Entrance, SFMOMA. Photo: Lynne Azpeitia

Find out who you are and do it on purpose. Dolly Parton

Find out who you are and do it on purpose. Dolly Parton

There’s always going to be someone out there... who doesn’t believe in you or who thinks your head is too big or you’re not smart enough. But those are the people you need to ignore, and those are the times you need to just keep doing what you love doing.
— Jimmy Fallon

Email or Call Lynne at (310) 828-7121 too schedule a session, begin coaching or arrange a free phone conversation about the benefits of Coaching or Therapy for Gifted Adults

Every individual who is not creative has a negative, narrow, exclusive taste and succeeds in depriving creative being of its energy and life.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Some psychotherapists who may be effective in working with people of average intelligence may experience feelings of threat, intimidation, awe, envy, competitiveness, and inadequacy when working with people who are gifted; and they may, therefore, be less effective at working with members of the gifted.
— C.Suzanne Schneider
Two major causes of the difficulties experienced in school by highly gifted students are the virtual absence of coursework in gifted education from most teacher training programs, and the lack of awareness, even among teachers with a genuine interest in gifted children, of the different levels of giftedness within the gifted population.
— Miraca Gross

The Misdiagnosis of Gifted Adults

Gifted Adults are frequently misdiagnosed and misunderstood by professionals and persons in positions of authority.

This widely circulated article was written for therapists and published later in Mensa Magazine as well as several other Mensa publications.

Because this article is very popular, you will often find it on websites that feature gifted adult issues and information.   

Misdiagnosis of the Gifted

An article

by Lynne Azpeitia, M.A. and Mary Rocamora, M.A.

 Gifted individuals face many challenges. One of them may be in getting correctly identified by psychotherapists and others as gifted. 

It's well known among researchers of the gifted, talented and creative that these individuals exhibit greater intensity and increased levels of emotional, imaginational, intellectual, sensual and psychomotor excitability and that this is a normal pattern of development.

It is because these gifted children and adults have a finely tuned psychological structure and an organized awareness that they experience all of life differently and more Intensely than those around them.

These characteristics, however, are frequently perceived by psychotherapists and others as evidence of a mental disturbance because most of the population lacks accurate information about the special characteristics of gifted individuals, couples and families.

Most people don't know that what is considered normal for the gifted is most often labeled as neurosis in the general population and as a result, the gifted are personally and emotionally vulnerable to a variety of unique relationship difficulties at home, work, school, and in the community.

Since the gifted function with relatively high levels of intensity and sensitivity, when they seek therapy they are frequently misdiagnosed because therapists receive no specialized training in the identification and treatment of persons who have advanced and complex patterns of development.

Therapeutic assessment of gifted persons with asynchronous development, heightened levels of awareness, energy and emotional response, and an intense level of inner turmoil often results in their developmental transition being mislabeled as a personality or attentional disorder. Histrionic, dysthymic, cyclothymic, borderline, narcissistic, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) are a few of the diagnostic labels mistakenly used to describe normative stages of positive disintegration.

The results of this type of misdiagnosis can range from benign neglect to misguided counseling strategies that invalidate and attempt to 'normalize' the complex inner process of the gifted. 

When misdiagnosed gifted clients are prescribed medication to suppress the "symptoms of giftedness" there is the danger that the wonderful inner fury of the gifted process will be neutralized, thus minimalizing the potential for a life of accomplishment and fulfillment. As a result, those who have the most to offer society are the least likely to get their therapeutic needs met.

For the gifted, inner conflict is a developmental rather than a degenerative sign, because it drives the gifted person forward to replace current ways of thinking and being with those of higher level development.

This type of positive disintegration is characterized by an intensified inner tension between what one is and what one could be.

This dynamic tension is what fuels the creative person's complex inner life and provides the impetus for growth and development. 

Any therapist who works with a gifted population must be familiar with these internal processes, which are utilized to develop advanced potential—otherwise, the therapist risks inflicting further psychological damage.

When working with the gifted, a therapist must address the following intrapersonal issues: the internal stress of being gifted; the emotional trauma of rapid development; the effects of introversion, intensity, perfectionism and extraordinary sensitivity of self and others; the recognition of the symptoms of insufficient mental engagement; the importance of interacting with other gifted persons, and channeling and focusing an abundance of physical, sensual, intellectual and emotional energy.

Unique interpersonal challenges that gifted individuals, couples and families encounter during their life span include learning to interact in the mainstream world; manage expectations and pressures to fit the norm; defuse unconscious hostility, resentment, antagonism and sabotage directed at them because they are perceived as intellectually, creatively or personally advantaged; set appropriate boundaries for the utilization of their abilities; collaborate with others, and manage the daily dilemmas of giftedness involving relatives, bosses, coworkers, neighbors, counselors, teachers and other members of the community.

The challenges that the gifted must face in order to achieve their advanced potential and maintain their health are many. 

One of the greatest gifts a therapist can give gifted, talented and creative people is a genuine valuing of themselves and their abilities. 

Professionals who are willing to learn about the gifted will certainly accomplish this.

Published in Mensa Bulletin, November 1994

Click Here for the Books Lynne Recommends for Gifted Adults

Click Here to Contact Lynne About Services for Gifted Adults   

Lynne Azpeitia, MFT
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
AAMFT Approved Supervisor
3025 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404 

Encouraging, supporting and guiding gifted adults to achieve their goals and realize their dreams.

