Doubly Exceptional
March 5, 2010 3:10 PM   Subscribe

I was diagnosed as being gifted and having ADD when I was a young child. I've been in denial about both of these things for most of my life, and now I'm nearly 30; help me understand them.

Brief background:

I was diagnosed with ADD in the late 80s by a psychiatrist. Part of the evaluation included an IQ test, which I scored very highly on (especially the verbal portion). The administering psychologist observed "abnormal subtest scatter" and speculated that it didn't fully reflect my native IQ due to attention and memory problems.

After elementary school, I chose (along with my parents and the psychiatrist) to stop taking medication. I also stopped seeing psychiatrists and psychologists, and stopped telling my teachers I had ADD. I disliked school and was an underachiever (perhaps a deliberate one). I wanted to be like everyone else. I graduated in the middle of my class, with a GPA in the 2-2.5 range. I was never a behavior problem.

I went to a land-grant college and majored in CS. I didn't put much effort into the first two years, during which I had a GPA of ~2.5. In my junior and senior years I discovered that I'd do better if I took notes in class, did the homework, and studied a little bit before tests. My GPAs during those years ranged from 3.5 to 4.0, and at graduation I had nearly a 3.4 GPA.

Since then I've had a steady job as a software engineer (with all of the expected promotions), though I'm usually bored and dissatisfied with the work. I manage my finances well, I don't use drugs, rarely drink, and I can't say that I'm reckless. I don't feel like I fit the stereotypical adult ADHD profile, though I am messy and have trouble focusing on my work, which I attribute to disinterest and dislike, since I seem to do ok with the odd task that interests me.

I had an Adult ADHD assessment a few years ago, and it came back as inconclusive. I wasn't terribly impressed with its methodology, as it relied too much on my subjective opinion of myself, or with the psychologist himself for that matter.

I'm already seeing a therapist who I like, but he's not an ADHD guy.

My Questions:

ADHD is defined as a cluster of behaviors, which are speculated to have organic causes. Is it possible that I displayed ADHD behaviors without the organic causes because I was a gifted child in the wrong environment? I'm a little confused since I lack most of the typical adult ADHD behaviors, and my grades actually improved as I encountered harder material.

Could mild depression in a child be mistaken for ADHD?

I've found very little information about ADHD in high-IQ adults. Can anyone point me to some good resources? I'm not looking for cheerleading stuff. Personal testimonials are fine (and emails welcome).

Are there any support groups (online or off) specifically for high-IQ adults with ADHD?

Are there any psychologists or psychiatrists who specialize in or have a lot of experience with high-IQ adults with ADHD? In the Minneapolis/St. Paul area?

My apologies for the "high-IQ" phrasing. I can't think of a better way to put it, since gifted sounds odd when applied to adults. I'm not bragging, and I'm actually pretty ambivalent about my intelligence.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry I can't answer any of your later questions since I don't have the experience. But I don't have the experience because I was a gifted child in the wrong environment who didn't get his depression treated until he was an adult.

I got an ADHD diagnosis as a child, and my parents thought it was bullshit. (I'm not saying ADHD diagnosises are bullshit AT ALL, just that mine was and my school teacher parents had seen too many diagnosed students using that as an excuse.) They kept this from me at the time, but once I found that out when I was older, I went through a phase where I thought that the ADHD was holding me back from all my deserved adult happiness and success.

I later came to realize that even though, unlike you, I had a lot of the characteristics of an adult with ADHD, once my depression was treated, most of those symptoms -- or at least the degree to which they felt uncontrollable to me-- went away.

So I'm just one special snowflake -- but to answer your questions, yes, the scenarios you describe can happen.

And don't worry -- in my opinion there are maybe 3 types of occasions where I think using the phrase "high IQ" to describe yourself without deserving a swift kick in the genital area (or at least a rolling of the eyes) and this is one of them.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:24 PM on March 5, 2010

Anecdotal, but my research indicates that depression is a natural side-effect of ADHD as the person despairs over the effects of the hindrances without the skills or support to surmount them.

