Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Career Choices and ADHD

guest blog by Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, MS

People with ADHD have a wide range of intellectual abilities and interests and therefore pursue a wide variety of vocations. There are adults with attention deficits in traditional careers such as medicine or law, as well as those with jobs that tap their creative and physical abilities, such as art, modeling, acting, electronics, music, computers, or auto repair. Some young adults find that college is not for them and that learning a trade has greater appeal.

For individuals with ADHD, finding a job that can hold their interest and commitment for a long time is critically important. Many prefer jobs that are active, include changes in routine, and involve a variety of different issues or people throughout the work week. Selecting the right career is crucial and will require more planning for someone who has attention deficits. And while this post primarily addresses teens and young adults with ADHD, the advice on making career choices and recommendations of assessment tools apply equally to older adults.

The career selected by a young adult with ADHD should maximize his or her strengths and minimize deficits such as poor organizational skills or lack of attention to detail. Keep in mind that some extremely bright individuals with ADHD excel academically in both high school and college. They may be skilled at many things and have trouble narrowing their job options. Or they may have trouble staying focused long enough to make a career decision.

Identify skills and interests

Identifying skills and interests should be helpful in finding a good career match. Students with ADHD can begin talking informally about these issues with parents and guidance counselors as early as high school.
What do you enjoy doing?
What special skills do you have?
What vocations match your strengths and interests?
What do you do with your spare time?
Are you outgoing and do you enjoy talking a lot? Work in sales might be a perfect choice.

College students can explore job options through career study and personal development classes. Students don’t have to declare a major upon entering college. During the first two years, most students take basic academic requirements anyway, such as algebra, English, and history. Some college courses offer an opportunity to explore career options and to make decisions about a college major. The curriculum may include vocational testing, career discussions, filling out job applications, strategies for job interviews, and writing resumes and letters for job interviews.

Another way to find out more about various careers is to talk with professionals who currently work in the field. Informal interviews can be lined up through personal and professional contacts.

Here are some additional steps a person can take to identify the most appropriate career.

Vocational testing

For students with ADHD, vocational interest testing can be conducted in high school, at a technical institute, or at college to help identify strengths and career interests. Guidance counselors can schedule such testing for high school students. In college or technical school, the student services office can help schedule the testing. Vocational interest testing is usually free for students.

The Strong Interest Inventory is one vocational test that some colleges use. Students answer questions about things they like or dislike. The scores give them a pattern of interests and show how their interests compare with those of successful people in different occupations. Scores are obtained for six general occupational themes:

  • Realistic
  • Investigative
  • Artistic
  • Social
  • Enterprising
  • Conventional
Approximately 115 possible occupations are listed within these themes. Learn more about the Strong Interest Inventory at www.cpp.com.

Computerized career programs

Interactive computer programs are available that explain various careers. For example, Educational Testing Services developed SIGI PLUS, which describes detailed aspects of numerous occupations, including work activities, settings, educational requirements, average income, top earning potential, average work week, and employment outlook. This computer software or simulator programs are available on most college campuses. Talk with staff in the counseling and career planning office at your college or visit www.valparint.com for more information.

Personality testing

The Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory test may provide helpful information to teens, young adults, or anyone involved in choosing a career. Individuals answer approximately one hundred questions about themselves and the way they conduct their daily life. Based upon their scores, one of sixteen personality styles will be identified. This test provides labels for differences in personality that we observe in work colleagues and family members on a day-to-day basis.

The Myers-Briggs identifies opposite extremes of four basic categories:

  • Energy preferences: Extrovert — Introvert
  • Perceptual preferences: Sensing (realistic) — Intuitive
  • Decision-making preferences: Thinking (objective) — Feeling
  • Lifestyle preference: Judging (goal directed) — Perceiving (flexible/spontaneous)

The Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory is an interesting exercise that may help individuals gain insight into their personality, how they think, make decisions, and live. The more a person understands about himself and how he relates to others, the more he may learn to get along better with people and be more productive at work. Many people are curious about who they are and what makes them tick; this test takes advantage of their natural curiosity. Learn more about the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory at www.cpp.com.

A longer version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue! 

Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, MS, has over forty years combined experience in a variety of professional roles, including teacher, school psychologist, mental health counselor, administrator, lobbyist, advocate, author, and publisher. She is the mother of three grown children and grandmother of three, all with attention deficit disorders. She has served on CHADD’s board of directors, executive committee, and President’s Council and was inducted into the CHADD Hall of Fame in 2006. Among her books are Teaching Teens with ADD, ADHD, and Executive Function Deficits: A Quick Reference Guide for Teachers and Parents (Woodbine, 2011) and Teenagers with ADD and ADHD: A Guide for Parents and Professionals (Woodbine, 2006). She coproduced the DVD Real Life ADHD: A Survival Guide for Children & Teens, featuring thirty teens speaking from their own experiences.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Challenges of an Entrepreneur with ADHD

guest blog by David Giwerc

Adults with ADHD are 300% more likely to start their own businesses, writes Garret LoPorto in The DaVinci Method (Media for Your Mind, 2005). While you may find that invigorating, failing to identify and understand your ADHD can have dire consequences for your business. Learning how to harness your strengths and create daily momentum while managing your challenges requires a delicate balance of awareness, skills, and experience. These factors can make or break your ability to create, manage, and sustain a profitable business.

My undiagnosed ADHD affected my success as an advertising executive. It was also instrumental in making me a successful entrepreneur.

In 1984, I was living in Manhattan and working my dream job for a division of one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. I was twenty-eight years old, single, making money, and working with nationally recognized clients and their brands. I wore an expensive, stylish suit and sported the confidence of a young man whose every interaction was a possibility to bring in more business and more money.

As a sports enthusiast, I loved my job. I handled all of the professional sports marketing in stadiums for the giant Miller Brewing Company. I had six field account executives who reported directly to me and were responsible for the NFL, NBA, and MLB teams in their regions. My love of sports and my sincere excitement for my clients’ business goals made this important account a natural fit for me.

Creative stuff came so easily to me. While others spent hours preparing a pitch, I could invent a presentation on a dime and practice it in my head. I knew that scripts didn’t work for me. I was spontaneous, and rehearsing a script would have driven me crazy. I just needed my mind map with its keywords and circles, something I usually jotted down on a napkin or index card.

The creative side of my job came naturally to me, but I dreaded the administrative tasks of submitting expense accounts, writing reports, and the different things going on in the business. It was just brutal. The attention required for these activities had always been a struggle. I knew that if I spent too much time on administrative tasks, it was going to take me away from those areas where I excelled. So, what did I do? I ignored the administrative stuff altogether.

You can imagine the result: Paperwork piled up until it became a small mountain of unfiled reports, unfinished forms, and unanswered correspondence. I became immobilized just thinking about it. It wasn’t that I was lazy or didn’t want to do it. I didn’t know that my ADHD was creating internal neurological battles in my brain. When the task involved people, presentations, projects, and pictures, I was a hundred percent dedicated to doing great work. But with the administrative side, the harder I tried to pay attention, the more my brain shut down. Fortunately, the substantial support staff at the large advertising agency compensated for my lack of administrative abilities.


Years later, when I made the decision to go into business with my dad, a successful builder, I assumed my creative marketing skills would be the magic wand to success, freedom, and financial reward. I never took into account all the support structure I had in place in my corporate position, and assumed my dad would provide those same mechanisms in our new partnership. Big mistake. My dad, albeit super successful, had no administrative support. He had an office and a telephone, and he expected me to take care of the rest.

Our first five years together were a nightmare. Until I discovered my ADHD and was properly diagnosed and treated, I struggled with overwhelming anxiety, emotional volatility, and piles of incomplete paperwork that my dad expected me to complete.

When I became aware that ADHD was a challenge of inhibition that required being able to put on the internal brakes of my mind, I learned to pause to pay attention to what I was paying attention to and focus on what I could do really well.  By noticing the disharmony in my body, I shifted my negative focus on difficult tasks to using my marketing and presentation skills that energized and motivated me. My dad and I were eventually able to convert our struggling business into a successful, respected apartment community.

I almost quit until my dad hired administrative support so I could do what I did well. After working with my dad for over a decade, he was ready to retire and I was ready to help him sell our business. We eventually sold it to a large, diversified, well-run regional real estate management company.


Entrepreneurs with ADHD are full of creative, stimulating ideas, but they need to clearly identify their daily intention. They must see how their attention and subsequent actions are closely aligned with their intentional purpose. ADHD, creativity, and entrepreneurship can be a wonderful team when understood and when the strengths of entrepreneurs are integrated into daily actions.

