Vera N. Held, B.A. Eng., Cert. PR., Tesl Cert., M.Ed.
Coach, facilitator, speaker, writer and PR consultant.
Author of international best-seller "How Not to Take it Personally".
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ADULT ADHD IN THE WORKPLACE

by Vera N. Held

Radiant. That’s the only way to describe Pennyjane (Pj) Murray. At 46, Murray is one of up to 600,000 Canadian adults who currently have or will have attention deficit hyper disorder, (ADHD), or its non-hyper variety, attention deficit disorder (ADD).

Good news! This complex yet elusive disorder, when properly explored and managed can benefit your career design choices and quality of work life.

States Dr. Umesh Jain, staff psychiatrist and specialist in impulse control disorders at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, Clarke Site, “A conservative estimate would place ADHD at five percent of today’s school age children, and the outcome data suggests that 40 percent may go to adulthood with impairing symptoms. Therefore, one to two percent of Canadian adults may already have or will have adult ADHD.”

Common characteristics of this physiologically-based disorder rooted in childhood and linked to heredity are distractibility, hyperactivity and impulsivity as well as problems with concentration, learning, memory, mood and sleep.

 So, what’s a typical ADHD workday look like? For Murray, who chooses to be medication-free, the focus is first self-awareness, then appropriate coping and compensating strategies. As specialist, staff development for the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA), Murray effectively maximizes her strengths while managing her weaknesses.

Originally a special needs teacher, Murray wasn’t diagnosed until age 27 with adult ADHD. Murray believes she doesn’t “belong anywhere but belongs everywhere” and to this end, she promotes valued-add labels that explain things.

States Murray, “I work in a caring organization. People are more accepting, if you tell them about the disorder.” This adaptable juggler of balls packs her day. “I like a full day. Being busy keeps me happy. It’s also socially acceptable.” And Murray knows she needs to keep busy.

As a trainer, she is 100 percent “on” in every way. When training, she must focus and attend to the needs of her diverse participants. Handing out materials, as well, helps her to relieve the tension associated with ADHD.

Attending meetings, however, presents greater challenges but Murray deftly compensates. She always has a drink and writing materials. She takes notes, and makes organizing lists. When needed, she rubs her earrings or touches her lovely selection of gold bangle bracelets that allow her to “move through touch”, yet another politically correct way of being active in others’ company. She takes stretch and/or bad back breaks to move and refocus. States Murray, “I always have some kind of prop in or at hand and I get up and move as often as I can.”

 Hilary Freeman, a social worker in private practice has worked with many ADHD employees. “Those high on the brainwave scale like Murray become over achievers and over compensators. Others can become completely lost or depressed because they’re either in the wrong jobs but they don’t realize this or because they need help in one form or another to excel at these chosen jobs.”

One workplace client, a chap in his late 20s, although a brilliant sales professional, was unable to complete his paperwork, and was on the verge of being terminated. Freeman spotted his symptoms and arranged for adult ADHD testing. Subsequently, he was put on Ritalin, a common medication for this disorder, and within five months there was marked performance improvement. He was retained.

Dr. Jain who saw up to 300 ADHD adults yearly until his adult-only clinic shut down a year and a half ago states, “Up to 50% of people in the world of information technology have adult ADHD. These people internalize and use the computer terminal as an attention focal point. Up to 15 percent of Adult ADHD can be found in the media world. These people have the need for speed; they process a lot of data quickly and make fast decisions. Another, five percent are driven professionals such as lawyers and doctors. And there are countless hidden sufferers out there yet to be diagnosed.”

Once such hidden sufferer is 36 year old Drew Price. Currently working with an ADHD adult specialist, Price finally sees light at the end of a very long and winding tunnel.

An actor, who revels in his link to athletics and the outdoors through his part-time job at Mountain Equipment Co-op, Price was first diagnosed with ADHD in public school. Until recently, he did not know that he’d carried his symptoms with him into adulthood. And he’s not alone.

Price’s circuitous career path speaks to his inability to find the right job fit. After high school he bused tables, and then attended two years at York University. Although he enjoyed his psychology program and did well, he couldn’t keep up the pace and left.

His next stop was guiding for Outward Bound. Although he relished the outdoors and its many lessons in self-reliance, this self-professed introvert found it impossible to deal 24 hours a day for weeks at a stretch with his students ongoing and multiple needs. As well, never focused in one place, he continually spent time wondering what was going on in the city.

Then it was off to college: first for outdoor recreation and then onto pastry school where he finished top of his class. States Price, “I was always in the kitchen with mom. My two and a half years in fine dining and catering were great but I felt the need to move on again.” Price then stumbled onto computer animation but was unsuccessful.

Thirty-two and at the end of his rope, Price got tested for adult ADHD. Testing allowed him to discover his true artistic bent and confirm his high level of intelligence. Both actor and trial lawyer were recommended to him as career choices. And acting it’s been ever since. States Price who is currently working on discovering his full worklife potential, “I’m looking for a true sense of accomplishment and to experience satisfaction from my work.”

 

Chart of possible famous folks with ADHD/ADD

Jane Austen, John Barrymore, Noel Coward, Yogi Berra, Simone de Beauvoir, Woody Allen, James Thurber, Tennessee Williams, Samuel Butler, Albert Einstein, Bob Hope, e.e. cummings,

Lily Tomlin, Madonna, Oscar Wilde, Hedda Hopper, Rodney Dangerfield, Dick Martin, Bette Davis, Charles Schulz, Robert Frost, Edison, Harrison Ford, Red Skelton, Dustin Hoffman, W.C. Fields, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Source: The Added Dimension, Everyday Advice for Adults with ADD, Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo, Scribner, 1997.

 
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