I wouldn't worry about the "high-IQ" stuff just yet, the ADHD is the main blocker here. Deal with that first and switch therapists if you have problems with your current one (same as anybody else). And yeah, there are therepists who focus on ADHD.

I think it's interesting that you put credence in the IQ test that scored you highly, but discount the results of an ADHD test that didn't give you expected results. Something to think about.
posted by rhizome at 3:30 PM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

The disappointing methodology is intrinsic to the problem. You're obviously high-functioning. If you have ADHD, you've developed coping mechanisms. This makes it hard to come up with a test one could be confident tests the symptoms instead of testing the coping mechanisms.

Your grades improving on encountering harder material doesn't sound at all contraindicative of ADHD, where worse performance with boring tasks is typical.
posted by Zed at 3:36 PM on March 5, 2010

I can't really provide specific recommendations, but your story sounds eerily similar to my own, right down to the GPA. Remember: the plural of "anecdote" is not "data."

Of COURSE you would display a lack of patience if you were a smart kid forced to wait around while everyone else struggled to sound out words or identify colors. Of COURSE you would lose interest if you were finished with your work and wanted to do something else more interesting. Of COURSE that could be mistaken for good old fashioned antsiness. And when you're tired of working really hard to cope because whatever style of teaching is simply not working well with whatever style of learning you have, yeah, that can be pretty depressing and have lasting effects.

In my case, I spent a lot of time being one angry little kid for one reason or another because my teachers felt like not doing my homework (because I knew the material), or reading past where I was supposed to, should be punished instead of seen as an indicator of the material's insufficiency. Consequently, I grew up with an attitude of not caring, because if I comprehended the material and showed that I was smart, nobody would give me active positive feedback.

My question for you is this: what do you want to get out of this knowledge?

High IQ or not, you clearly have skills in some areas and deficiencies in others... like everyone. My advice to you would be to take a hard look at the things you enjoy and are good at and make sure that whatever you do plays to those strengths. Learn to be very candid about them and advocate for yourself when needed. Find jobs and friends who are honest with you and help you learn instead of heightening your anxiety about your faults. For me, this means being okay with people poking me to remember something, or asking to have another meeting scheduled just so I have another deadline.

The ADHD or ADD (non-hyperactive) diagnosis could probably help in the sense that it could steer you toward resources, etc., and possibly medications. But some of the medications are quite noticeable and might not be worth the side effects, and you need to work on a bit more self-awareness before you can commit to those sorts of things. By that, I mean that you need to clearly work out what is a problem and what is good old-fashioned laziness. BOY, can I be lazy sometimes.

I don't know much specifically about high-IQ folks, but you could look around at some of the resources here or here. I haven't even gotten through that first book yet (they anticipated that!), but already I like it because it's very focused on things I CAN do in a way that's not all maudlin and inspirational. I like working in a crisis because it forces my brain into order, and most of the people around me don't, so I am an asset to my office. There are loads of other examples, some of which I'm sure you'll find resonate with your situation.

MeMail me if you have any other questions.
posted by Madamina at 3:42 PM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

There are lots of subtypes of ADD. I am not qualified to do anything other than point you to more reading on the topic:

ADHD predominantly inattentive, ADHD predominantly hyperactive, and ADHD combined, which has characteristics of both and a really woeful deficit of good online information.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:43 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Check out the book Driven to Distraction by Edward Hallowell. I'm not near my copy at the moment, but I seem to remember a section on ADD and high IQ.
posted by corey flood at 3:45 PM on March 5, 2010

I hate to be the guy who takes things down a notch, but:

You mention a ADHD diagnosis (a negative) and a high IQ test (presumably, a positive). You have reacted toward the former by eschewing direct monitoring or treatment; you have assumed the latter despite having done no following-up of that rating. You've assumed that you are somehow more intelligent than most and that your ADHD diagnosis might have hampered the realization of your intelligence. It feels like an excuse. If you felt like you were not reaching some sort of potential, and you wanted to, you would address what you felt to be the issue.

