“Dear Doctor…”: Answers Regarding High Intelligence & Poor Academic Performance
“Both our son and our daughter are very intelligent. Yet, somehow, they struggle in school. It has been suggested that they may have ADHD. How can that be?”
People who are close to individuals with ADHD will not find this question surprising at all. However, people who interact with these individuals, but don’t actually know them (often teachers and coaches) will usually doubt this statement. The fact that this second group frequently sees these individuals as not particularly intelligent and/or difficult to get along with, makes all the difference for those with ADHD.
Most people and institutions, understandably, equate performance with intelligence, and behavior with a person’s true character. However, the difficulties caused by ADHD in attention span, organization, and/or behavior (impulsivity/hyperactivity), often mask an individual’s true abilities and nature. Therefore, people who are formative in the development of an individual’s potential (teachers, coaches, supervisors, etc.) tend to misread the actual capacity and character of the person, and this usually has detrimental effects on the treatment, opportunities afforded, and self-image of that person, which tends to gather “steam” as life progresses.
Children with ADD seem to hear everything that goes on around them, even though they’re not paying attention to it. They may exhibit intricate play-imagination, be great at video or computer games, have an excellent memory, or are adept in design or artistic skills. These are all signs of high intelligence, and if you’ve ever wondered about this, your instincts were right.
ADHD is characterized by an inability to pay attention, and thus attention is widely spread out and stimulated by many different things. This high degree of stimulation is the very thing that creates intelligence in infants. While this difficulty in paying attention is not desirable as a person grows older and needs to focus and control themselves, it does usually make that individual very intelligent.
Therefore, what you have is a very intelligent individual who is unable to express it, resulting in poor performance (grades) and/or behavior. This causes two problems: a child who is wasting his or her potential and, most importantly in my opinion, a hurting child (appearances often points to the contrary) with an inaccurately low self-image (self-esteem), who is likely to turn away from those activities which cause them to feel bad (learning and/or getting along with others!)
Can we stop this from happening? The answer is more often than not (85-90%) yes, with the proper intervention. Does it matter when this intervention is done? Yes, the sooner the disorder is corrected, the less damage there is to self-esteem, and the less skills and knowledge need to be re-learned. Do we need drugs to do this? No, in most cases the brain is capable of correcting the misalignment with a treatment called neurofeedback. This is a non-drug, pain-free procedure in which the individual re-trains the attention mechanisms of the brain, alleviating the condition. Once treatment is completed, no further sessions are necessary.