Written by Tara Boustany on:

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Have you ever wondered if there is a link between ADHD and IQ?

The topic of ADHD and intelligence is a controversial one. Some assume that people with ADHD have a lower-than-average IQ while others believe it is the opposite.

There are two types of scenarios where this correlation can be observed in individuals with ADHD. First, there are those that perform poorly at school or work. Second, there are those who excel and succeed in these environments.

Thus, many jump to conclusions when it comes to the link between ADHD and IQ. This is because they only observe one side of the coin – which is not always representative of the reality of ADHD.

Thus, it is important to dig deeper to see whether there is a link between those two. This article will discuss what we do and do not know about the link between intelligence and ADHD.

So, let’s get started on ADHD versus IQ!

What is ADHD?

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a behavioral disorder. It most often manifests itself in childhood. ADHD affects 4-12% of school-aged children worldwide and 45% of college-aged students and adults.

Three Types of ADHD Symptoms

There are three types of ADHD symptoms.

Impulsiveness, inattention, and/or hyperactivity are the hallmarks of ADHD. 

Hyperactive/Impulsive Type

This is the least common type of ADHD. It is characterized by impulsive and hyperactive behaviors without inattention.

Inattentive and Distractible Type

This type of ADHD is mainly characterized by inattention and distractibility without hyperactivity.

Combined Type

This is the most common type of ADHD. It is characterized by impulsive and hyperactive behaviors as well as inattention.

ADHD and Intelligence: IQ Scores

There is much debate regarding whether having ADHD implies having a high or a low IQ score. There is also a lot of confusion on the meaning of such an association. To this day, there are no confirmed links between ADHD and IQ.

On one hand, it is also important to note that many people with ADHD are only good at tasks they really enjoy. This can translate into success at school or work.

In these cases, they may appear as having high IQs. Yet, it is not that their IQ score is high; it simply means that these people can only focus on things they like to do.

On the other hand, people with ADHD may find it hard to function at work or school. This can make it difficult for them to complete daily activities, which might lead others to believe that people with ADHD have lower IQ scores.

What the Research Says

A 2010 study examined cognitive abilities in high IQ adults who did or did not have ADHD. High IQ adults with ADHD performed less well on psychological tests of executive functioning than those without ADHD.

The tests included a variety of verbal, memory, and problem-solving tests. Yet, one issue with this study is that there were no control groups. For example, there were no ADHD-only or low-IQ groups for comparison. Thus, the results of this study are not conclusive.

Another 2011 study further determined that there is no correlation between ADHD and lower IQ. According to the study, IQ can run in families much as ADHD does. But, having a relative with a high IQ does not indicate that another family member will have a high IQ as well.

The findings of one study on children with ADHD suggest that ADHD is similar among children with high, normal, and low IQ scores.

As we can clearly see, there is not enough evidence to support any claim about any correlation between ADHD and IQ. Until more research is done, anyone with ADHD is neither more intelligent nor less intelligent than others. 

ADHD Diagnosis and Possible Issues

The diagnosis procedure may also play a role in why many individuals believe there is a link between IQ and ADHD. In fact, there is no simple test that can accurately diagnose ADHD.

Instead, the diagnosis is based on a long-term and detailed assessment of the patient. The assessment may include a physical examination, a series of interviews with the patient or with people that are close to them. From this assessment, it may appear as if the child for example has a high IQ because they focus on their schoolwork.

Similarly, it may seem that they have a low IQ because they find it difficult to focus on schoolwork. It is also possible for healthcare professionals to misdiagnose ADHD.

Effectively, those with bipolar disorder or other conditions may exhibit symptoms like those of ADHD.

Can people with a high IQ and ADHD overcome the disease?

As we discussed, ADHD manifests itself across individuals of all intellectual levels, some of which have high IQs.

High-IQ individuals with ADHD are more likely to succeed at tasks that demand “out of the box” thinking, which is non-linear and spontaneous. They are usually less successful at tasks requiring accuracy, logic, and speed.

High IQ Does Not Counteract ADHD

Many assume that having a high IQ means it is easier to deal with ADHD. Yet, a high IQ does not protect anyone from the executive dysfunction or emotional dysregulation that is common in ADHD. This includes cognitive problems, functional impairments, and comorbidities.

Actually, high-IQ people with ADHD tend to have more of them than high-IQ individuals without ADHD. Also, the severity of executive dysfunction for both high-IQ and average-IQ individuals with ADHD appears to be equal. Impairments in executive functioning mainly include working memory and processing speed.

Unique Challenges that Accompany ADHD and High IQ

Gifted children praised as “intelligent” internalize their intellect as a basis of self-esteem and a source of pride. They understand that they are expected to succeed. Because they excel in school with little effort, they’ve always been told that they’ll succeed.

However, for those with ADHD, things get more complicated. Children with ADHD tend to lag 3 to 5 years behind their peers in social/emotional functioning. This is due to the developmental delays that characterize ADHD.

At the same time, very bright children with ADHD frequently function 3 to 5 years above their age level intellectually. Such extreme dissimilarities are confusing to those who live with them and those who are around them.

