Tag Archives: ADHD

Is Your Kid With ADHD Also Gifted, or is Your Team Missing Their Giftedness?

david-clode-635942-unsplashAre you hearing that your child is a management problem at school, but is a joy at home?  Do you see them thrive when your older child’s friends include them in play?  Does your child sustain their attention and manage their behavior well when the class goes on field trips or has speakers come in, but dissolves into troubling behavior on a “regular” school schedule?  Your child may have a dual diagnosis of giftedness and ADHD, or have been misdiagnosed completely.

I know, I am not a psychologist.  But I am aware of the many kids I have treated that blossom when, instead of simplifying the environment or the activity, I expand it.  This goes against the standard treatment protocols for kids with sensory processing disorders and ADHD.  But it is exactly what gifted kids love and need.  Give a gifted kid more complex work, leave them alone to solve a challenging problem, or ask them to mine their passion more completely, and you often see better performance, not worse performance.  The kids with ADHD without giftedness often struggle more and need more help under a more complex environment.  The misdiagnosed gifted kids shine like little pennies when challenged.  Gifted kids will show ADHD behaviors in situations that restrict or frustrate their tendencies to dive deep into a subject (intensity ) and look terrific in a setting where they are stimulated and engaged.  Kids with ADHD might be happier out of school, but they struggle with the same issues of distractibility, disorganization and they show a lack of focus, not a deep absorption.

As an aside, many of the kids I treat that look like they have Asperger’s (or now high-functioning autism) are gifted, and their delays in speech or motor skills mask their gifted performance when they are between 1 and 5 years of age.  What gives them away as gifted instead of disordered?  They light up when someone wants to talk about their deep interests, and they would seek that interaction out.  Their interests may seem quirky, but they aren’t incredibly obtuse.  For example, a gifted child could be interested in ocean life, with a strong interest in squids.  If you like squids, they will talk your ear off and enjoy it tremendously if you do.  A child with Asperger’s will be interested in something so unique that they couldn’t find someone to share it with, like threshing machines, and they couldn’t care less if you share their interest.  They won’t want to convince you of the many useful things they do, they won’t want to discuss it.  Will they want to talk?  Sure, but talking to you isn’t the same as discussing it.  They may find your input annoying, in fact.

Grades, and even cognitive testing, sometimes aren’t enough to identify gifted kids.  Some of them aren’t going to try very hard.   Some will mess with the evaluator’s mind.  I have heard at least one parent report that their child deliberately gave the wrong answers to see what would happen.  This child is reading chapter books at 3.5 years old.  He really doesn’t understand that getting a low intelligence score is going to send him to special ed instead of advancing him to a higher grade or an enriched program.  Emotional maturity is one of the skills that are often not advanced in gifted kids.  To paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie “A Few Good Men“, these kids want the truth (or the facts, or the experiences) but sometimes they can’t handle them.  Young gifted kids can fall apart when their imagination doesn’t match their execution.  Whether it is writing, building, drawing or another skill, they can display anxiety and anger when things don’t match their amazing thoughts.  This isn’t oppositional defiant disorder or an anxiety disorder, it is an asynchronous development problem.

I can’t ignore the strong bias against giftedness in our culture.  Sure, there are cultures that applaud accomplishments, especially intellectual accomplishment, but not when it is accompanied by impatience, a tendency to dominate the conversation, perfectionism and frustration with others and themselves.  Gifted people of all ages become aware that it could be easier to speak about being on the left side of the Bell curve than on the right side.  Whether you share your suspicions or your testing results is up to you, but know that you may get pushback from some unlikely sources, especially at school.

If your child is gifted, seek out support wherever you can find it, and learn how to discuss your child’s gifts with them.  There are online sites like SENG that can offer you some strategies and some resources.  You may want or need outside help to learn how to harness their overexcitabilities OT and Non-Disabled Gifted Children and handle their feelings, but a child that understands their gifts will not consider themselves impaired and will learn to accept their atypical nature with confidence.

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How Hypermobility Affects Self-Image, Behavior and Activity Levels in Children

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Loose joints affect emotions and behavior too!

As rehabilitation therapists, OTs and PTs are focused on skill building and reaching functional goals with our clients.  But feelings influence behavior, and so therapists have to be aware of more than joints and muscles when looking at function.  In this post, I would like to address the many ways that hypermobility can create social and emotional issues for children.  Without awareness of these experiences, we cannot be the best therapists for these kids, or help parents be the best advocates for their children.

