Gifted Underachievers with Undiagnosed ADHD

Some gifted students are clearly bright but don’t do well in school. What keeps these children from performing in line with their apparent potential? 

Gifted underachievement can stem from many sources, but little research has examined the overlap between underachievement and undiagnosed twice-exceptionality. In a 2020 study in Gifted Child Quarterly, “Pay attention to inattention: Exploring ADHD symptoms in a sample of gifted underachieving students,” Betsy McCoach, Del Siegle, and Lisa DaVia Rubenstein sought to better understand the root cause of gifted students’ underachievement by examining whether some of these students exhibited clinically significant symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

As the authors note, it is critical to identify the root cause of underachievement to determine appropriate interventions. Students who underachieve because they are bored and underchallenged need different interventions and supports than students who underachieve due to neurologically-based attention deficits that interfere with learning.

For their study, Drs. McCoach, Siegle, and Rubenstein recruited teachers from 85 different schools. These teachers helped identify gifted students in Grades 5 through 12 who were underachieving in reading/language arts and/or math. Students qualified as underachieving if they performed in the bottom half of their class or had a C average or below. Students who received special education services or who were identified with learning disabilities were not eligible for the study. 

The students’ teachers and parents completed ratings of ADHD symptoms and students answered questions about their goal valuation, self-regulation, and self-efficacy. Goal valuation is a studen...


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About Danika Maddocks

Danika Maddocks earned her Ph.D. in school psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to her doctoral studies, Danika taught elementary and middle school and trained other educators. She researches giftedness, twice-exceptionality, intelligence, assessment, and the role of motivation and emotion in teaching and learning. Danika provides therapy and consultation services in private practice; learn more about her research and private practice at You can also sign up for her mailing list.