Some people with ADHD might have higher IQs. But assuming that there’s a correlation may be harmful because it can keep your child from getting the help they may need.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is classified as a neurodevelopmental condition that usually shows up in early childhood.

ADHD can pose many challenges in everyday activities. Many people have a hard time understanding why children with ADHD may excel in certain tasks while facing major challenges in others.

For example, a parent might notice that their child is great at math but can’t remember to brush their teeth in the morning.

In other cases, parents or teachers might assume that a child with ADHD is less intelligent if their ADHD symptoms affect their school performance.

The truth is, intelligence and ADHD don’t go hand in hand.

ADHD is often diagnosed around the age of 7. However, symptoms of the disorder are generally seen before the age of 12. ADHD is best known for causing hyperactive behavior and attention difficulties.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 9% of U.S. children and 4% of adults have the disorder.

Sometimes, symptoms that were present in childhood wane in adulthood, so many adults stop fitting the diagnostic criteria for the condition. ADHD is also more prevalent in boys.

Some of the most common symptoms of ADHD are:

  • impatience
  • constant motion
  • difficulty sitting still
  • constant talking
  • trouble completing tasks
  • inability to listen or follow directions when given instructions
  • boredom unless constantly entertained
  • interrupting other conversations
  • doing things without thinking (or on impulse)
  • problems learning concepts and materials at school

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) also classifies the disorder into three subtypes:

To be diagnosed with ADHD, a child must exhibit six or more symptoms. Adults may only need to exhibit five or more symptoms for a diagnosis.

There’s a common misconception that a person with ADHD automatically has a low IQ. Other people may believe that ADHD is always associated with high IQ. But neither of these assumptions is true.

Depending on the severity of symptoms, ADHD can affect a person’s ability to function at school and work. Everyday tasks can also be difficult. This can give the impression that a person has a lower IQ when it’s not the case.

According to an older 2010 study, adults who had both high IQs and ADHD were found to have overall lower executive functioning compared to other participants who had high IQ but not ADHD. Lower executive functioning means less control over things like paying attention and self-regulation.

A range of verbal, memory, and problem-solving tests were used in the study. One problem with this study, however, is that there were no other control groups. For instance, there were no ADHD-only or low-IQ groups for comparison.

While ADHD may lower a person’s executive functioning, higher IQ may help to increase it. A 2016 study of adults with ADHD found that participants with higher IQ scores fared better on executive functioning tasks than those with lower IQ scores.

This could mean that ADHD symptoms look different when a person has a high IQ, which might make it harder to get an accurate diagnosis.

A 2015 study suggested that ADHD symptoms may put adolescents at risk for lower IQ scores. The authors note that many children with ADHD symptoms have trouble with school tasks.

Even though ADHD itself may not cause lower IQ scores, difficulties with learning at school may lead to lower IQ scores in some people with ADHD.

In addition, some people with ADHD only seem to focus their attention on something they enjoy doing, while tasks that don’t feel fun or interesting are really hard to focus on.

In such cases, it’s not that IQ is low — it’s just that these individuals can only focus on things they care most about.

The ADHD diagnostic process can also pose problems when determining whether a child is “smart” or not. There’s no one particular test that can accurately diagnose ADHD. Instead, the process is based on long-term observations of possible symptoms.

Some other conditions, such as autism or bipolar disorder, might also be mistaken for ADHD. The disorder may also be seen in some children who have learning disabilities since some people with ADHD have process difficulties.

Stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall, are the most common medications used to treat ADHD and are quite effective.

A stimulant is helpful in some cases because it’s believed that increasing levels of chemicals in the brain helps to increase focus. These drugs may reduce hyperactivity, too. Some people may also experience less impulsivity.

Stimulants can make a huge difference for some children who experience school difficulties. The IQs of those who can fully learn and take tests may increase because of their improved ability to focus on tasks involved in formal IQ testing.

As with other disorders, ADHD can’t properly predict IQ. Furthermore, “being smart” doesn’t always depend on a high IQ. The correlations between ADHD and IQ are based on stereotypes and misconceptions.

There are dangers associated with both: One who assumes that someone with ADHD has a high IQ might not seek proper treatment. On the other hand, one who assumes that someone with ADHD is not intelligent will overlook that individual’s potential.

It’s important to treat ADHD and intelligence as separate entities. While one can affect the other, they are certainly not one and the same.