The challenges of attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) in a classroom setting are familiar — students with ADHD often struggle with following instruction, completing homework tasks, and sitting still. While many kids outgrow the hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattentiveness associated with ADHD, about 60 percent of children with ADHD become adults with ADHD, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Adult ADHD is characterized by restlessness, disorganization, and the inability to focus. But ADHD also comes with a unique set of strengths. Choosing a career that capitalizes on these strengths is key to professional success.
Police officers and firefighters are busy. No two days are the same, which is a good thing for people with ADHD because a monotonous routine can become tedious. ADHD adults find pleasure in constant change. They thrive in an environment that is stimulating, and one in which they have to adapt and analyze.
Working with a mentor can help people with ADHD maintain their focus during testing and training. Once they’re in a police station or firehouse, ADHD adults will find themselves busy with work they find both fulfilling and rewarding.
“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. Like police officers, doctors and nurses never have the same workday twice. This requires them to use all of their training, maintain focus, and work with others to succeed.
However, working in a hospital may involve long hours, stacks of paperwork, and having to answer to authority figures — all possible weaknesses for ADHD adults. Having a strong support staff and colleagues willing to help is important when working in the medical field.
Most people with ADHD excel at talking to others. Sales jobs are a great way to focus this natural energy in a positive way. In an environment that requires heads-down, solo work, ADHD adults may get frustrated without human interaction. But with a job that depends on communication, such as sales, someone with ADHD may find great success.
The entertainment industry has long been a mecca for dreamers, creators, and visionaries. The energy and drive it takes to succeed in any aspect of the entertainment industry — as a graphic artist, ballet dancer, or stage actor — is exhausting for most people, but not for those with ADHD. Their high-energy drive can propel them towards a fruitful creative career.
The military, in which order and discipline are key, may seem like the last place for a person with ADHD. Yet some do very well in the armed forces. That’s because the intense mental focus and physical demands of training keep their minds and bodies engaged. They have clear instructions, an objective, and incentives to reach their goals.
Entrepreneurs must have determination, boundless energy, and the desire to succeed. They also have to share that drive by interacting with investors, employees, and customers. This requires a great deal of independent work, organization, and planning — areas in which people with ADHD typically struggle. But not when it’s their own business — something they are deeply committed to seeing through. “When they’re in an area of passion, people with ADHD flourish,” says Dr. Kevin Ross Emery, author of “Managing the Gift: Alternative Approaches to Attention Deficit Disorder.”
Salespeople who work on commission are out-and-about, shaking hands, and seeing new faces. It’s the type of job in which a person is almost always “on.” No cubicles or 9-to-5 schedules here. “Work environments that are ‘outside the box’ are perfect for people with ADHD,” Dr. Emery says. “It gives them the space and flexibility they need, with the right amount of structure so they can be really successful.”
Working on cars, boats, and motorcycles is a hands-on, physical job. It’s one that is different each day, often calls on a person’s critical-thinking skills, and requires face-to-face interaction. It’s perfect for a person with ADHD who feels trapped behind a desk and loves solving problems.
The construction business keeps people busy and working hard. It’s also a job that changes frequently while still providing clear instructions and objectives. There’s little time for boredom — as soon as one portion of a job is done, there are usually other tasks to complete.
Delivery truck drivers are people on a mission; they have somewhere to be, and they have to be there by a certain time. It’s the perfect structure for a person with ADHD. “Employees with ADHD thrive in environments where they have clear instructions and directives,” Dr. Sarkis says.
With a truck full of boxes and a day in which to get them delivered, a person with ADHD will work hard to accomplish the task before them. This profession also allows ADHD adults to work outside of a typical office setting, interact with others, and use their boundless energy to complete assignments.
Adults with ADHD make very industrious employees. They are high-energy, naturally curious, and eager to succeed. Making a few small adjustments can help an employer establish a productive work environment. “People with ADHD flourish when expectations and deadlines are clear and put into writing,” Dr. Sarkis says. “Employers should break down projects into smaller tasks and assign deadlines to those components.”
Identifying a coworker that can help an ADHD employee with the more challenging aspects of the job, such as paperwork, is a good way to ensure success. It may take extra work to integrate an employee with ADHD, but with time it’s likely to be a very successful partnership.