Another challenge those with ADHD and a high IQ face is the difficulty to keep up with others’ perceptions of their success.

In fact, success is highly susceptible to impairment by ADHD. A lot of times, intellectual skills become harder to keep up with as academic and work demands increase for those with ADHD.

They are perplexed by their inconsistent success and find themselves unable to reach their full potential. They start revisiting their previous glory and harshly judge themselves. They feel embarrassed that they can’t process things more quickly, remember more, or follow through better.

 

Parents, teachers, and co-workers frequently attribute their underachievement to boredom, recklessness, or laziness. A lot of times, those people with ADHD start blaming themselves for underperforming.

They fail to acknowledge the fact that it is their ADHD that makes it harder for them to succeed. This is made worse by the fact that they feel compelled to redefine their identities. Besides having a neurobiological disorder, they are going through a shame-based identity crisis.

ADHD Management

Medications

Medications that your doctor may prescribe to treat your ADHD include:

Medication does not cure ADHD permanently, although it may help with ADHD symptoms. Medication can make it easier to focus for long periods.

However, it is just one aspect of comprehensive ADHD therapy because it doesn’t address the other issues that come with the disorder. Medication alone cannot and will not teach the skills that those with ADHD might lack.

Supplements

Today, supplements are being given to patients more than ever before to treat a variety of illnesses, one of which is ADHD. The following are the most common supplements used in ADHD:

  • Vitamins (vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin D)
  • Minerals (Zinc, Iron, Magnesium)
  • Herbs (Ginkgo Biloba, and Brahmi, Gotu Kola, Korea red ginseng, ​​Valerian root and lemon balm, Pycnogenol, St. John’s wort)
  • Hormones (Melatonin)

These supplements are proving to be effective, but further research is required. Furthermore, supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, so there is no assurance what’s listed on the label is actually in it.

Some of these supplements may also interact with ADHD medications. This is why ADHD supplements can be beneficial but they must be evaluated carefully with your doctor first.

Therapy

Various types of therapy can assist with ADHD in young children, teenagers, and adults.

Therapy is also beneficial for treating the additional issues that may develop as a result of ADHD, such as to conduct or anxiety problems. The following are some examples of therapies that might be used:

Accepting Yourself

Dealing with ADHD daily can be exhausting and frustrating. It is important to consult with a licensed healthcare professional so they can treat you properly. As we just said, ADHD treatment includes medications, supplements, and therapy.

Yet, no treatment will ever make you feel better about yourself if you don’t learn to accept yourself and your ADHD. The first step toward self-acceptance is to understand that you can’t change your brain chemistry. But, there are various ways to feel better in your skin.

Learn everything you can about your ADHD brain

Read articles, blogs, and join online groups to better understand why you may not always be in control of your responses, no matter how bright you are. There is comfort in learning that many others share the same journey as you.

Strip away labels

You are more than your diagnosis or your IQ. Try to separate who you are from the labels that may stifle you. As you learn to ignore those labels, you’ll be able to build yourself based on who you really are rather than who you are supposed to be.

Stop isolating yourself and learn to open up

Take a chance, whether it is with a therapist, a friend, or a support group. Imagine feeling comfortable enough to remove your mask without fear of rejection and judgment.

Remind yourself that no one is perfect

No one can maintain complete control at all times. Everyone, without exception, has issues they must deal with, even if they don’t show it. And sometimes it is useful to be reminded of this so that you feel less alone.

Improve your functioning by providing yourself with better self-care

Investing in yourself communicates that you are worth it. It includes:

  • eating well
  • sleeping 8 hours a day
  • exercising 30 minutes a day.
  • managing your stress
  • finding a hobby
  • taking the time to relax

Celebrate yourself and your skills

You may believe that you don’t have adequate intellectual abilities because you can’t access them frequently. We don’t expect artists to produce masterpieces every day.

Show the same care for yourself and don’t set yourself impossible standards. Nothing can take away your brilliant ideas. Rather than complaining that they aren’t frequent enough, celebrate them when they occur.

Concluding Thoughts

A popular misconception is that people with ADHD are naturally smarter and have a higher IQ than those without ADHD. However, there is no link between ADHD and IQ.

In fact, like other disorders, ADHD cannot predict a person’s intellectual abilities. Also, being “intelligent” does not always rely on a high IQ. There are drawbacks associated with both scenarios.

On one hand, assuming that someone with ADHD has a high IQ can lead to that person not seeking proper treatment.

On the other hand, assuming that someone with ADHD has a low IQ will lead to missing out on that person’s true potential.

It is crucial to distinguish between ADHD and intelligence. While one can influence the other, they are neither the same nor related in any sort of way.

If you suspect that you or someone you know has ADHD, you can discuss your concerns with a healthcare professional. People with ADHD should always seek treatment so they can live up to their full potential!

Click here to see whether you or someone you know has ADHD, anxiety, or depression and get a customized breakdown of how to address it.

And if you want to learn more about ADHD management and maintaining a healthy brain, check out these informative resources here.

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