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Are People With ADHD Smarter Than Those Without It?

ADHD and IQ correlation
Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology
Reviewer:

Dr. Bradley Noon

MD

Content

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is among the most common neurodevelopmental conditions that affect 280 million individuals [1*] all over the world. ADHD is mostly diagnosed in children but it may often last into adulthood. The affected patients experience problems such as paying attention or controlling their impulsive behaviors. But, among other symptoms and effects on daily life, is there any correlation between ADHD and intelligence? Let’s explore the facts!

ADHD Symptoms

High-functioning ADHD symptoms include:

  • Constant daydreaming
  • Forgetfulness
  • Frequent fidgeting
  • Talking too much
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Taking unnecessary risks
  • Having difficulties resisting temptation
  • Having trouble getting along with others

While it is normal to display some of the symptoms mentioned above, children with ADHD may not grow out of such behaviors. ADHD symptoms affect every aspect of their lives and often persist into adulthood.

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Is There a Correlation Between ADHD and Intelligence?

The question of whether there is an ADHD/IQ correlation has intrigued psychologists, educators, and researchers for years. To understand this relationship, it is essential to first define what we mean by “intelligence”. IQ is a measure of a person’s cognitive abilities in comparison to the population average. ADHD, on the other hand, is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Several studies have attempted to unravel the link between ADHD and IQ. The results, however, have been mixed. Some research suggests that there is no significant difference in the average IQ [2*] of individuals with ADHD compared to those without the disorder. This indicates that ADHD does not inherently affect cognitive ability. On the other hand, some studies have found that individuals with ADHD may have a slightly lower average IQ [3*] , which could be attributed to learning difficulties and challenges in concentration that impact IQ test performance. These researchers argue that the IQ range of individuals with ADHD may not fully capture their creative thinking and problem-solving skills, which are often outside traditional metrics.

It is also noteworthy that within the ADHD population, there is a wide range of IQ scores, just as there is in the general population. This diversity implies that ADHD does not uniformly impact intelligence and that individuals with ADHD can have a broad spectrum of intellectual abilities.

Can ADHD Affect Intelligence?

To address whether ADHD can affect IQ, it is important to consider how ADHD symptoms can impact an individual’s performance in an IQ test. The challenges of inattention and distractibility, which are common characteristics of ADHD, can indeed affect test performance. For example, a person with ADHD might struggle to maintain focus during an IQ test, leading to scores that may not accurately reflect their true cognitive abilities.

Furthermore, ADHD can impact academic performance and learning in general. Challenges in organizing thoughts, sustaining attention, and controlling impulses can make traditional learning environments difficult for those with ADHD. This can lead to a gap between a person’s intellectual potential and their academic achievements, sometimes misconstrued as a lower intelligence level.

Can High Intelligence Mask ADHD?

An intriguing aspect of the relationship between ADHD and intelligence is ADHD masked by intelligence. Individuals with high IQs and ADHD might develop coping strategies that help them compensate for their ADHD symptoms, making the disorder less apparent. They may still experience internal symptoms like restlessness or inattention, but their intellectual abilities enable them to perform well academically or professionally despite these challenges.

High intelligence masking ADHD can lead to underdiagnosis or late diagnosis of ADHD associated with high IQ in individuals. It underscores the importance of recognizing that ADHD can affect anyone, regardless of their intelligence level. It also highlights the need for a more nuanced understanding of ADHD, where symptoms are evaluated in context and not just based on external achievements or academic performance.

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The Importance of Differentiating IQ From ADHD

Differentiating between IQ and ADHD is crucial for several reasons. First, it helps in ensuring that individuals receive the appropriate support and resources. If ADHD is mistaken for a lack of intelligence or vice versa, it could lead to inadequate educational strategies and support systems. For instance, a child with ADHD who is struggling at school may not need just academic support but also strategies to manage attention and hyperactivity issues.

Second, understanding the difference is essential for the self-esteem and self-perception of those with ADHD. Individuals with this condition who believe that their challenges are due to a lack of intelligence might struggle with self-esteem issues. Recognizing that ADHD is a disorder that impacts behavior and attention, and not intelligence per se, can be empowering and lead to more effective coping strategies.

Lastly, this differentiation assists in advancing scientific understanding and treatment of ADHD. By acknowledging that ADHD and IQ are distinct, researchers and clinicians can develop more tailored interventions that address the specific needs of those with ADHD, irrespective of the IQ level.

Struggles of Adults With High IQ and ADHD

High-IQ adults who also have ADHD may face a unique set of challenges. Their high intelligence can often mask their ADHD symptoms, leading to late diagnosis or misdiagnosis. This can result in years of not understanding why they might struggle with organization, time management, or social relationships, despite their high cognitive abilities.

In the professional world, these individuals might excel in complex and creative tasks but struggle with routine and organizational aspects of work. This discrepancy can lead to frustration and a sense of underachievement. Moreover, the coping strategies they developed in earlier life might not be as effective in the complex adult world, leading to increased stress and anxiety.

Socially, high-IQ adults with ADHD may find it challenging to navigate interpersonal relationships. They might have a rich inner world and quick thought processes, but struggle with impulsivity and maintaining attention in conversations, which can be misinterpreted by others.

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Bottom Line

In essence, the question of whether attention deficit hyperactivity disorder leads to the development of highly intelligent adults, as compared to those without ADHD, is less about directly comparing intelligence levels. It is more about understanding how ADHD impacts an individual’s life and cognitive expression.

It is crucial to recognize that intelligence and ADHD are distinct, and having ADHD does not necessarily mean one has a lower or higher IQ. The focus should be on understanding and supporting the unique challenges and strengths of each individual, whether they have ADHD, a high IQ, both, or neither.

For adults with high IQ and ADHD, acknowledging and addressing the specific struggles they face is key to helping them achieve their potential. This includes providing tailored support in educational and professional environments, as well as fostering a broader understanding of how ADHD manifests differently across the intelligence spectrum. Ultimately, a more nuanced and empathetic approach to ADHD and intelligence can lead to better outcomes for all individuals, regardless of where they fall on these spectrums.

FAQ

People with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) can be just as smart as anyone else. ADHD affects attention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity, but it does not directly correlate with intelligence. Individuals with ADHD can possess a wide range of intellectual abilities, including higher intelligence. Their unique challenges may sometimes mask their capabilities, but with the right support and strategies, they can achieve their full intellectual potential.
No, ADHD does not make a person less or more intelligent. ADHD affects attention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity, but ADHD is not a sign of intelligence. People with ADHD can have a wide range of intellectual abilities, just like those without the condition.
ADHD does not inherently make a person a genius. Intelligence varies widely among individuals with ADHD, just as it does in the general population. ADHD is characterized by differences in attention, impulsivity, and sometimes hyperactivity, but it is not a determinant of intelligence.
The average IQ of someone with ADHD is similar to the general population. ADHD does not inherently affect a person’s IQ. People with ADHD have a wide range of IQ scores, just like those without ADHD.

Sources

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3 sources
  1. Depressive disorder (depression)
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  2. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children With High IQ: Results from a Population-Based Study
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  3. Rethinking Intelligence Quotient Exclusion Criteria Practices in the Study of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology
Reviewer:

Dr. Bradley Noon

MD
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Evidence Based

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts.

Our team of experts strive to be objective, unbiased, honest and to present both sides of the argument.

This article contains scientific references. The numbers
in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.