Life in the workplace can be formidable for a young adult with ADHD. Not only is he exposed to the same social and emotional pressures as his peers on college campuses, but he must also perform in a work environment that typically provides few or no supportive services and where no one may know he has ADHD. He may find it more stressful than he had expected to arrive at work exactly on time, manage paperwork or other detail-oriented work, attend frequent meetings, meet deadlines, and otherwise conform to what can often be a noisy, stressful and, in some cases, physically inactive environment. While teenagers with ADHD can often perform as well as their peers, adults with ADHD who are employed full-time tend to switch jobs more frequently and earn less money than their colleagues.
A young adult with ADHD will be more likely to start off on the right foot if he spends time during high school considering what types of jobs might best suit someone with his particular strengths and weaknesses and working on developing his time-management and selfcare skills. Career counseling services are often available through the high school guidance office, and may be mandated under IDEA. Any job can be made more “ADHD-friendly” if the employee with ADHD knows how to alter his environment to better suit his needs and to advocate effectively for appropriate accommodations.
Coping With the Workplace
A teenager or young adult with ADHD who joins the workforce but finds a job too difficult should get some help in analyzing where the job-related challenges lie. Is he overwhelmed by paperwork? Does he get in trouble for arriving late on too many days? Does he put off tasks and thus fail to complete them? Does he forget his employer’s instructions? Does he find it impossible to concentrate with all the noise around him? Is it hard for him to get along with coworkers or his boss?
Once he has identified his problem areas, he can brainstorm on his own or with coworkers, a job coach, a counselor or a psychologist, a family member, or members of his treatment team about ways to address them. He may decide to use a daily planner or computer software to manage daily tasks and appointments. A watch with alarms or a timer can help him keep track of work arrival time or deadlines, and any number of handheld devices can be used to record tasks to be accomplished. He may choose to carpool with a coworker to help him get to work on time, and to take regular, brief “exercise breaks” to work off excess energy.
Asking Your Employer for Help
If these self-help techniques prove insufficient, and if a young adult feels comfortable disclosing that he has some functional issues related to ADHD, he should consider asking his employer about accommodations that might be provided that could help him work at his best level. Accommodations might include a less distracting office or workspace, a daily review each morning of work to be done, help with breaking complex jobs into smaller tasks, or even flex-time or a transfer from a heavily detail-oriented, time-pressured job to one that better matches his strengths. It may be difficult for him to work up the courage to ask for such help at first, but chances are that his employer will make at least some effort to cooperate.
His problems at work may have puzzled or displeased his supervisor if she did not previously understand their cause, and she will probably appreciate and respect her employee’s effort to improve his performance. As is the case in any aspect of his life, he is likely to meet with greater success on the job as he focuses on his strengths rather than his weaknesses.
Adults with ADHD are often among the most creative, imaginative, energetic members of society. The more successfully he can understand and communicate to his employer his talents, strengths, and needs, the harder he or she may work to help him. It is important to remember, however, that ADHD symptoms are an explanation of why he is experiencing difficulty and not an excuse for them. The greater his understanding of how ADHD affects him and the better his self-esteem coming out of high school, the more likely he will feel empowered to effectively advocate for himself in a present or future job.
An adolescent may be entitled to continue counseling services and assessment under an IDEA-mandated Individual Written Rehabilitation Plan. If this is not the case, however, he will need to be extra-vigilant regarding any ADHD-related concerns that are beginning to get out of hand, because routine accommodations are rarely provided by an employer. Make sure that your teenager has the names and phone numbers of physicians, job counselors, therapists, and other community resources who can help him with a variety of potential difficulties. The most helpful role as a parent may include providing nonjudgmental help or “reality checks” if he approaches you about these issues. Parents should remember that their role is to empower and not to enable or provide excuses for their adult child.
If he is offered a health insurance plan by his employer, he should review it along with his job-related benefits to learn in advance what counseling or other support services he can obtain. He may also consider the possible benefits of using a coach to help with some of these transitions from adolescence to adult life. Again, a thorough understanding of his ADHD-related strengths and weaknesses, coupled with a determination to monitor and manage his symptoms, is the best way for your growing adolescent to join the ranks of other young adults with ADHD who enjoy stimulating, fulfilling, and successful careers.