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ADHD/LD Adults and Finding Success in the Workplace
by Amy Ellis, Ph.D. SAN DIEGO, CA-2001
Luck or intuition? Some adults with ADHD or LD have created enormously successful careers. Do you know any? Others have struggled because it is often our work that places the greatest demands on our capacities for planning, memory, organization, teamwork and precision.
Many ADHD adults have checkered resumes because they have left jobs out of boredom, poor working relationships or difficulties meeting the demands of a job. For many ADHD adults, work life has been far from ideal, resulting in chronic feelings of discouragement and dissatisfaction.
In this article I will discuss many issues surrounding success on the job for ADHD and/or LD adults. Although ADHD and LD are separate disabilities, they tend to co-occur, and have similar struggles.
Problems and Strategies:
Successfully Coping with ADHD/LD Issues on the Job
Do you have difficulty getting places on time, figuring out how much you can do in a day or an hour, organising your physical workspace, keeping track of time? If so, every part of your life is affected.
Typically, if something is interesting, you probably get caught up in that activity and just keep going. An ADHD mind does not naturally think in terms of minutes or hours.
a. Auditory aids--buzzers or alarms.
b. Visual aids-digital timers, post-it notes.
c. Kinesthetic aids--vibrating timers/pagers.
d. Ask a co-worker to give you a reminder.
e. Create a partnership with a co-worker.
f. Build in rewards for yourself.
Keeping baskets or boxes to hold information and set aside a certain amount of time daily to go through these. Sticky notes, daily reminder charts/calendars, write to do list daily. Set aside 10-15 minutes at beginning of work day to organise yourself. Learn your own way to be organised--try a few things to see what works the best.
Are you drawn to jobs that allow freedom of movement? Do you become restless easily? Here are some techniques to try:
a. Look for work that allows for high degree of physical movement (delivery person, sales person, etc.).
b. Take frequent breaks - trip to get some water or walk outside.
c. Bring lunch to work so you can take a walk at lunch-known to increase productivity.
d. The more sedentary your job (like mine), the more important it is to get regular exercise before or after work.
e. Carry small unobtrusive object in pocket or hand during long meetings.
f. In meetings, take pad and pen to take notes. Even with the small amount of movement involved in writing can help contain restlessness. You can also write down the things that may be distracting you, such as what you are going to do after the meeting, what you need at the grocery store, where you're going on vacation this summer, etc.
Most workplaces have a high degree of distractibility.
a. Whenever possible, arrange workday to have blocks of uninterrupted time.
b. Let voicemail answer phone calls during certain times of the day. And, return calls only during specific times of the day.
c. If you have a private office, shut the door during certain times of the day. If not, look for unused space (conference room, empty office) that you can work on projects that require a lot of concentration.
d. Experiment with earplugs or head phones to reduce distractions.
e. Use flex-time to provide yourself with an hour at the beginning or end of the day when less people are in the office.
f. Keep your work surface clean and clear. Visual distractions can reduce productivity.
May resultfrom not knowing where to begin, feeling overwhelmed or disliking certain tasks. It may mean that you need a little assistance to get started.
a. Give yourself deadlines.
b Ask your supervisor for specific deadlines. Anytime becomes never.
c. When facing a boring or tedious task, break it into small pieces and reward yourself.
d. Work on a team with someone else.
e. Look for work that involves short-term tasks with definite deadlines.
Forgetfulness or absentmindedness can get the best of us.
a. Use tape recorders or take notes during conferences/meetings.
b. Take your planner with you so you can refer to events and tasks of the day.
c. Use your day planner as a constant reminder pad.
d. Keep a written record of all requests made of you (in your day planner or special notebook for this purpose).
e. Ask people to send you info by fax or email so that you have it in writing.
f. Place objects or things you need to take home/work by your keys.
g. Use sticky notes.
h. Get in the habit of reviewing your day, the upcoming week, and month to remind yourself of upcoming events.
A combination of your strategies and employer accommodations works best. It is important to look at on a case-by-case basis.
1. Provide a non-distracting workplace.
2. Allow employee to do some work at home.
3. Provide employee with computer software to assist with planning and time management-also teach hands-on how to use this software.
