I hate the word ‘stupid’ but I put it in the title because that is how many people with ADHD describe themselves. The ADHDers I have met (which are a LOT at this point), are bright, intelligent, sharp, smart, wise, good company and wickedly funny.
Clearly there is a big discrepancy between self-description and fact. But why do people with ADHD feel stupid?
1) Academic success.
ADHD isn’t a learning disability but it is one of those conditions that make learning difficult. Struggling to pay attention in class, with memory, organizing skills, problems, etc. mean getting good grades is hard. Society places a huge emphasis on academic success as a way to gauge intelligence.
2) Learning Disabilities
About 40 percent of people with ADHD have a learning disability in addition to their ADHD. Approximately 20 percent have Dyslexia and some ADHD adults have more than one learning disability. Learning disabilities can cause difficulties when reading, writing, performing calculations, as well as, visual or auditory perception difficulties.
3) Behavior at school
If you were a high-energy student unable to sit still or stop talking, you were properly getting into trouble with your teachers. While this doesn’t mean you are ‘stupid’, it can make you feel that you are.
4) Simple Tasks
ADHDers struggle with things that other people find easy; such as showing up on time, planning a meal, remembering to take out the recycling on the right day.
The thought pattern seems to be: if I can’t do ‘simple’ things like this, then I must be ‘stupid’. But this isn’t true; just think of the professors who have many letters after their name, but still struggle to make a piece of toast? No one thinks they are stupid!
5) Information Retrieval
ADHDers can struggle to find the words to express themselves. It could be at a party or in a meeting at work. This doesn’t have anything to do with smarts or knowledge; it’s an information retrieval problem. The good news is, this can be improved.
6) Topics of Interest
ADHDers don’t lack knowledge; they are life-time learners. However, they only remember things that interest them. If you are at a party and people at discussing a certain general topic that is boring to you, you might not be able to contribute.
7) General Knowledge
If you have a learning disability, you can spend a lot of time and energy on learning things for school and no brain space left for general knowledge. This happened to me; I spent so much time on reading and spelling, that my general knowledge was immensely lowered. Usually, it improves when you are out of the academic environment.
8) Who You Spend Time With
Have you noticed how when you spend time with certain people, you feel smart, sharp and funny? Then with other people (perhaps those who you feel are critical or judgemental of you), you feel ‘stupid’? It’s not your imagination. Researchers found that the people you spend time with do affect your conversation. Pick your friends and romantic partners carefully. You want to spend time with people who naturally bring out your best.
What can you do to stop feeling stupid and start feeling smart?
1) Stop calling yourself stupid, either out loud or quietly to yourself.
2) Intelligence is so much more diverse than what appears on an IQ test. If you feel ‘stupid’ because you didn’t do well at school or for any other reason, check out Dr. Howard Gardner’s theory on Multiple Intelligence. He found there are 8 types of intelligence. It may be very validating to you.
3) Focus on what you are good at! Because ADHDers often struggle with the basics, they develop a struggle mindset. This means you don’t value what comes easily to you. However, this is where your strengths and gifts lie. Spend as much time as possible doing these things!
4) Often, feeling ‘stupid’ is connected to low self-esteem. Check out this book, ‘Self-Esteem’ by Patrick Fanning and Matthew McKay.