How professionals with ADHD make their work (and their lives) work for them


Cat Jones did not realize that she was suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) before about 2012 while she was working for a company. insurance. According to her, her production levels for the processing of claims were "unacceptably low". His doctor suggested he try Adderall, one of his. the most commonly prescribed medications for treating ADHD.

"Once I tried it, it changed everything," said MarketWatch Jones, 30, of Lawrence, Kansas.

During a subsequent job in a small non-profit organization, where Jones was responsible for financial matters, donor awareness and several other responsibilities, the situation worsened. "This position required me to accomplish so many tasks at a time that Adderall actually seemed to be an obstacle; I had another job, however, which required the kind of concentration for which I needed Adderall, "Jones said.

"My work, my medications and my health in general became so difficult to manage that I knew I had to retire before making a big mistake that could hurt the business," she said.

Jones, who now holds a temporary job in finance, spends his evenings creating a new non-profit organization for LGBT youth in his community. "I'm putting all my energy into that, which I think is helping to fight ADHD," she said. "I did not start with the idea of," Hey, it's going to help me cope, "but it ended up being helpful."

"People think it's just an attention disorder, and it's a lot worse than that. This is not taken seriously as it should, because I think the name implies a fairly trivial disability while there is still much to do. "

-Russell Barkley, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center

Jones is among the 4.4% of American adults with ADHD, which received renewed attention last month thanks to the support of journalist Yashar Ali. Twitter viral

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to fight against misconceptions and trivialization of the neurodevelopmental disorder. ADHD, which is characterized by inattention and / or hyperactivity-impulsivity, is often comorbid with mood disorders and anxiety.

"As many people think that people with ADHD have similar symptoms and challenges, we do not often get the empathy and support we need," tweeted Ali, who says he was diagnosed at 13. . "ADHD is a reality we live with every day. , hour, minute. It can ravage our lives and you may not even be aware of it. "

Symptoms begin during childhood – the prevalence of children with ADHD increased from 7.8% in 2003 to 11% in 2011 – and can persist into adulthood. Although boys have a higher prevalence, girls may have different symptoms and remain under-diagnosed.

Courtesy of Cat Jones

Cat Jones.

Certainly, there has been a debate going on for years about whether children are getting too much medicine to treat ADHD. And the number of calls to poison control centers in the United States regarding the exposure to medications for intentional or unintentional ADHD among people aged 19 and under overall increased by more than 60% between 2000 and 2014 , according to a study conducted in 2018 in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics. .

Russell Barkley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, sees ADHD as a disorder of "executive functions" such as working memory and personal motivation. Many people with ADHD also have difficulty managing their time, emotional self-regulation and self-control, he said.

"People think that it is only a disturbance of attention and that it is much worse," Barkley told MarketWatch. "It's not as serious as it should be, because I think the name implies a fairly trivial deficiency while many, many more things are happening."

Young people with ADHD are more likely to be fired

Take, for example, a study conducted in 2013 that young adults diagnosed with ADHD are much less likely to enroll in a four-year post-high school and 11 times more likely to be unemployed. and not attending school. The ADHD group was also more likely to have already been fired, more likely to have been laid off and more likely to have already left a job because of its aversion to a job. a group of witnesses.

"They are more likely to have a much more complicated work history with more frequent job changes," Barkley said. "When you start in your career, it's not so bad." However, this can affect your promotion opportunities, he said.

At the same time, "ADHD in children reduces employment by about 10 percentage points among adults, reduces earnings by 33% and increases welfare benefits by 15 points" according to a working paper published in 2013 by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Jalpa Doshi, lead author of a 2012 study analyzing the economic impact of ADHD and a professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, suggested to MarketWatch that "Early identification, as well as early management and management of ADHD, would be essential. "

"It's a bunch of little metrics that help keep me centered. There are several systems, redundant systems and reminders in a language that suits me. "

-Erik Anderson, longtime advocate for the disabled in St. Louis, Missouri.

These could perhaps help "to avoid the consequences later: to be unemployed," she said, "to be employed but to earn less money, or to be less productive at work, whether absenteeism or presenteeism ".

Adults with ADHD also report increasing difficulties with personal finances, such as money management and savings, loan arrears, impulse purchases, the end of public services, non-payment and bad credit, according to Barkley.

But, as Ali pointed out in his Twitter feed, the experiences of people with ADHD are not homogenous – neither their management strategies, nor even their general attitude towards the disease. ADHD coach Erik Anderson, a longtime advocate for people with disabilities in St. Louis, Missouri, has ADHD and cerebral palsy.

"The human brain tends to negativity anyway, but with ADD-ers, it's magnified," he said. "So we tend to tell bad stories, to destabilize ourselves and to minimize our achievements."

Courtesy Erik Anderson

Erik Anderson.

Anderson, a 56-year-old project manager in the Workplace Committee of the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, who was diagnosed informally around 2002, is now considering a diagnosis as he becomes more open to idea of ​​taking medication. But it currently takes advantage of the use of a reliable calendar system, setting alarms, transition time between activities and wearing the Apple Watch.

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which dispenses haptic reminders.

