September 19, 2010
Adults with ADHD must learn coping skills to keep the focus on work
The Associated Press
Daryl Wizelman was diagnosed at age 6 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD, when he couldn’t concentrate in class and teachers considered him hyperactive.
His pediatrician put him on medication, which he says was a “real life-changer.”
Fast-forward a couple of decades: Wizelman starts his own company, but employees say he doesn’t seem to listen to them, rushing through meetings and showing little interest in their ideas. Again, his ADHD has come into play, and he struggles to find ways to take a childhood disorder and make it fit into a working world.
More years pass. Wizelman, a speaker and author from Calabasas, Calif., now says that despite continued symptoms of ADHD, he has learned to be more aware of the appropriate way to behave and do his work.
Mental-health professionals estimate that 9 million adults in the United States have ADHD. Symptoms of ADHD and attention deficit disorder, also known as inattentive ADHD, include difficulty paying attention, easy distraction, trouble finishing paperwork, fidgeting, talking too much and procrastination.
More on ADHD
According to the nonprofit organization Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), there is no standard test to diagnose ADHD. Evaluations can be made by psychiatrists, behavioral neurologists and other medical professionals. A recent study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry says that 4.4 percent of adults ages 18-44 have ADHD.
For more tips about coping with ADHD in the workplace, visit help4adhd.org.
All of these issues can cause workers with the disorder a lot of problems at work — and possibly even get them fired.
Michele Novotni, a psychologist and coach who specializes in workers with ADHD, says it often is undiagnosed in adults because it’s viewed as a childhood disorder. She says adults in the workplace with ADHD often may not stop to think before they say or do something. They may commit social faux pas and hurt people’s feelings.
While many adult ADHD sufferers use medication to help them control their symptoms, learning to cope in the workplace often also takes coaching, Novotni says: “Pills aren’t skills.”
Novotni and other experts offer some coping skills for workers with ADHD:
Get an assistant. “Workplaces have cut out secretaries and assistants, and that’s been deadly for those with ADHD,” Novotni says. “Those people provided them with needed structure. I suggest people [with ADHD] get someone to help them,” even if it’s a college student or a virtual assistant.
Understand priorities. Check with your boss to make sure you understand which tasks should be done first. Novotni suggests two white boards: one that serves as a “parking lot” for thoughts and ideas, and a smaller one with three priority items. Until the high-priority tasks are done, you can’t move on to other ideas or projects, she says.
Be honest. Wizelman suggests that you let others know about your ADHD if you’re a boss. “Being transparent and vulnerable is important,” he says. “It draws people in, they get a greater understanding of you and you become a relatable leader.”
Eliminate distractions. Try to sit near the speaker in a meeting or presentation so it’s easier to stay focused, and take notes to keep you on track. Getting an agenda beforehand can make it easier to follow along.
Find appropriate ways to fidget. Taking a walk on a break or exercising at a gym during lunch can help you relieve restlessness that you must contain during other parts of your workday.
Novotni says employers should provide training on ADHD, both for those who suffer from the disorder and for those who work with them.
“These people are often great employees,” she says. “They have so many ideas, so many things going on in their heads.”
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