ADHD Myths & Facts

ADHD and IQ: The Effect of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity on Intelligence

Studies show that adults and children with ADHD often have high intelligence quotients (IQs), but they face challenges in school or life. Why?

The common wisdom used to be that if you have ADHD, you’re not smart, and if you are smart, you can’t have ADHD. Nonsense. I did a study of 157 adults — all of them fully met diagnostic criteria for ADHD, and all had significant impairment in working memory and processing speed — but they each had intelligence quotients (IQs) of 120 or above, or would fall into the top nine percent of the population.

[Quiz: Can You Distinguish Between ADHD and Learning Disabilities?]

Many of these people had late diagnoses and weren’t recognized as having ADHD problems until they were adults. They suffered a lot and often had difficulties in school before they received adequate treatment. All of them were demoralized and had given up. If they had been diagnosed earlier or had been in an environment where they were supported for their strengths and helped to recognize their limitations — not given a lot of phony happy-talk — their self-esteem would increase. Many people get put down so often that they develop defenses to protect themselves. Early diagnosis and treatment can mean so much in the arc of a person’s life.

Updated on January 12, 2020

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  1. Where could I find and read your study? I’m doing my undergraduate thesis on ADHD and am hoping to talk about IQ, GPA, standardized testing, overall academics, and ADHDers and I’m interested in looking at your study as a potential source.

  2. I think (OK I know) I am of above average intelligence. However, I don’t think it is due to ADD. In fact, I think I am intelligent in spite of my ADD. Adderall has worked perfectly for me for two years now and I feel like my life has started over. I take it as needed and so a 30 capsule prescription will last me 2 to 3 months. My only regret is that I was not diagnosed as a child. I was diagnosed 2 years ago at age 40. If I had taken adderall as a child, I am sure my life would have been much different. I was an extraordinarily gifted child in many ways. I was years ahead of my peers in cognitive development. I could have made a living as an artist (won national art competitions at a young age), track athlete (National champ level NCAA D1 athlete), and as a scientist (I have a recently earned phd in a quantitative discipline) as a musician (I play piano by ear and can construct complex chords and harmonize much in the same way as breathing). The sad thing is I never put much effort into any of these things. I just could not focus on anything. My intelligence has carried me through my life even though I have hardly put in the work to develop it. I was a lackluster high school student because I hated homework — a sign that I had an abnormal ADD brain. I never did ANY homework or any tasks I felt were mundane and would often get into trouble for this. My teachers called me smart but lazy. I squeaked by in my undergrad and even my masters degree. I relied solely on in-class instruction for test taking – that is if I showed up to class at all. So I always got just below average test scores but enough to pass. My peers thought I was a below average student. I would laugh to myself at how very wrong they were. I thought the same of them them lol – having to study so hard to get grades not that much better than mine. I even managed to get accepted into a highly competitive phd program because one professor saw something in me. I finally went to a physician to seek answers as to why my mind always felt so foggy and why I was so seemingly willfully irresponsible. I finally sought medical help after I was failing one of my PhD classes – a linear algebra-based class required intense concentration. I just could not bring myself to focus enough to not mess up every single gaussian table. I understood the concepts but could not cope with extremely high level of attention to detail required to generate correct answers. After getting on Adderall midsemester, I turned my failing grade into any A by the end of the semester. I register so high on the ADD scale that the physician was shocked that I was even able to function at all based on my extreme diagnosis. (My intent is not to brag —sorry. I am just trying to put things into context.) I have always known I was highly intelligent. I have also always known that something was holding me back. I was certain something was wrong with me and that my brain did not function ‘normally’ — especially when it came to conscientiousness and responsibility and necessary-to-function successfully-in-society types of things. I see this abnormality as a hinderance to my progress not as a positive advantageous quirk or superpower. The moral of the story is that I think it is dangerous to perpetuate the unproven idea that people with ADD are more intelligent.I know this day day and age people are all about building esteem and making sure people are not ashamed of their disabilities. I get that. However I do not see the helpfulness in this line of what I see as wishful thinking. If anything, I think ADD has a negative moderating effect on my intelligence. Alternatively, there may be no correlation between intelligence and ADD at all. Of course I may be an anomaly, so you can take this assessment with a grain of salt.

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