4. Provide employee with audio tape equipment to tape meetings/conferences.
5. Provide employee with checklists to structure tasks that require many steps.
6. Give instructions slowly and clearly, preferably orally and written.
7. Excuse employee from non-essential tasks to allow more time on essential tasks.
8. Restructure job to match employee's strengths.
9. Provide more frequent performance appraisals.
10. Reassign employee to vacant position that better matches strengths.
11. Provide extra clerical support.
12. Allow flex-time (4 ten hour days, or flex time each day)
13. Establish frequent brief meetings to assist with keeping on track.
14. Establish multiple short-term deadlines.
15. Provide assistance setting up an organized filing system.
16. Communicate by email and memos.
17. Provide assistance setting priorities.
DDA and ADHD/LD
ADHD qualifies as a disability under the Disability Act if it can be shown that it substantially impairs your ability to function in. You must be able to perform your essential job functions with reasonable accommodation.
a. No legal cases have yet set standards for what is reasonable under the ADA.
b. ADA only applies to organizations with greater than 15 employees.
Disclosure to Employer and Self-Advocacy
Personal decision based on your particular circumstances. Can you request accommodations without disclosing? If you demonstrate an A + attitude and good motivation, letting your supervisor know what you need, without disclosing, may get you results.oyer about what types of accommodations you will require. You may need to consult with an expert to help you. Hopefully some of the ideas presented today will give you a place to start. Because FEW employers pay for workplace evaluations (county), you will need to address the following:
1. A place to start is also being able to educate your employer about your ADHD or LD. Providing them with written information can be helpful (see resources). Also, sharing with them what you are planning to do for your ADHD/LD
2. Emphasize that you are taking primary responsibility to manage your ADHD problems.
3. Ask for suggestions and feedback.
4. Sometimes a change of supervisor can be a wonderful accommodation. This is NOT supported by the DDA. Supervisors who are rigid, perfectionistic and micromanagers tend to be poor matches for ADHD adults. You may need to look around for another position.
Finding the Right Job Match
Unfortunately, there is no "list" of ADHD jobs. People with ADHD are affected differently. Also, they have different personality types, levels of intelligence, abilities, skills and areas of interest. One thing we do know is that the more interesting you find your job, the more successful you will be! It is important to keep in mind three general areas
3. Personality Styles.
Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:
a. Develop a list of strengths and weaknesses. (Do this now). Think back over your life, considering summer jobs, courses in school, hobbies etc. Make a list of strengths.
b. Think about things that have been frustrating for you. Make a list of these things which tend to be your weaknesses.
c. Develop a list of likes and dislikes. Include EVERYTHING you can think of, whether it's immediately related to work, or not. What things fascinate you? What bores you? Are you a people person? Do you prefer solitary activities?
d. If you have access to an interest inventory, take it. This will help give you a sense of direction.
e. Look at personality issues - take the Myers/Briggs (on-line). Come up with profile which connects types of careers that are a good match (see book: Do What You Are).
Positive ADHD/LD Traits for Success on the Job
Paul Gerber's research: He reported that individuals who achieved a high level of success in their careers despite their LD all reported the following internal traits:
a. A very strong desire to be successful.
b. A high level of determination.
c. A strong need to control their own destiny.
d. An ability to reframe their disability in a more positive, productive manner (Mark Katz book).
e. A planned and goal oriented approach.
f. An ability to appropriately seek assistance without becoming dependent.
These successful people also reported a common set of external circumstances that they had been fortunate enough to find or resourceful enough to create for themselves:
a. A mentor for guidance and support.
b. Positive, supportive people to work among.
c. New work experiences to enhance their skills.
d. A work environment in which help was available when needed.
e. A high "goodness of fit" between their skills and the job's requirements.
Other positive ADHD traits (can ADHD them to your list that you previously created): Creative; Determined; Good in a Crisis; Seek variety; Seek stimulation; Resilient; Enthusiastic; Energetic; Love a Challenge; Think on feet; Able to hyper-focus; Good at communicating; Interact well with people Others:
Potential Stress Factors on the Job for those with ADHD/LD
a. Long hours
b. New management
c. Unrealistic demands
d. Lack of Structure
e. Long commute
f. Too frequent deadlines
g. Unclear duties
h. Fear of being fired
Amy Ellis, Ph.D. is in private practice in San Diego, CA.
© adders.org 2004
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