Coaching, Counseling, Psychotherapy & Consultation Specially Designed  for Gifted People 

Here are many of the books I recommend to my gifted adult clients.

Coaching, Counseling & Consulting Services Also Available by Phone & Skype

Click Here to Contact Lynne About Services for Gifted Adults 

All truth goes through three steps: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Finally, it is accepted as self-evident.
— Anonymous

 Lynne Azpeitia 
 The Gifted Adult Coach


To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. Ralph Waldo Emerson

I believe the greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen by them, heard by them, to be understood and touched by them.
— Virginia Satir
ADHD and Gifted. Many gifted children are being mis-diagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The gifted child’s characteristics of intensity, sensitivity, impatience, and high motor activity can easily be mistaken for ADHD.
— James Webb

To schedule an appointment, begin coaching or arrange a free phone consultation, email Lynne or call her at 310-828-7121

Reading about the concerns and experiences of other gifted adults can be reassuring: there are others are like me, others share my intensity, emotional heights and depths, sensitivity, and too-acute perception. I am not alone.
— Gifted Development Center

The "Me" Behind the Mask: Intellectually Gifted Students & the Search for Identity 
 Miraca Gross
The process of identity development in intellectually gifted children and adolescents is complicated by their innate and acquired differences from age-peers. To be valued within a peer culture which values conformity, gifted young people may mask their giftedness and develop alternative identities which are perceived as more socially acceptable. The weaving of this protective mask requires the gifted child to conceal her love of learning, her interests which differ from those of age-peers, and her advanced moral development. If this assumed identity people...More

Giftedness Must Not Be Confused With Mental Disorders
James Bishop  
Only a small proportion of pediatricians seem to consider giftedness when diagnosing specific disorders such as autism or ADHD. More awareness of the traits commonly found in gifted children is required...Highly gifted children are a particular diagnostic challenge as they are at risk of being mislabelled with ADHD, autistic, depressive, or bipolar disorders....More

Is Your Child Gifted? Latino Kids Less Likely to Be Properly Diagnosed
Alisa Valdes
Think your kid might be gifted?  If your child is Latino, chances are his or her teachers and doctors won’t see what you see. In fact, those folks will probably think your kid has behavior “problems.” Disturbingly, statistics and studies show that among those responsible for identifying giftedness in children in the United States, far too many still fail to realize that certain types of kids can be smart.
 Even though science tells us that giftedness occurs at precisely the same rate across every population on the planet, non-Hispanic whites and Asians still vastly outnumber blacks and Latinos in gifted programs in schools in the United States, with the former two groups being routinely over-diagnosed as gifted and the latter two being horribly under-diagnosed. More

The Misdiagnosis of Gifted Children Video

SENG Misdiagnosis Initiative 

In this informative and captivating video, SENG highlights the plight of children who are misdiagnosed with disorders such as ADHD or Asperger's Syndrome. Misdiagnosis of gifted children is a widespread problem, but still largely unknown to healthcare professionals, educators, and parents. To protect our children from inappropriate diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment, and to promote their social and intellectual development, we must educate people about the potential for misinterpreting characteristics of giftedness as symptoms of pathology.

SENG Misdiagnosis Initiative
Gifted children’s developmental growth is complex, placing them at a potential high risk for medical misdiagnosis. In some gifted children, gifted asynchrony may be erroneously labeled with a mental health diagnosis. In other gifted children, giftedness may be missed in a child with significant learning and/or mental health issues. More

Effective Techniques for Teaching Highly Gifted Visual-Spatial Learners
Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D.
Individuals who exhibit stronger visual-spatial abilities than auditory sequential abilities are considered visual-spatial learners…More

Exceptionally Gifted Children: Different Minds
 Deirdre V. Lovecky  
......Other authors stressed giftedness as developmental potential and focused on problems that arise for gifted children when cognitive development outstrips other aspects of development such as chronological, social, moral and emotional. These authors make the case that gifted children's precocity is different from adult achievement due to developmental considerations absent for adults. Morelock (1993) suggested that giftedness in children implies advanced ability to construct meaning, to think abstractly, and to respond emotionally to abstract concepts used to interpret experiential phenomena ....... This article is an attempt to delineate some of the ways in which children above 170 IQ process information......More

Creativity As An Elusive Factor  in Giftedness
J. Van Tassel-Baska
So creativity is elusive precisely because like intelligence it has many different manifestations, conceptions, and interpretations. For example, some people see only individuals who shift paradigms within fields and disciplines as creative while others see everyone as creative …More

After the Show: The Many Faces of the Performer      
Scott Barry Kaufman
Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted. We're usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. In fact, in psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and that can be reliability measured. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously. More

Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children
James T. Webb, Edward R. Amend, Nadia E. Webb, Jean Goerss, Paul Beljan, F. Richard Olenchak
Many gifted and talented children (and adults) are being mis-diagnosed by psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, and other health care professionals. The most common mis-diagnoses are: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (OD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Mood Disorders such as Cyclothymic Disorder, Dysthymic Disorder, Depression, and Bi-Polar Disorder. These common mis-diagnoses stem from an ignorance among professionals about specific social and emotional characteristics of gifted children which are then mistakenly assumed by these professionals to be signs of pathology.
In some situations where gifted children have received a correct diagnosis, giftedness is still a factor that must be considered in treatment, and should really generate a dual diagnosis. More...