He uses a range of little things that help him stay focused, he said. "There are several systems, redundant systems and reminders in a language that works for me," he said. It also emphasizes the power of a silent "agitated" – like a card game to mix – to keep his fingers occupied and focus his attention on a meeting or presentation.

"The fight is invisible very often, but the fight is real: when people see me walking through the room, they can say that I have a physical disability. They never see my ADHD.

-Erik Anderson

"The fight is invisible very often, but the fight is real: when people see me walking in the room, they can say that I have a physical disability. They never see my ADHD, "he added. "So they do not see all the work I have to do to make sure I'm the best I can be."

Katy Hoeper, 24, a public relations professional in Chicago, received her diagnosis during her second year of university. If she does not take her medications (currently 15 milligrams of Adderall XR), it is difficult for her to keep her thoughts for long periods of time.

"My mind feels like I'm moving a lot faster than my mouth, so I have to be very aware of what I'm saying and whether that fits or not what I think," she told MarketWatch . "I have the impression that my mind is constantly thinking about things and that I'm jumping from one topic to the other."

Courtesy Katy Hoeper

Katy Hoeper.

Hoeper, who says she is "extremely open" about her ADHD, sighs as she recalls the reactions of some people in college when she was taking medication (at the time, Vyvanse). "I get the feeling that people would attribute things that I would have done to taking medication – and not even in a cruel way, like, for example," Ah, man, you're so lucky; I would like to have some Adderall for my final next week, "she said. "When I take my meds, sometimes I really feel that it improves my work – but at the same time, I feel like it's almost like leveling the playing field."

"I think I chose the route I chose because day-to-day is always different and not boring. It probably comes from my ADHD. '

Katy Hoeper, 24, who works in public relations

According to Barkley, many people with ADHD tend to do well in areas such as the performing arts, photography or videography, athletics, emergency medicine, the application of of the law and the forces of order. This can help if a job involves movement, allows team work rather than solo work, and provides a regular change of scenery, he added.

Adderall, however, has side effects, including tremors, palpitations and anxiety.

Michael Liner, 33, founder of a law firm specializing in disability law in Cleveland, said that he had deliberately pursued a career in which he could connect with clients, divide the work into pieces of an hour and not be stuck behind a desk. the day. "I have trouble concentrating for long periods of time. I'm constantly jumping from activity to activity, "he said. "But I could basically build my business based on these realities."

(Courtesy of Michael Liner)

Michael Liner.

And Hoeper loves her public relations job because, she says, every day is totally different. "I think I chose the route I chose because day-to-day is always different and it's not boring," she said. "It probably comes from my ADHD or my personality in general – I do not really know how to decouple the two."

According to a study conducted in 2018, "ADHD could be beneficial for some types of creative thinking; specific creative cognition, divergent and unconstrained. "

Barkley, who attributes his twin brother's fatal car crash to ADHD and its impact on his driving habits, warns against treating ADHD as a "gift". But Anderson, who knows Barkley's thinking well, says he prefers a more positive state of mind. "It's just as serious as Barkley says, but I do not subscribe to the darkness of his inclination," he said. "I find ADHD eminently fascinating and amazing in its ability."

"I do not always agree with the idea of ​​taking medication to treat a" problem "that I have, because that's how my brain is wired," he added. Hoeper. "I think there are benefits to me who have ADHD. I think I can make connections between quite obscure topics, or I can throw something back into a book that I've read. I feel like I can make connections in my mind much faster and more creatively than people who do not have ADHD. "

Some research links ADHD to creativity. A 2018 study, for example, suggested that "ADHD may be beneficial for some types of creative thinking; specific, divergent and unconstrained creative cognitive ".

If you think you have undiagnosed ADHD or have not disclosed your ADHD at work, here's what to do:

Own your mess. Accept it, acknowledge it, and accept it, Barkley said. "If you do not do it, then you will not treat it," he said. "You will not be involved in the day-to-day management of your disease to prevent all these preventable side-effects." Get evaluated by a professional, he said, and find out through sites like and

Be smart about disclosure at work. "Some employers are very accommodating to people with disabilities and will work with you to provide you with reasonable accommodations. others will begin to document your shortcomings and use them as a grievance to fire you, "Barkley said. "You really need to pay attention to the disclosure of ADHD until you know:" How does this workplace welcome and welcome people with neurodiversity? "

Start by orchestrating certain adaptations yourself, recommends the national ADHD advocacy organization, CHADD, setting up electronic reminders for appointments, or working later or earlier to avoid distractions. The group also advises to positively formulate requests to a boss ("I work better when I …") instead of directly mentioning ADHD.

Determine if you qualify for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. (All people with ADHD do not need accommodations at their place of work, but if you do, a diagnosis will not qualify you automatically.) According to the ADA, a person is disabled "if she has a physical or mental disability that significantly limits one or more major problems. activities of life, a record of such a disability, or is considered to have a disability. "

Concentrate on your strengths. "I'm the creative mind of the office … and the people I work with are those who make sure the calendars and the organization of my office run smoothly," said Liner. Do not focus on your weaknesses. Instead, take advantage of your strengths and surround yourself with people who complement you. "

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