Rolling these two aspects of your life together isn't going to do anything. I have a friend from high school who, along with myself, were also branded "gifted." We'll call him Jay. During high school I pretty much maxed out in the classes I did take(4.0 level or above, due to weighted advanced placement), although I didn't push myself in all areas because I disliked math. Jay had parents who were jerks about grades, and he used that as another excuse to be ambivalent about them. He probably graduated in that 2-2.5 range.

I, like yourself, went to a land grand university and took computer science. I got a job post graduation, and I've gone through periods of motivation and decline like most people. Jay eventually went to college and did very well for the most part, except for a handful of courses where he couldn't be bothered to make the effort. He works a phone support / callback sort of job, and is reasonably happy because he has some downtime and it doesn't overtax him. He can live with it.

Why do I mention all this? Because motivation, intelligence, the ability to apply practical intelligence, and depression (possibly the issue you are seeking therapy for) can be linked, or they can be completely independent.

To get to the questions:
- Look for ADHD resources, if you get confirmation that you actually have that diagnosis. I can't speak to local resources, but it's no different for intelligent people than it is for less-intelligent ones.
- Accept that maybe you didn't necessarily have ADHD as a kid, but you were just bored with the material. In place of being challenged, you were medicated. Later, maybe the material caught up with you or you cultivated a disinterest. It happens.
posted by mikeh at 3:46 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I later came to realize that even though, unlike you, I had a lot of the characteristics of an adult with ADHD, once my depression was treated, most of those symptoms -- or at least the degree to which they felt uncontrollable to me-- went away.

Ironically enough, I've had the complete opposite experience, at least for now.

Having my depression treated, but not the ADHD, only helped the depression slightly and the ADHD barely at all. So, my Psychiatrist and I tried something different - we took me off the depression drugs and solely treated the ADHD with Adderall. Now both are under substantially more control.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:48 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

thanks spinifex23, for giving me an opening to re-enter with a point I felt like I didn't make clear enough in my original comment: It was totally my experience so please do what works for you until you find what does. I just wanted to give you an example that your assumptions may be right. When I thought I had ADHD, I kept trying to fix that unsuccessfully. When I took care of the depression, the rest was fixed (or at least is working as of late)

If you're not satisfied, try something, and don't get too wrapped up into the classifications or what has worked for others. But don't ignore something just because it feels like it doesn't fit with what you think you have.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:08 PM on March 5, 2010

Another special snowflake like yourself here, except that there's been no ADHD/IQ testing. Take out those aspects of your question, and we're sympatico.

A key thing for you to realize is that you're capable of staying focused and succeeding when you're interested in your tasks. You seem quite able to develop coping mechanisms, so start creating some new ones, and take steps in your life to keep your tasks interesting and challenging. More importantly, don't sweat the diagnosis (or lack of it) or IQ score as anything particularly important...neither ADHD nor a high IQ are a binary proposition, and if you've done this well so far, you likely won't gain much from testing positive for ADHD or negative for a high IQ. ;)
posted by davejay at 4:08 PM on March 5, 2010

Well, can you try Adderall and see if it helps? At 30 I finally gave up my resistance to medication and went on Adderall and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I felt like I'd been living my life with half my brain tied behind my back and now I have use of the whole thing.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:13 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Much of your history mirrors my own although I did get into drugs and partying rather than applying my brains to anything worthwhile. I'm now 40 and have been on ADHD meds for the last three months. Just last week I switched from extended release ritalin to Adderall and have been really, really pleased with the results. I'm nowhere near as irritable, I'm more capable in completing projects and keeping on top of a rather insane and ever changing project list (I am a tech supporting three school sites and the special ed department).

My next step is going to be to meet with a biofeedback place in town and see what they might be able to offer in terms of additional tools to better control my distractability.

Part of me wishes I'd gotten on meds years ago, I know my wife would be much happier if I'd started treatment a much longer time ago!
posted by fenriq at 4:33 PM on March 5, 2010

Special education teacher who tests kids all the time for ADHD here. IANYD and teachers cannot legally diagnose ADHD, but we do take these results, score them and give them to pediatricians, so I'm involved in the diagnostic process. Anyway...