Because hypermobility varies so widely in it’s severity, it’s presentation (generalized, primarily proximal, or primarily distal) and it’s progression (decreasing with age, or increasing with repeated injuries and overstretching of tissues), the psychological impact on a child will also vary tremendously.  The child who has had significant and global hypermobility from birth on will have a very different profile from the young teen who is only recently experiencing functional issues with instability or pain after years of sports-related injuries.

Here are some major points to consider:

  1. Hypermobility and it’s accompanying effect of stability and proprioceptive processing contribute to both sensory seeking and sedentary behavior, sometimes in the same child.  Add in pain and fatigue, and perhaps even POTS or dysautonomia, and you have a kid that is both active and inactive, both attentive and unfocused on tasks at different times of the day.  Self-regulation appears to be very unstable.  If a child’s entire physical condition isn’t taken into assessment, a referral for an ADHD diagnosis could result.
  2. Difficulties with mobility and stability make most active play, engagement in sports, and playing a musical instrument more difficult.  This has social as well as physical effects on children at all ages.  For some kids, they can play but will get injured at a more frequent rate.  Other children aren’t able to keep up with their peers on the playground and seek more sedentary or independent activities.  And for some other kids, they experience the pain of being the last kid picked for group play or being bullied for the awkward way they move.  The child that was more mobile and athletic when younger could now experience a loss of skill or an increase in pain.  They are at risk for feelings of depression and fear of moving at all.  That fear is a real problem, and one with a fancy name: kineseophobia.   This isn’t the same as gravitational insecurity, but it may look like it to a clinician, unless that therapist is aware of a child’s history or all of the current clinical problems.  If a  child is struggling with being active, check out Picking The Best Trikes, Scooters, Etc. For Kids With Low Tone and Hypermobility for some ideas to make things easier.  For older kids that struggle with sports or music, read Should Your Hypermobile Child Play Sports?  and Hypermobility and Music Lessons: Is Your Child Paying Too High a Price for Culture? because sometimes the question is how to play, not whether to play.
  3. Kids with hypermobility can have problems with falling and staying asleep, which affects daytime alertness and energy.  It is well-documented that a lack of good-quality sleep results in childhood behavioral changes for typical kids.  Tired kids can be grumpy, inattentive, more injury-prone, and this cycle is really hard to address.  Pain, lack of daytime activity levels high enough to trigger sleep, bladder control issues leading to nighttime awakening or bedwetting, dysautonomia…the list of causes of sleep issues for kids with hypermobility can be really long.  Evaluating a child’s behavior without knowing about these issues is going to lead to incorrect assumptions about the source of reactions and interactions.  If you are a therapist: ask about sleep quality.  If you are a parent: mention sleep issues to your therapists, even if they don’t ask.
  4. Hypermobile kids can have issues with feeding that contribute to patterns of behavior that extend beyond the dinner table.  Difficulty with eating, chewing, and even constipation can result in major behavioral changes.  Crankiness is only the beginning.  Imagine being constantly constipated, gassy, or regularly gagging/choking on food.  The suck/swallow/breathe synchrony that is the foundationof regulation can be affected by many disorders that cause hypermobility.  Particularly with younger kids, learning basic social interaction skills at the table can be lost in a parent’s need to alter food choice, or with their anxiety  over nutritional needs.  The development of persistent oppositional behavior can begin at the dinner table and spill over into all interactions.
  5. Hypermobile kids don’t always have issues that restrict them from eating; some kids don’t get enough exercise or find eating to be the pleasurable activity that doesn’t take too much energy or skill.  Used along with media use or gaming, snacking is something that they can fully enjoy.  The extra weight they carry makes movement more difficult and places extra force on joints.  But exercising in pain and fatigue isn’t an easy fix…..
  6.  Children develop social and emotional skills in engagement with others.  When you spend a lot of time in therapy, it eats into the time available for learning and practicing social skills.  The child who attends therapy instead of playdates, the tween that doesn’t have the stamina or stability to go on a ski trip, the child who can’t sit still during a long play or movie…  All of these kids are having difficulties that reduce their social interactions to some degree.  Encourage the families of the children you treat to be mindful of a child’s whole life experiences and weave interventions into life, not life into interventions.

As therapists, we owe it to our clients to ask questions that help us understand the daily challenges of life and create treatment plans that support a child’s social and emotional development.  Waiting for mental health professionals to ask those questions isn’t enough.  And remember, if there is a counselor or therapist involved, share what you know about the impact of hypermobility on behavior.  Without awareness of the physiological and sensory basis of behavior, professionals may make an incomplete assessment that will not result in progress!

