Surviving ADHD at Work and School

Accommodations range from desks designed for standing, to talking calculators and office location.


ADHD-savvy teachers also assign homework orally and hand out written instructions, increasing the likelihood that one or the other will register. Some allow students with ADHD to run occasional errands, like delivering files to the school office, to burn off fidgety energy. Alternating between physical and mental activities helps, too, as does increasing the novelty of lessons by blending films, tapes, flash cards, and group work.

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At Work

Students who spend years in nurturing classrooms eventually move on to jobs, with potentially unsympathetic bosses. Some experts warn that job applicants and employees should not disclose their condition. "You don't know what your boss or coworkers think or know about ADHD," says clinical psychologist Ari Tuckman of West Chester, Pa. "There's still a lot of misinformation out there. If they have some farfetched notion about what it means, it may not be conducive to a good working situation." The first step in minimizing the ADHD factor at work is to make it TO work, says Matlen. "Getting up in the morning requires a tremendous effort," she says. "A lot of people with ADHD have trouble shutting down at night—their brains are so overactive they can't sleep." Multiple alarm clocks may help: one on the nightstand to wake up and another five feet away that can only be turned off by getting out of bed. A third in the bathroom might even be a good idea, Matlen says.

Since productivity often varies depending on the time of day, flex time is a viable alternative to a fixed schedule. Some employees may choose to delay their start time; others may arrive early, if that's when they're most focused, or decide to occasionally work from home.

Eliminating workplace distractions like chatty coworkers can boost concentration. If available, private offices or cubicles should be requested. When you approach your boss, describe a symptom instead of naming your condition, Tuckman says. For example: "I have a tendency to get distracted if I'm in a noisy environment. Is there a quiet spot where I could sit?" Otherwise, spend an hour working in an unused conference room, or close the curtains to minimize outside distractions. A noise-blocking headset or soft music can muffle—if not eliminate—office racket. Even adding a "do not disturb" sign or turning the desk to avoid facing the door can help those thrown off by interruptions. Meetings in particular can be nervewrackingly chaotic or deadly dull. If you tend to zone out or lose track, record them and review the sessions later, undisturbed.

Since people with ADHD are often visually oriented, files, schedules, and other documents should be color-coded. To combat time management problems, break projects into smaller tasks and create a schedule allocating a specific amount of time to each piece. Use a vibrating watch to (silently) stick to that schedule—and to remember phone calls and meeting times.

Moving around throughout the day can counter a tendency to fidget and chatter. Scheduled breaks are helpful, especially before and after long meetings. "Take the long way when you're walking around the office," says Tuckman. "Take the stairs instead of the elevator, and go for a walk or to the gym at lunch. Tell people that you do your best thinking when you're moving around­—that it gets the juices flowing."

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