Understanding Autism & ADHD at Work

If someone is autistic, there is a good chance that they will have another co occurring condition. Here we are going to talk about ADHD. ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Another term used is Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) which doesn’t include the hyperactivity part of the condition.

ADHD is very misunderstood in general, with many people just thinking of people with the condition as those who can’t sit still or concentrate and are often naughty. They think of people who are always moving or running around, disruptive, extroverted, and generally a bad presence to be around.

Whilst some of the aforementioned descriptors can be true for some individuals with the condition, this isn’t the case for others. Part of the reason for this is that those with ADD are often left misdiagnosed as they don’t appear to have any of the conditions that people think they should have. For example they don’t ‘cause trouble’ for others, and so there appears to be no reason to diagnose and support them. Another reason that often isn’t acknowledged is when people are autistic as well as also having ADHD. This has a massive impact, as people with both conditions have a mixture of the symptoms, and therefore may appear ‘more autistic’ or ‘more ADHD’ depending on the situation and how they feel.

Perhaps the biggest characteristic of ADHD that goes unnoticed or isn’t appreciated is that they often have an overactive mind, not just overactive physical symptoms. People don’t realise just how hard it is for a person with ADHD to concentrate when they have multiple other things vying for their attention, whether it be people around them, sounds or visual inputs, or their own thoughts. Furthermore, there is very little understanding of the fact that most people with ADHD have exceptional difficulties with concentrating on either things they don’t enjoy or aren’t good at. This can lead to many conflicts or arguments with others, as people simply don’t believe them when told.

Common symptoms of ADHD include but are not limited to: fidgeting, short attention span, acting without thinking, inattentiveness, and impulsiveness and hyperactivity. The latter three symptoms are the main ones.

Those with hyperactivity are the ones that tend to stand out as having ADHD, as opposed to those with just inattentiveness.

This is because the hyperactive individuals may struggle to sit still and may appear more extroverted, whereas the others may appear introverted at times. There are also many individuals that have both inattentiveness and hyperactivity struggles, and so they can appear both extroverted and introverted at different times. Those with both of the main symptoms can also have just an overactive mind but not the hyperactive physical symptom, and this can cause them to not be diagnosed.

Those with inattentiveness difficulties get easily distracted, appear forgetful, constantly change activity or tasks, may lose things, may make careless mistakes, may be unable to listen to instructions, and have difficulties with organising tasks. They may find it really hard to focus, become bored very quickly, struggle to learn new information, require extra time to process information due to all the distractions around them, and may appear not to listen when spoken to even if they are. They may also daydream throughout the day, including at supposedly important times.

Those with hyperactivity and impulsiveness difficulties have concentration issues, constantly fidget, struggle to sit still especially in quiet surroundings, may interrupt people when talking, and may have little to no sense of danger. They may be thrill seekers and seen as free spirits. They may talk and move excessively, be impatient, and always be on the go.

Those with ADHD often also have other conditions. They include but are not limited to: Autism, OCD, Anxiety, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Depression, Conduct Disorder, Epilepsy, Tourette’s syndrome, and Dyslexia.

Within the workplace, people with ADHD can thrive but there is also a great chance that they will struggle if they aren’t in the right environment.

In typical working environments where their needs aren’t supported they may suffer from, do, or struggle with: Being too bored that it hurts them (yes that’s a thing), seen as disruptive due to talking too much or moving around too much, caring too much (for example if they are asked to do something that doesn’t make sense they may be passionate about finding out why, as opposed to other employees who may adopt the “because I’ve been told to” attitude), challenging long established rules or protocols, being late for work, forgetting to eat during breaks resulting in lower energy, organising and prioritising tasks, having no enthusiasm for repetitive admin tasks, forgetting meeting times or deadlines, forgetting what they’re doing, being forgetful (true story whilst writing this I forgot that I had already mentioned forgetful), and daydreaming or losing interest.

Despite all of the struggles that those with ADHD face, there are many positive attributes that they possess. They can be out of the box thinkers, creative, passionate, fun to be around, and determined. If they are doing a job that they are interested in or good at, they can be excellent additions to the workforce.

If they are doing something that they are really passionate about, then often they rise above the rest of the field as they are super motivated and can hyperfocus on what they are doing. These skills can bring a unique advantage to employers if deployed in the right manner i.e. if they’re supported to do something they enjoy. They can be great for coming up with ideas for projects, brainstorming, using artistic flair, bringing energy and zest that can rub off on others, be willing to take risks, and bring new solutions. ADHD individuals can make good musicians, actors, entrepreneurs, teachers, chefs, beauticians, fire fighters, and software developers.  

Famous people who have/had or are strongly believed to have ADHD include Abraham Lincoln, Justin Timberlake, Thomas Edison, Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, Channing Tatum, Alexander Graham Bell, Agatha Christie, Babe Ruth, and Muhammad Ali. 

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