Are you a parent of an older child with hypermobility?  Check out For Kids With Hypermobility, “Listen To Your Body” Doesn’t Teach Them To Pace Themselves. Here’s What Really Helps. and Career Planning for Teens with JRA, EDS, and Other Chronic Health Issues for some insights into positive ways to address the future.

I wrote an e-book for you as well!  

The JointSmart Child:  Volume Two The School Years is filled with practical strategies to help you build skills and confidence in a child aged 5-12.  It isn’t just about handwriting; I cover daily living skills, how to select the best backpacks and school tools, but also how to communicate with your teachers, medical providers, and even family  members!  The extensive appendices have forms you can take to IEP meetings, activities to build skills while having fun, even guidelines to pick out the safest and best fitting bike or scooter.  This unique book is a printable download on  http://www.yourtherapysource.com  .  It is a read-only e-book on Amazon: http://amazon.com/dp/B086T5MH53

Looking for more information on treating kids with hypermobility?  Take a look at Can You Use The Wilbarger Protocol With Kids That Have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome? , Hypermobile Kids, Sleep, And The Hidden Problem With Blankets  and Can You K-Tape Kids With Ehlers-Danlos and Other Connective Tissue Disorders?.

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Hypermobility and ADHD? Take Stability, Proprioception, Pain and Fatigue Into Account Before Labeling Behavior

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ADHD is a disorder that is diagnosed clinically.  This means that there are no brain examinations, no measures that are not behavioral, when determining whether or not to give a child this label.  The younger the child, the less accurate behavioral measurements are.  But the risks in quickly giving a child this label are significant.  With hypermobility, there are causes for behavior that aren’t always identified, and often not adequately treated.  This post intends to raise awareness.

There is nothing worse than using a scientific study that correlates two variables and assuming causation. Translation:  If behaviors typical of disorder “A” are seen in a lot of people with problem “B”, we cannot assume that “A” is the cause of their behavior.

But we do it all the time.

When it comes to labeling children’s behavior, we should take a couple of big steps back with our erroneous reasoning.  And when the label is ADHD, take three more.  Not because ADHD isn’t a big issue for families.  The struggles of kids, parents and educators shouldn’t be minimized.  But we should be cautious with labels when two situations occur:  children at very young ages and trying to make a diagnosis when it is  determined largely by clinical observation, not scientific testing.  Seeing ADHD in a child with hypermobility is one of those situations.

Hypermobility without functional movement problems is very common in young children.  Super-bendy kids that walk, run, hit a ball and write well aren’t struggling.  But if you have a child that cannot meet developmental milestones or has pain and poor endurance, that is a problem with real-life consequences.  Many of them are behavioral consequences.  For more on this subject, take look at How Hypermobility Affects Self-Image, Behavior and Regulation in Children.  The younger the child, the harder it is to see that hypermobility is the driver of the behavior.

Yes, I said it.  Hypermobility is a motor problem that has a behavioral component.  I don’t know why so little has been written on this subject, but here it is:  hypermobile kids are more likely to fidget while sitting, more likely to get up out of their chairs, but also more likely to stay slumped on a couch.  In my e-book series, The JointSmart Child (see below to learn more about the only books available on pediatric hypermobility) They are more likely to jump from activity to activity, and more likely to refuse to engage in activities than their peers.  They drape themselves on furniture and people at times.  And they don’t feel as much discomfort as you’d think when they are in unusual positions Is Your Hypermobile Child Frequently In An Awkward Position? No, She Really DOESN’T Feel Any Pain From Sitting That Way

Why?  Hypermobility reduces a child’s ability to perceive body position and degree of movement, AKA proprioception and kinesthesia.  It also causes muscles to work harder to stabilize joints around a muscle, including postural muscles.  These muscles are working even when kids are asleep, so don’t think that a good rest restores these kids the same way another child gets a charge from a sit-down.

Hypermobility impacts all the things that kids like to do.

Final Thought:  If your child has been diagnosed with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, dysautonmia is a fairly common co-occurence, and the effects can mimic mental health issues.  Dysautonomia is not diagnosed as easily as it should be, and the “spacing out”, the moodiness, the fatigue, and the forgetfulness that are all common in dysautonomia are often misinterpreted as behavioral, even psychiatric, problems.  This continues even when a child has an hEDS diagnosis, because it is so poorly understood.  There are medical treatments for this problem, and when a child who has been told to behave better is treated successfully, the only problem is the regret for all the wasted time and money spent on worthless treatments.

