Adults with ADHD
Most of us know what attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) looks like in kids — fidgety, impulsive,
inattentive, disorganized, and hyperactive. But about 60 percent of kids continue to have symptoms of ADHD into adulthood.
ADHD looks a bit different in
adults. It may present as restlessness, disorganization, and trouble focusing.
But ADHD also comes with a unique set of strengths. Choosing a career that capitalizes
on strengths and doesn’t depend too heavily on areas of weakness is the key to
professional success with adult ADHD. That, and successful ADHD treatment.
There are several job traits that play
to the strengths of adults with ADHD:
- Fast pace
- Hands-on and creative
Some careers will employ just one
of these qualities, but many offer several in the same job, creating an even
greater likelihood of success.
Having a passion for what I do is extremely important. Without that drive and desire, it would be hard for me.
Rosetta DeLoof-Primmer, social worker living with ADHD
Many people with ADHD are motivated
by interest and urgency. Jobs where you’re passionate about the subject matter provide
motivation and focus, which can help you succeed. This can be any field that you
have a deep interest in — the sky’s the limit.
“The key is interest!” says Honey
McKenzie, an adult living with ADHD. She’s been most successful at jobs that
allow her to focus on what she enjoys.
Sarah Dhooge lives with ADHD and works
as a pediatric speech-language pathologist. “I have a very large caseload of
families whose children are newly diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and
communication delays/disorders. I am successful at what I do because I love it,
I know what it’s like to have ADHD, and I am honest with my families about my own challenges and struggles.”
Social worker Rosetta
DeLoof-Primmer also uses her inside knowledge of what it’s like to have ADHD to
help her clients. “Having a passion for what I do is extremely important.
Without that drive and desire, it would be hard for me,” explains
DeLoof-Primmer. “I also feel I relate to my clients on a different level, given
that I can both personally and professionally understand where they are coming
from and their struggles.”
Since we know many people with ADHD
are motivated by urgency, jobs with an inherent sense of urgency help to
overcome some ADHD weaknesses.
People with ADHD tend to work well in a fast-paced, high-intensity environment, like that of an emergency room or ambulance.
Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, clinical psychotherapist and assistant professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton
“People with ADHD tend to work well
in a fast-paced, high-intensity environment, like that of an emergency room or
ambulance,” says Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, a clinical psychotherapist and assistant
professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Careers where a life is
on the line provide the ultimate sense of urgency.
“My husband has ADHD. He is a trauma
doctor and he thrives in his field,” Miriam Kahn tells Healthline. “He’s absolutely
brilliant at it to the point where he’s so focused [that] nothing else exists
[in that moment]. His success must be due to the pace — it’s hectic, non-stop
April Race, a nurse living with
ADHD, enjoys the rush of working in the operating room. “There’s nothing more
exciting than being called in to assist on a ruptured abdominal aortic
aneurysm. This job works for me because I only have one patient at a time,
I love what I do, and there’s often the added component of adrenaline.”
Jobs in this area include nurse, trauma
doctor/surgeon, EMT, and firefighter.
While some adults with ADHD choose
jobs that are driven by urgency, others prefer jobs that are highly structured.
“Employees with ADHD thrive in environments where they have clear instructions
and directives,” Dr. Sarkis says. A structured job is one where there’s a
specific workflow and clearly defined tasks. There’s no grey area and no
question of expectations.
“I work for a healthcare software
company on the training team,” shares Ms. Jones, an adult with ADHD. “I post
online training content and troubleshoot e-learning issues for our customers.
It’s a lot of strictly following checklists and repeating technical procedures
over and over. I cannot function without structure and routines, so this is
what makes me successful at it.”
Jobs like this can exist in every
industry, but some options include data processing, factory assembly line, and quality
4. Fast pace
It’s no secret that thoughts are constant
and moving very fast for most people with ADHD. Harnessing that attribute can
mean success on the job. Many adults with ADHD report that they find pleasure
in constant change. They thrive in an environment that is stimulating, and one
in which they have to adapt and analyze.
Working in preschools and daycares works for me. That environment lets me be creative and moving all the time!
Stephanie Wells, living with ADHD
“Working in preschools and daycares
works for me,” says Stephanie Wells. “That environment lets me be creative and
moving all the time!”
Kristin Leslie also enjoys working
in education, saying, “I never stop, and I’m never bored.”
“I worked for a major book store in
various jobs for years and loved it,” says Kristi Haseltine-syrek. “I walked in
the door and hit the ground running. It’s an extremely fast-paced job that
allows creativity, and it is never
Jobs in this area include trauma
doctor or nurse, housekeeper, publishing, teacher, sales, and sports coach.
5. Hands-on and creative
Hands-on jobs are great for those
who are restless or easily bored at a desk. They often offer the use of
creativity and problem solving skills — areas people with ADHD often excel in. Research
supports the common idea that people with ADHD are more likely to reach higher
levels of creative thought and accomplishment. The racing ideas in the minds of
people with ADHD can contribute to creative thinking.
“Being creative and in control
works best for me,” Jacky Moore says. “That’s why I choose to be self-employed
in a field that taps into my creativity.”
Jobs in this area include musician,
artist, dancer, entertainer, inventor, teacher, construction, mechanic, graphic
designer, and interior designer.
Not only does an entrepreneur start
their own business, but they are willing to take risks and think innovatively. Those
are two positive skills inherent in many people with ADHD. It must be a field
they are passionate about though, since running a business also requires areas
where people with ADHD struggle, such as planning, organization, and
Successful entrepreneurs with ADHD
include Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group; David Neeleman, founder of
JetBlue Airways; Paul Orfalea,
founder of Kinkos; and Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA.
The bottom line is that it’s possible
to have ADHD as an adult and still succeed in the workforce. The key is to seek
jobs or fields that use your strengths and interests, but don’t require much of
your areas of weakness. With the right motivation, you can thrive on the job.