In 1996, I began my own ADHD coaching practice, working with executives and entrepreneurs with ADHD. I had discovered a significant void in the marketplace. It was the solution for many individuals with ADHD who need the support and partnership of well-trained ADHD coaches who specialize in working with entrepreneurs and executives with ADHD. I was equally passionate about training future coaches to empower people with ADHD to live the life they truly deserve. My attention was focused on my heartfelt intention of creating a training program desperately needed by millions of people with ADHD, and I created the ADD Coach Academy.


Do you think you are a potential entrepreneur? Here are some of the lessons I learned over the course of my career.

  • Understand your unique brain wiring.

Identify how you process information and select tools that can capture your spontaneous, creative ideas in the most productive manner. Even before I knew I had ADHD, I would draw mind maps; circles represented the main ideas and the spokes of the wheels represented the subtopics. I literally came up with campaign ideas and presentation outlines using index cards, napkins, anything on which I could write my spontaneous ideas. I would convert them into strategic ideas, campaigns, presentations, even new product innovations. Later, when I became an entrepreneur, I always carried a pocket notebook to capture ideas that would just pop up in my brain.

  • Identify what you can't do so it doesn’t get in the way of what you can do. 

Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to, identify what stimulates your brain with a positive intention, and pursue it. Administrative tasks are necessary for the maintenance and profitability of your business, but if they’re not the best use of your strengths, you’re going to have a difficult time activating your brain and creating positive forward momentum.

I once had a client who needed a loan to expand his business. He invited the bank to come make a pitch, but right in the middle of the presentation, he excused himself to get a cup of coffee and never came back. Not a great way to get the extra capital you need to expand your business! He wasn’t being rude or thoughtless; his ADHD interfered with the process because it wasn’t the role for which he was best suited.

Delegate roles and specific tasks to those in your company who have the right skills. If the best use of your attention is creating effective presentations and enforcing the mission of the company, don't disengage your brain and make it difficult to gain any kind of positive momentum.

  • Pay attention to your successes and strengths.

Identify what energizes you so you can sustain your business efforts throughout the day. Take breaks and focus on tasks, exercise, or music that provides instant energy, positive emotions, and empowers you to initiate important tasks.

Create a success diary—a notebook, folder, box of pictures, anything that can contain records of your achievements and identify what worked in the past. Keep it readily available. Your success diary externalizes your memories by providing visual or written prompts to remind you to focus on your strengths. By revisiting your achievements, you will become energized and your enthusiasm will energize your employees and customers.

A success diary can help you bypass negative patterns that immobilize you and impair your executive functions. Overcome negative thinking by revisiting successful experiences, which automatically evokes positive memories and emotions that provide positive energy to activate your brain.

  • Identify support for challenging tasks.

When you go into business for yourself, you must identify what kind of support you need for tasks that derail you but are crucial to the financial success of your business. You must also identify what support you will need in order to use your creative strengths daily.

  • Respond rather than react.

Pausing to contemplate your best options gives you the ability to consciously respond versus spontaneously reacting to business situations as they arise. Without putting on your mental brakes, you cannot access your best options. You will have a tendency to react with old patterns of behavior/action that have not served you well in the past.

A longer version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

David Giwerc, MCC, MCAC, BCC, is founder and president of the ADD Coach Academy. For over fifteen years, his coaching practice has been dedicated to empowering entrepreneurs and executives who have ADHD. He serves on the advisory boards of the Professional Association of ADHD Coaches and the Attention Deficit Disorder Association. Giwerc is the author of Permission to Proceed: The Keys to Creating a Life of Passion, Purpose, and Possibility for Adults with ADHD (Vervante, 2011).

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Can I Ask for Workplace Accommodations?

guest blog by Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA

You know about accommodations for students with ADHD at school, but you may not know what is available for adults with ADHD in the workplace. If you are aware that you can ask for accommodations at work, do you know how to do it? Do you know how the rules are different at work versus school?

Fortunately, the Job Accommodation Network has everything you need to know on the topic — from deciding whether to ask for accommodations to information on which accommodations to request and how. Best of all, their services are free and confidential.

JAN is funded by the US Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy and operated in collaboration with West Virginia University and private industry. Its purpose is to provide guidance to employees, employers, clinicians, and government agencies on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. JAN's goal is to work toward practical solutions that benefit both employer and employee. According to co-director Lou Orslene, in 2011-2013 JAN served over 45,000 customers through its consulting service, supported over 3.3 million webpage requests, and provided more than 150 trainings.