Got a child who whines?  You  may have a child with a huge issue with frustration and asynchronous development.  What is that? A kid whose skills in some areas lag behind his otherwise normal developmental path.  Read  Got a Whining Child Under 5? Here Is Why They Whine, And What To Do About It  to know what to do to turn this ship around.

Read Hypermobility and Music Lessons: How to Reduce the Pain of Playing and How Hypermobility Affects Self-Image, Behavior and Activity Levels in Children and Should Your Hypermobile Child Play Sports? to learn how to help hypermobile kids get more out of life with less behavioral problems.

Looking for more practical information about raising your hypermobile child?

I wrote 2 books for you; One for young children, and one about supporting school-age kids!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One: The Early Years is your guide to making life easier for your baby, toddler and preschooler.

Read The JointSmart Child Series: Parents of Young Hypermobile Children Can Feel More Empowered and Confident Today!  to learn how my new e-book will build your confidence and give you strategies that make your child safer and more independent…today!  The above link includes a brief preview on positioning principles every parent of a child with hyper mobility should know.  You can find a read-only download on Amazon and a printable and click-through version on Your Therapy Source.

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume Two:  The School Years is an even larger and more comprehensive book for children ages 6-12.  Filled with information on how to pick the right chair, desk, bike and even clothes that make kids safer and more independent; this book is for parents and therapists that want to make a real difference in a child’s life and feel empowered, not confused.  It is available on Your Therapy Source as a printable download and on  Amazon  as an e-book, and don’t worry: you can download it from Amazon on your iPad as well as your Kindle.  Amazon makes it easy!

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When a hypermobile child starts to move, the brain receives more sensory input from the body, including joints, skin and muscles.  This charges up a sensory system that was virtually starving for information.  Movement from fidgeting and movement by running around the house are solutions to a child’s sense that they need something to boost their system.  But fatigue can set in very quickly, taking a moving child right back to the couch more quickly than her peers.  It looks to adults like she couldn’t possibly be tired so soon.  If you had to contract more muscles harder and longer to achieve movement, you’d be tired too!  Kids  develop a sense of self and rigid habits just like adults, so these “solutions” get woven into their sense of who they are.  And this happens at earlier ages than you might think.  Take a look at Hypermobility and Proprioception: Why Loose Joints Create Sensory Processing Problems for Children to understand a bit more about this experience for hypermobile kids.

Then there is pain.  Some hypermobile kids experience pain from small and large injuries.  They are more likely to be bruised,  more likely to fall and bump into things, and more likely to report what pediatricians may call “growing pains”.  Sometimes the pain is the pull on weak ligaments and tight muscles as bones grow, but sometimes it isn’t.  Soreness and pain lead some kids right to the couch.  After a while, a child may not even complain, especially if the discomfort doesn’t end.  Imagine having a lingering headache for days.  You just go on with life.  These kids are often called lazy, when in truth they are sore and exhausted after activities that don’t even register as tiring for other children their age.

How can you tell the difference between behaviors from ADHD and those related to hypermobiilty?  I think I may have an idea.

After a hypermobile child is given effective and consistent postural support, sensory processing treatment, is allowed to rest before becoming exhausted (even if they say they are fine), and any pain issues are fully addressed, only then can you assess for attentional or emotional problems.  Some days I feel like I am living in a version of “The Elephant and the Six Blind Men”, in which psychiatrists, psychologists and pediatricians are all saying that they see issues with sensory tolerance, movement, attention, pain and social development, but none of them see the whole picture.

Occupational therapists with both physical medicine and sensory processing training are skilled at developing programs for postural control and energy conservation, as well as adapting activities for improved functioning.  They are capable of discussing pain symptoms with pediatricians and other health professionals.

I think that many children are being criticized for being lazy or unmotivated, and diagnosed as lacking attentional skills when the real cause of their behaviors is right under our noses.  It is time to give these kids a chance to escape a label they may not have.

Share Could Your Pediatric Therapy Patient Have a Heritable Disorder of Connective Tissue? with your therapist and see what reactions you receive.  The truth is that many kids don’t get a diagnosis as early as possible.  Rare syndromes aren’t the first thing your pediatrician is thinking of, but you can raise the issue if you have more information and feedback.

Looking for more posts on hypermobility?  Check out Should Hypermobile Kids Sit On Therapy Balls For Schoolwork? , Hypermobile Kids, Sleep, And The Hidden Problem With Blankets  and Should Your Hypermobile Child Play Sports? for useful strategies to manage  hypermobility and support both physical health and functional skills.