Many students struggle to understand how they can be considered “gifted” and yet have ADHD. They may compare themselves to other gifted students and feel that they come up short. As one high school senior with ADHD said, “I know what gifted is, and I’m not gifted. My “gifted” friends are all getting accepted to Ivy League colleges that I could never get into.”
There are many different ways to be “smart” and no one is good at all of them. For example, someone that is very good at math and science may have a lot of difficulty expressing their thoughts in writing. Some people are highly skilled at verbal expression, but struggle when they are required to write. And some learn very easily by listening in class, but struggle when they try to learn new information through reading.
Brains perform all kinds of functions. An IQ test only measures a few of them. There are many other ways to be “smart” that aren’t measured by an IQ test. For example:
- Understanding that someone is joking by the tone of his voice
- Being able to quickly recognize a person’s feelings by the expression on his face
- Being able to accurately estimate quantity or dimension
- Being able to estimate speed and distance
- Having a good sense of direction
- Having perfect pitch or color memory
- Being able to imagine new uses for common objects
- Having good eye-hand coordination
A high IQ score is commonly associated with school success. But IQ tests don’t measure many other traits or abilities that are critical for academic achievement. To be successful in school, we need to be able to read quickly and to retain what we’ve read. We need to be able to memorize large numbers of facts and then retrieve them easily in response to test questions. We need to be able to express our ideas in writing in a clear, organized fashion. We need to be able to pay attention, even when we’re bored because school requires us to study a broad range of subjects, whether we’re interested in them or not.
Top students need to be able to manage their time well so that they complete assignments on time. They need to be able to plan and organize so that they can complete complex projects. They need to have the discipline to do things that they “ought” to do instead of being tempted by what they want to do.
Skills such as time management, organization, self-discipline, planning ability, ability to focus at will, ability to maintain your focus despite distractions and interruptions, and ability to recall information when it is needed — are often referred to as “executive functioning skills”. When you have ADHD, you may have difficulty with some or all of these kinds of tasks, even though you may have a high IQ score.
The reality is that you can be truly gifted in some areas and still be challenged in other areas. Instead of focusing on labels such as “gifted”, or “ADHD” — work with someone to understand your strengths and weaknesses, your learning style, your temperament, and your interests. Identify your challenges and work with someone to develop strategies to improve your performance in these areas. You’ll be on your way to academic success.