How to Work with Someone having ADHD

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Identifying people with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and/or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) requires understanding the difficulties involved in managing the person. It requires taking specific steps that can make interactions easier and supervising their daily jobs less painful.

It’s surprising that a celebrity like Rick Green (comedy writer, comedian, producer and director) suffered from ADHD and yet produced ADD & Loving It?, an award-winning documentary that focuses on Adult ADHD. The documentary became an inspiration for websites like TotallyADD. He also produced full-length videos that explore ADHD and its every aspect—over a dozen of them.

Let’s take a look at this common statement: Adults with ADHD do not make very reliable parents. On the contrary, they make wonderful aunts and uncles whom kids find awesome and look forward to seeing frequently.

But real challenges arise during long-term management of ADD/ADHD, especially in work settings. If you are supervising and/or working with a colleague who has ADHD, here are a few ways you can significantly improve your working relationship with him/her while meeting your professional objectives:

  • Keep short deadlines. This is crucial. Long deadlines might never get your job done.
  • Big jobs must be broken into small steps. In technical terms, it is called Task Analysis. ADHD can impair the ability to perform routine tasks, but when they are divided into small parts, the individual’s energy and enthusiasm are engaged.
  • Praise when it is due. This counters the shame and disappointment a person can face when they’ve messed up simple things that come easily to other people. Remember that the ADHD-affected can do incredible things that others can’t. These strengths must be valued.
  • Have someone else handle paperwork or scrutinize work that has already been done. For example, ADHD salespeople are best at meeting people and selling products/services; someone else must handle all the invoicing and other documentation.
  • An ADHD individual performs his/her best at night. They are almost always night owls; when others wind down, they are wide-awake and eager to go to their limits.
  • Communication can be tricky with ADHD/ADD-affected people. Many of them also suffer from dyslexia, e., they skim-read, omitting instructions but get full meaning out of graphics and pictures. It, therefore, pays to be clear and make the person repeat actions.

On the other hand, if you are a person affected by ADHD and need to improve your work and social skills, you might want to read our post on How to Manage ADHD Symptoms in Adults.

People with ADHD may, at times, be stressful to work with, especially when it comes to expectation management. They can be over-enthusiastic about everything new and will say “Yes” to almost everything, and thereby end up overcommitting. Remind them to say “No,” or put away things for another day.

The objective for managers and supervisors is to turn the ADHD-affected employees who are easily distracted into more productive human beings. For example, keep the meetings short and allow these employees to report first. Sitting still, listening, and sustaining attention is not really their forte. This is the reason you should also make them walk around like Steve Jobs, exploiting both their energy and creativity. Or, allow them to doodle and/or fidget. It’s a complex neurology, but it results in focusing better with something simple but engaging.

A few additional points to keep in mind:

  • Allow frequent breaks for people to stretch.
  • Don’t criticize them if they get switched off towards the end of a long meeting. ADHD-affected people don’t fake; they do not pretend to be listening when they aren’t. Many, on the other hand, close their eyes to focus, not to show boredom, rudeness, or disinterest.
  • Keep things moving, avoid very informal welcomes, avoid small talk and get to the point fast.
  • Make conversations interactive with lots of visual support.
  • Humour is a wonderful way to get these people working.
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