I can tell you professionally and personally, my colleagues and I HATE the ADHD assessment that's used because it's not a genuinely objective tool. It's all about perception (and a parent in crisis may not be entirely accurate when filling out the assessment).

ADHD is currently diagnosed with a rating scale called the Conner's Rating Scale, and it's a list of 100% subjective questions that can be asked of teachers, parents, and the patient.

The test looks for patterns of behavior (as reported by teachers and parents) in these areas:

# Oppositional
# Cognitive Problems/Inattention
# Hyperactivity
# Anxious-Shy
# Perfectionism
# Social Problems
# Psychosomatic

The questions are repetitive and almost feel like a trick. For example, parents will be asked if the child is unable to sit still, then later asked if the child acts as if they're driven by a motor, then asked if the kid is fidgety. I know many highly intelligent parents who were raising their eyebrows towards the end and became perplexed by the redundancies in the questions. They start thinking, "Didn't I already say yes to this? Well, he's not fidgety ALL the time," so they start marking previously positive responses negatively. It's a screwy assessment.

A kid's teacher takes a different version of the assessment to report whether these "symptoms" are seen in the classroom. The home-based questions of the scale are removed.

And to be honest, many teachers suck at classroom management and honestly, teachers ALWAYS rate more ADHD symptoms than parents. Conversely there are teachers who are fully aware what an ADHD diagnosis can mean and they're opposed to medicating children and they will purposely skew their answers to not have an ADHD diagnosis.

We take the results and compare them and I can tell ya, if a kid is a little fidgety, they often get misdiagnosed with ADHD and most of the time, they go on meds.

So what I'm saying is this: if you were tested with the Connor's Scale, take the diagnosis with a grain of salt. It comes down to how well a person functions. Screw the diagnosis and do what it takes (meds, books, therapy, etc.) to feel fully functional.
posted by dzaz at 3:47 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go to a psychiatrist and tell them your story. See what they say. ADHD diagnosis and treatment has become more refined in the last decade or so.

And there are two facets to the ADHD disease/disorder/syndrome. If one actually has it, they've learned a lifetime of oddball coping mechanisms. Just as an example, for myself, I never noticed until I got treatment that I did all my paperwork tasks three times. Each time I'd find some portion of the forms that I hadn't finished. Once I got medicinal treatment, I found that I had the self control to hunker down and complete the paperwork in one shot.

But the key is that you still have to force yourself to concentrate- non-adhd people learned this in early grade school. If you have an uninteresting task, just clamp down and focus and you will be done before you notice it. True ADHD sufferers simply don't have the capability to do that and never learned it. So once they are medicated, they have to relearn those simple skills.

There are always distractions. People without ADHD can, for the most part, filter them out. People without ADHD cannot without medicine. But they still have to do the work of filtering.

High IQ is a red herring and a barrier to ADHD diagnosis, I think. If someone has enough natural intelligence, they can design ways to get around the disease and function adequately.
posted by gjc at 8:48 AM on March 6, 2010

What mikeh said, with some changes in emphasis, as follows:

In my experience, people who focus on what they are ("I'm someone with ADD!" "I'm someone with a high IQ!") are less happy and well-adjusted than people who instead focus on what they're doing/achieving/their behaviors and results ("I sometimes get distracted." "I've gotten some high scores on tests." "I program computers.") This is especially true for psych diagnoses. I've known people who are dramatically less functional than they (it has seemed to my non-shrink self) could otherwise be because they keep telling themselves and others "I can't do X because I'm a Y-form of crazy." It's also true for IQ. I've known LOTS of people who are doing nothing with their lives who console themselves with their high IQ test scores and use that as a crutch/substitute for achievement. It's a route to misery. Don't do it.

(Spoken as someone who tends to score off the scale on intelligence-type things, and who is so bloody distractible that he could probably easily get a diagnosis of near-terminal ADD if he ever put himself in the clutches of a shrink to do so; but why?)
posted by paultopia at 9:40 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

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