High-Functioning ADHD: The Reality Behind Success
A successful person couldn’t possibly have ADHD, right?
Well, that’s a myth.
When your ADHD does not adversely affect your daily life in a significant way, this is known as high-functioning ADHD.
Adult ADHD can have a massive impact on your life. But this doesn’t apply to everyone with ADHD.
Many ADHDers are high achievers. They get advanced degrees, build thriving careers, and launch successful businesses. However, they’ve likely worked twice as hard as their peers to achieve it due to their (often undiagnosed) ADHD.
Your symptoms don’t have to fit into cookie-cutter guidelines to justify your need for support. And achieving success does not invalidate your experiences or struggles.
What Is High-Functioning ADHD?
Though not a formal medical diagnosis, high-functioning ADHD in adults is just as real but commonly misunderstood. The term describes people with (undiagnosed) ADHD that does not significantly impair their day-to-day activities.
Your ADHD might not affect your daily functioning as much as it does others due to one or more of the following reasons:
- You found compensation strategies or workarounds that help you overcome your symptoms.
- Your ADHD symptoms are mild enough not to interfere as much with your daily activities.
- You experience specific ADHD symptoms, which means you might struggle in certain areas but excel in others.
Many people with ADHD learn to manage their symptoms so well – especially in adulthood – that they can achieve whatever they set their minds to.
People might not even look like they’re struggling. But coping with ADHD symptoms is never easy and can often become overwhelming in the long run.
High-Functioning ADHD Symptoms
High-functioning ADHD in adults often involves symptoms characteristic of clinical ADHD.
You might experience the following symptoms if you have high-functioning ADHD:
- Missing appointments, buses, flights, or trains
- Running late and forgetting dates
- Struggling to manage your time
- Constantly procrastinating
- Trouble sitting still and reading for long periods
- Getting easily distracted
- Interrupting others in conversations
- Struggling with self-esteem
- Leaving things unfinished
You may have developed strategies to manage your ADHD symptoms better. Some of these compensation methods can be healthy, and some can be time-consuming or draining.
For example, some ADHDers who struggle to focus may be able to achieve good grades by studying twice as hard or employing “last-minute pushes” nearing deadlines.
Alternatively, a person might set up multiple alarms and reminders for important events if they have trouble remembering details. Other folks with hyperactive symptoms may go for jobs or tasks that require them to move or travel around a lot.
As a result, identifying high-functioning ADHD can be difficult. Organization strategies and other coping mechanisms often mask ADHD symptoms.
Success Doesn’t Mean It’s All in Your Head
ADHDers can achieve success – but this usually takes a lot of effort and drive.
You can see this in the many successful people who have ADHD.
Molly Seidel only discovered that she had ADHD in 2022, a year after winning a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. She explains that she finally had a “quiet, functioning brain” that could previously only be achieved with intense physical activity.
Singer Mel B finds that nature and exercise help her focus for an hour or so. Meanwhile, dancer Karina Smirnoff was involved in piano, ballet, figure skating, and gymnastics, which all became an outlet for her ADHD hyperactivity.
For these celebrities and many others, living with ADHD doesn’t stop them from pursuing and reaching their goals. But the physical and emotional toll of living with ADHD is often heavy (and invisible).
Research has shown that high-functioning ADHDers often have compensatory strategies that are energy-demanding and time-consuming. This can lead to burnout and exhaustion.
So you may find that you’re constantly feeling anxious or overwhelmed by your symptoms, despite how well you’re doing in your studies or career.
But being outwardly successful doesn’t mean your internal struggles are all in your head. They’re just as real, and you can manage them with the right support and treatment.
High-Functioning ADHD Treatment
A proper ADHD diagnosis and treatment can be life-changing.
Certain aspects of ADHD, such as creativity, fast-paced thinking, and multi-tasking, can be an incredible superpower when nurtured in the right way!
“I prefer to distinguish ADD as attention abundance disorder (rather than a deficit). Everything is just so interesting … remarkably at the same time.”
– Frank Copolla, ADHD Coach
With ADHD treatment and support, you’ll learn how to control and direct this abundance of attention.
This can look like medications for some or a combination of therapy and medication for others. (A combination approach is usually the most effective for many people.)
Behavioral therapy and ADHD coaching can also help you spot unhealthy coping mechanisms and thinking patterns. Once identified, you can replace them with sustainable strategies that can minimize the impact of ADHD.
Additionally, getting professional advice and coaching empowers you to identify how your brain works and teaches you to work with your ADHD symptoms – not against them.
ADHD Doesn’t Define Your Success, and Success Doesn’t Define Your Diagnosis
Outward success often masks high-functioning ADHD. The effort put into workarounds and coping mechanisms can sometimes lead to burnout, exhaustion, and anxiety if not properly addressed.
Many people with ADHD who seek help find healthy ways to overcome their ADHD-related challenges and achieve their goals.
With the right strategies and support, you’re in the best position to succeed without burning out!
If you’re concerned that you may have ADHD, it’s best to talk with a trusted healthcare professional.
You can also take ADDA’s ADHD test for adults to better understand what ADHD can look like in your daily life. This questionnaire helps you make a better-informed decision on what you can do next for your symptoms.
 Lesch K. P. (2018). ‘Shine bright like a diamond!’: is research on high-functioning ADHD, at last, entering the mainstream? Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines, 59(3), 191–192. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12887
 Palmini A. (2008). Professionally successful adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Compensation strategies and subjective effects of pharmacological treatment. Dementia & Neuropsychologia, 2(1), 63–70. https://doi.org/10.1590/S1980-57642009DN20100013
Great article! Do you have an article for the Non ADHD partner who has little to no understanding of ADHD shows up and influences daily life and communication?