Smart with ADHD: Lessons From Ross Greene

Smart People Don’t Always Get Work Done

When it comes to Attention Deficit Disorders and being smart—even gifted—things can be confusing. Smart brains can absorb complex information quickly—and make sense of that information when others can’t. But here’s the confusing part. When work needs to get done—even easy work—smart people can feel unmotivated, deadlines can get missed, and work can go undone. 

Does this sound familiar? Think about your own life. Maybe on parent-teacher nights the teacher praises your child’s brilliance and creativity. Then, like every other year, the teacher adds this: “But he needs to take responsibility for his learning” or “she’s not working to her full potential.” Maybe you, too, feel like you’re working in a job that doesn’t capitalize on your tremendous strengths.

Is it Boredom and Just Not Wanting to Do the Work?

At the Possibilities Clinic in Toronto, parents with smart children often blame boredom—and not wanting to do the work—for procrastination and missed deadlines. “It’s not interesting enough for him. He’s bored.” Why would she finish easy tasks when what she really wants is a challenge? She doesn’t want to do the simple work the teacher gives her.”

Explanations like this—blaming boredom or just not wanting to do the work—might apply to some gifted children and adults in some circumstances. But, in most cases, boredom may not be the main reason why work isn’t getting done. In fact, gifted children and adults who can do a task—even a boring one that holds little interest—often elevate those tasks in ways that go above and beyond the original request. So, a relatively simple assignment like writing a single paragraph on medieval castles might morph into in 20-page medieval fantasy along with a 3-D model complete with knights and dragons. 

Think back to an unfinished assignment. If you or your smart child isn’t elevating a simple task to make it more interesting—and to get the work done—what’s going on here? Is it really about not wanting to do the work or feeling bored? Maybe it’s something else. 

Ross Greene Says It Comes Down to Can versus Can’t

Ross Greene, child psychologist and author of best-selling books like The Explosive Child and Lost at School, has a perspective that is helpful here. Greene disagrees strongly with the common assumption that “children do what they want to.” If you believe this statement—that children do what they want to and only what they want to—then a child refusing to complete homework, or tackle an assignment, would mean the child can do the work but simply would rather not.

Greene’s way of thinking is different. He disagrees that behaviour comes down to either wanting or not wanting to do something. Instead, Greene states that “children do what they CAN.” From this point of view, work gets completed when a child CAN, and refusals or temper tantrums happen when a child CAN’T

Does this apply to super smart children and adults—especially when they can do so much? You bet it does!

Ross Greene Says Lagging Skills Must Be Considered

If you or your super smart child won’t do something—even if it seems like it should be easy—something other than boredom might be getting in the way. Ross Greene says lagging skills could be the culprit, like weak Executive Functioning skills that make it hard to start a task and see it through in a series of steps, no matter how smart you are.

Could ADHD Cause Lagging Skills in Smart People? (Yup!)

Research shows that Attention Deficit Disorders can affect children and adults across a whole range of smarts, even at the highest levels of intelligence. Attention Deficit Disorders can create those lags in skills that Ross Greene talks about—especially in Executive Functioning skills which allow tasks to be planned, started, and completed systematically, even in the face of all kinds of emotions and feelings, like frustration and boredom. 

 Intelligence Can Mask Attention Challenges in Smart People

If you or your smart child can do so much, but work isn’t getting done, an Attention Deficit Disorder could be the reason. But keep this important fact in mind: Research shows that high IQ can mask attention challenges. Why? Super smart people have usually developed an enormous number of strategies to compensate for weak attention. But at some point, with ever-increasing demands, the brain becomes overwhelmed and disengages from tasks that need to get done.

Consider a Specialized Assessment

Uncovering ADD/ADHD in children and adults with high IQ requires a high level of expertise. A thorough assessment by specialists in Attention Deficit Disorders and cognitive development, including intellectual functioning, across childhood and adulthood, is strongly recommended.  

Potential is fulfilled when smart brains have strong focus. If you have concerns, contact us for more information about our specialized Giftedness and Attention Assessment for children and adults done by our Psychiatry and Psychology Team. 

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