Working with ADHD

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When it comes to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), jokes abound. Take, for instance, Dug, the talking dog in Disney Pixar's Up:

My master made me this collar. He is a good and smart master, and he made me this collar so that I may ta—SQUIRREL!

For humans, ADHD is most often associated with young, energetic boys bouncing off the walls at school. The disorder affects plenty of working adults, however. Employees with ADHD might seem lazy, sloppy and forgetful. Maybe they're the one always arriving late. The one whose desk looks like ruins after an earthquake. The one who never seems to be able to meet a deadline.

What many people don't understand about individuals with ADHD is that these actions aren't a behavioral preference—these actions are the result of a structural difference in the brain.

In short, the prefrontal cortex isn't working properly.

Tamara Rosier, Ph.D., ADHD Center of West Michigan, notes that the prefrontal cortex is where "modern life is stored." It houses information such as where you park your car and when you need to leave to get somewhere on time. She also notes that, unfortunately, ADHD is often associated with a lack of intelligence.

"This is not about intelligence," Dr. Rosier said. "People get mocked, but it's embarrassing not to be able to do the low-level, important stuff."

Living and working with ADHD is difficult, and there's no way to grow out of ADHD or get over it. Individuals can manage it, however.

Rosier offers some tips:

Understand how you're motivating yourself.

Rosier describes the prefrontal cortex as a butler who tells you where your keys are. With limited access to their prefrontal cortex, individuals with ADHD often rely on negative emotions to motivate themselves. They don't get a calm butler politely reminding them when they need to leave if they want to be on time; they get an angry neighbor shaming them and threatening to throw a show at them if they forget to put the garbage out again.

Don't use negative emotions, such as guilt and shame, to motivate your actions. It's not good for your well-being. Here, Rosier provides tips for recognizing and silencing shame.

Make your own rules.

Since your prefrontal cortex isn't wired the same, you need to make up your own rules. If you're always late, make it a rule to always arrive five minutes early. If your desk is a mess, always clean and organize your space at the end of the day. If you have trouble prioritizing deadlines in your head, make a list at the beginning of the day and evaluate how you're doing every three or four hours.

Work with distractions.

There are two types of distractions: external and internal. External distractions include phenomenon like friends walking into the room or a giant hawk flying into the window (a distraction for everyone, ADHD or not). Internal distractions are thoughts in your head irrelevant to what you're trying to achieve. You can't eliminate all your distractions, but you can identify them and figure out what you need to do for your best work.

Find a coach.

"Everyone needs something different," Rosier said.

Coaching is often where individuals with ADHD gain the most ground in managing the disorder. Coaches work with people of all ages, and in all positions, to personalize methods to minimize the effects. "

It's hard to have ADHD," Rosier said, "but there are smart people doing incredible things."

Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for West Michigan Woman magazine.

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