, shook their knees, talked compulsively, and fidgeted; but only two who had an actual, clear-cut, ADHD diagnosis. The rest of them were coping with their psychomotor overexcitability (OE).

My squirmy sweeties.

Let me start this article by stating, unequivocally, ADHD is a real diagnosis that deserves proper care and attention. It is, however, grossly and overly misdiagnosed, particularly in gifted children.

For an introduction to overexcitabilities click here. This is the fourth in my five-part series about overexcitabilities.

Gifted children coping with the psychomotor OE have what seems like an inexhaustible supply of physical energy. I realize that this could be said of most children. What I’m attempting to describe here is different; this is energy to such excess that it can almost seem manic or destructive. And it’s easy to see why all these well-meaning but often uninformed professionals want to pathologize it.

We place highly gifted children with non-verbal or visual-spatial learning styles coping with the psychomotor OE in traditional, undifferentiated classrooms, and then we wonder why there are problems. In this scenario troubling behaviors are bound to crop up — behaviors that look at lot like ADHD… but aren’t.

Gifted children in these inappropriate scenarios are often described as “bouncing off the walls”. They cannot stay still long enough to finish schoolwork. They have an extremely difficult time controlling the impulse to speak out of turn. It seems they find and exploit every opportunity to derail the learning of others. Isn’t it interesting how they can’t keep track of a homework folder to save their life, but they know exactly when recess begins and ends?

Notice what I wrote above: inappropriate scenario. It’s the situation or the learning environment that is flawed, not the learner. If we try to put a stop to the movement and fidgeting, it will only persist more strongly. It is the job of the caregivers and professional working with these children to create a scenario that will work for the child and the environment. To me, it looks a lot like what we have going at One Room, my micro-school for gifted learners.

In the classrooms I lead, students may

*walk around,
*stand and do their work, and
*listen to music (through a headset).

They may not
*disturb others, or
*ignore their academic progress.

Also, I have a steady supply of gum available to whomever wants it; Orbitz Strawberry is the trendy flavor in my classroom right now.

And if someone’s having a really hard time, we stop everything and do a round of playful burpees.

Yep, burpees.

With each family that enters One Room’s learning environment we discuss the learning style and preferences of the student. We talk about how that matches with the family culture and wishes of the parents. We create an individualized learning plan, balancing the child’s need for movement with healthy classroom boundaries. And we allow the plan to grow and shift over time, as needed. It’s pretty wonderful, and it’s something that I wish was available for all gifted learners.

The gifted child learning to harness the psychomotor OE is drawn to movement-based activities that allow them to express themselves and provide a physical release. These activities may include dance or parkour, or something as simple and delightful as spinning in circles. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that my students tend to not enjoy organized sports or dance that is heavy with dogma, such as ballet.

What physical activity does your gifted child enjoy most? What techniques have you discovered to help your child or student harness their OE’s? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.