Work law vs. educational law

It’s important to recognize that the laws governing accommodations in educational settings are different from those governing the workplace. Therefore, the protections available and the process of acquiring accommodations also differ. “The working world is different because the intent of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act is to level the playing field for individuals with disabilities,” according to JAN principal consultant Beth Loy. “This means that the ADA prohibits discrimination in all employment practices, which is different than requiring schools and parents to work together so that a student in public school receives an appropriate education.” An employee must be able to perform the essential functions of the job, perhaps with the assistance of reasonable accommodations.

A common misconception is that certain conditions are designated as qualifying for protection under the ADA, and therefore an individual with one of those conditions is automatically granted accommodations. Rather, it is the individual’s performance that matters. If a diagnosable condition (such as ADHD) impairs someone’s ability to perform the essential job functions, then he or she can ask for accommodations under the ADA. However, someone can have a diagnosable condition, but if it does not significantly impair their function in this specific job, then the person is not entitled to accommodations.

One does not need to qualify under the ADA in order to access JAN’s services, however.

What are reasonable accommodations?

While there are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes “reasonable,” since it depends on the circumstances of the job and employee, JAN consultants can provide guidance and potential solutions for a specific situation. A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.  This also includes adjustments to ensure that a qualified individual with a disability has rights and privileges in employment equal to those of employees without disabilities.

Many employers are hesitant to talk about accommodations because they fear they will cost too much. However, employers often report that the benefits employers receive from making workplace accommodations far outweigh the low cost. “In 2012, employers reported that providing accommodations resulted in such benefits as retaining valuable employees, improving productivity and morale, reducing workers’ compensation and training costs, and improving company diversity. These benefits were obtained with little investment. The employers in the study reported that a high percentage (57 %) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500,” said Lou Orslene. In addition, tax incentives and funding through other organizations can reduce the financial cost.

Possible accommodations for ADHD

Because people with ADHD work in all sorts of jobs, it is difficult to provide accommodations that will be helpful in every setting. However, “the most common accommodations discussed in this area involve allowing extra time (additional training, longer test times) and reducing distractions (headset, white noise machine),” said Beth Loy. “Individuals may need organizational cues such as electronic organizers, flow charts, and checklists as well. These types of job accommodations are very successful and low in cost.”

Some of these accommodations can be quite creative as well. One employee who worked in a cubicle contacted JAN for ideas on how to reduce distractions from overhead fluorescent lights and air flow from above. The solution involved CubeShields, which mounted to the cubicle walls and blocked those distractions (cost: just over $30 each). Another employee worked in a computer server room and was frequently distracted by the constantly blinking lights from all the equipment. The individual was accommodated with LightDims stickers that block most or all of the light (cost: less than $10 per pack).

You can find a list of possible accommodations for ADHD and other condition on the JAN website. This list can give you specific ideas, as well as a sense of what is possible.

Should you ask for accommodations?

Maybe you are worried about the possible repercussions for disclosing a disability and requesting accommodations. This is an individual choice and is informed by the quality of the relationship between the employee and employer. Sometimes you can ask for accommodations without invoking ADA or disclosing anything. For example, you can ask to move to an unoccupied desk in a less noisy area by explaining that you will get more work done there. If you frame the request as being to the employer’s benefit also, most will be happy to discuss it with you.

If you feel you need to go through more official channels, Beth Loy offers some guidance. “First, disclose when you need an accommodation. In general, you should disclose your disability when you need to request a reasonable accommodation — when you know that there is a workplace barrier that is preventing you, due to a disability, from competing for a job, performing a job, or gaining equal access to a benefit of employment like an employee lunch room or employee parking. Don’t wait to disclose until after you begin to experience work performance problems. It is better to disclose your disability and request accommodations before job performance suffers or conduct problems occur.”
(The question of whether to disclose a diagnosis of ADHD was covered in detail in the April 2009 issue of Attention magazine.)

How to ask for accommodations

Unlike in educational settings, there is no single way to ask for accommodations in the workplace. In general, the employee with a disability is responsible for letting the employer know that an accommodation is needed. Though not required by the ADA, JAN suggests that employees ask for accommodations in writing (see Ideas for Writing an Accommodation Request Letter on the JAN website.) If your employer has its own form (ask human resources), then it is probably best to use that. Be aware that an employer has the right to ask for information about your disability and to request a medical examination, but it must be job-related and consistent with business necessity.

An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA, a psychologist in private practice in West Chester, Pennsylvania, is the author of Understand Your Brain, Get More Done: The Executive Functions Workbook (2012) and More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD (2009). He is a member of the board of directors of CHADD and a contributing editor to Attention magazine.