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ADHD and High IQ: What's the Connection?

written by: Lynn-nore Chittom • edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • updated: 5/25/2011

Parents sometimes wonder if their children can have both ADHD and High IQ levels. The answer is they can, and they often do. Read on for answers to common questions about the relationship between ADHD and intelligence.

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    Masked, But Still There

    Some children with ADHD have also been gifted with a high IQ. Unfortunately, this does not actually negate the symptoms of the ADHD, though it may mask them for a while and make the diagnosis more difficult. Typically gifted children demonstrate a complicated combination of symptoms which represent both their giftedness and their ADHD. This may include perceptions or reasoning skills beyond their age, along with a propensity toward hyperactivity. Or it may be demonstrated in early reading and tremendous ease with learning, combined with extremely poor social skills.

    Regardless of their intelligence, for children to be diagnosed with ADHD they must present symptoms from the following list for at least six months and symptoms must appear prior to age seven.

    • Inability to sustain focus
    • Distractability
    • Difficulty completing assignments
    • Forgetfulness
    • Frequent shifts in conversation
    • Hyperfocusing on activities of interest to the point of ignoring other responsibilities
    • Lack of organizational skills
    • Fidgeting or squirming
    • Frequently hopping up out of their chairs
    • Running or climbing at inappropriate times and in inappropriate places
    • Inability to sit still or play quietly
    • Excessive talking
    • Impulsivity

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    How the ADHD Hides

    Children with high IQ levels are often able to circumvent detection of their ADHD if it is not caught early. By school time they are very capable of figuring out assignments even if they did not hear the directions. Similarly they may be able to learn independently and catch up despite distractability, excessive talking or fidgeting in the classroom. Unfortunately, the ADHD eventually catches up with them as classwork becomes more challenging and teachers depend more on students being organized, self-motivated and attentive. At this point the ADHD may appear to come out of nowhere for children who have masked it under their high intelligence.

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    Symptoms that May Appear Later in Life

    Individuals with ADHD and high intelligence sometimes manage to maneuver their way through school riding on their intellect alone. They work their teachers and the system and charm their way to success by applying themselves as needed, despite their limitations. During school years, the ADHD may go undetected and symptoms may be attributed to boredom or defiance. Outside of school it becomes obvious that these individuals have difficulties with short term memory and basic functioning skills. They may find themselves multi-tasking to a fault, having difficulties sleeping due to hyperactivity, or struggling to remain organized or on-task. These symptoms can present themselves at any time, but that does not mean they are new symptoms. ADHD is a genetic neuropsychological disorder, and is not an adult-onset disorder.

    When symptoms seem to appear later in life, individuals may initially deny their ADHD, but often eventually decide to pursue treatment on their own. Medication can be effective, even if they did not treat their ADHD in this way during childhood or adolescence. The most popular treatment options for adults with ADHD and High IQ are stimulant drugs which reduce their symptoms and enable their high intelligence to shine.