When Joshua Poirier was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder at 14, tests also showed he had a high IQ. He told a few of his friends, but worked hard to make it seem as though everything was normal.
Still, when he was called into a separate classroom for extra help at school, he felt stigmatized. He had a sense the "doors were closing."
"I wanted people to know, like, 'Oh, I'm ADD, but I've also got a high intelligence. I'm capable of things,' " says Mr. Poirier, who is now 30 and has experience teaching children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as the condition is more frequently called now. He is working on a research project on traumatic brain injury at the University of British Columbia.
Mr. Poirier's experience reflects new research showing that adolescents with ADHD – even those with high intelligence and high academic achievements – feel less competent academically and behaviorally than their peers who do not have the disorder. The research, conducted at the University of Toronto, will be presented this week at a conference in Vancouver organized by the International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities.
The University of Toronto researchers asked adolescents with and without ADHD about how they perceived themselves, such as whether they felt they were an "okay person" or how they felt they were performing in areas such as academics, athletics or their social lives.
They found that even adolescents with ADHD and high IQ and high academic achievement still felt less competent in academics and less capable of excelling, for example, at part-time work, than those who did not have ADHD.
One of the researchers behind the work, Judith Wiener, said the results were a surprise.
"If you're asking kids, 'How good are you in school,' usually brighter kids feel better about themselves at school than less bright kids," she said.
Prof. Wiener said the findings are unique, in part because ADHD research rarely focuses on adolescents.
"In the past 15 years, there has been a lot of research on little kids, but nothing on adolescents," she said.
"It's almost as if, with ADHD kids, that when they turn 13, no one bothers with them any more, and they are still very much at risk."
Prof. Wiener said her research has demonstrated that ADHD is tougher to diagnose in adolescents. Teens are evaluated the same way as younger children, by asking parents and teachers, as well as the students themselves, to rate their ADHD tendencies on a scale.
"With teens, they spend less time with their parents. And you ask their teachers for a rating, but the teacher just has them for history and another teacher has them for science, so they aren't as closely in touch with how the kid is," she said.
For Mr. Poirier, an ADHD diagnosis can be a double-edged sword.
"I started working harder for the things that I wanted," he said, remembering university and the challenge of doing a double major.
"In some cases, kids don't, and that's an excuse to get out of things and it almost starts a spiral effect for their future."