Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms can be impairing, yet society is filled with people experiencing “high functioning” ADHD.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can present with several traits that can significantly impair daily functioning.

A few of the symptoms ADHD can cause include:

  • memory problems
  • poor concentration
  • hyperactivity

But lumping all ADHD symptoms into one bundle of impairment may not be completely accurate.

ADHD is a complex disorder, with thoughts and behaviors displaying across a spectrum of severity, including high-functioning ADHD.

High-functioning ADHD isn’t a formal diagnosis.

If you’re experiencing high-functioning ADHD, you’re still living with ADHD. For reasons individual to you, your symptoms may not have adversely impacted life in major ways.

High-functioning ADHD could mean:

  • you experience severe symptoms but have developed “work arounds” to carry on with daily tasks and responsibilities
  • your symptoms are mild, and you’re able to function with minimal impairment
  • symptoms are greatly impairing in some areas but you’re highly functional in others

The symptoms of high-functioning ADHD are the same as clinical ADHD. How they manifest and how you manage them determines your level of functioning.

Symptoms are often related to several ADHD traits:

Common symptoms may include:

  • excessive talking
  • restlessness
  • fidgeting
  • impatience
  • forgetfulness
  • distractibility
  • poor organization
  • risk-taking
  • loss of focus
  • abrupt behavior
  • lack of attention to detail

The causes of ADHD currently remain the subject of research, but experts believe contributing factors may include:

  • genetics
  • brain injury
  • premature birth
  • low birth weight
  • substance use during pregnancy
  • exposure to environmental hazards during pregnancy or at a young age

High-functioning ADHD doesn’t just mean you can manage to live an average life. Some people with high-functioning ADHD do that and more — they go on to be highly successful.

‘Compensation’ strategies

A small 2008 study of professionally successful adults living with ADHD found that how ADHD symptoms were compensated for often was the key to successful professional performance.

For example, if ADHD symptoms make it challenging to focus on a singular task at work, you might overcome that difficulty by creating habits — like posted reminders — that help stay you on track.

Beneficial ADHD attributes

Creating compensation strategies is just one way you might become highly successful with high-functioning ADHD.

In a 2018 qualitative investigation, researchers found certain attributes of ADHD were seen as beneficial in the climb toward success, including:

  • hyper-focus
  • divergent thinking
  • adventurousness
  • self-acceptance
  • nonconformity
  • sublimation (a psychological defense mechanism that may help reduce anxiety)

Some 2017 research suggests that adults with elevated IQ may be able to compensate for ADHD-related challenges in executive functioning.

A higher IQ may allow you to more efficiently problem-solve when ADHD symptoms throw up roadblocks in day-to-day life.

While high IQ can help lessen the impact of ADHD symptoms, it can also make it difficult to receive a diagnosis.

What’s executive functioning?

Executive function refers to the set of mental skills involved in:

  • decision making
  • working memory
  • mental flexibility
  • self-control

Everyone’s experience with ADHD can be different.

Over time, you may develop strategies to limit symptom impact. ADHD may be present in your life, but it might not stop you from doing the things you set out to do.

Even high-functioning ADHD can be challenging at times, however. But learning how to cope and making necessary changes to manage ADHD symptoms is possible.

Treatment

Many avenues of treatment exist for ADHD that can help ease symptoms. Typically, treatment plans for ADHD consist of a combination of methods, such as:

Your doctor or therapist can help you find the best approach for managing ADHD. Like all mental health conditions, finding what works for you may take time. Trying different things until you discover the best balance can be key.

Incorporating habits

You can learn to incorporate certain habits to help you troubleshoot some of the challenges ADHD might pose, such as:

  • Prioritizing organization. Organization can help make the spaces you spend time in as efficient as possible.
  • Eliminating clutter. Having everything in its place can help reduce distraction.
  • Creating a routine. Checklists and routines can help keep you on track.
  • Using planning tools. Planners and reminders can help with time management.
  • Forming lists. Lists can help with everything from daily chores to business prep.
  • Making small goals. Small goals may be easier to accomplish in short amounts of time.
  • Using automated tools. Online bill-pay and other self-regulating tools can help complete important, necessary tasks.

High-functioning ADHD isn’t a formal diagnosis. It’s a phrase used to describe people living with ADHD who see little to no major impact on daily life.

Just because you’ve reached great success or have found ways to work around ADHD symptoms doesn’t mean ADHD might not be affecting you.

ADHD can still bring up several challenges, even if you’re able to compensate with ingenuity, high IQ, or by focusing on traits common in ADHD that can lead to success.

Living with high-functioning ADHD might make you feel misunderstood. Because your symptoms are masked or you’ve found ways to manage them, those around you might dismiss what you’re experiencing.

If you live with high-functioning ADHD and would like to speak with someone about counseling services or mental health professionals in your area, you can check out Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health care.

You can also speak with a mental health representative by calling the SAMHSA National Helpline at 800-662-4357.