Work-Life Strategies & Solutions

On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy

The Value of Impulsivity: Options and Opportunities for People with ADD/ADHD

My previous post, which called attention to research efforts directed towards education about workplace issues for people with ADD/ADHD, was not something I broadcasted at random. As it happens, I just discovered that someone I’ve been acquainted with for over a decade, and who has meant everything to me in the last several years, has ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder without the hyperactivity). It’s mystifying how long it can take to see beyond the unintended facade of normalcy and understand the world from his perspective. As caffeine isn’t a huge part of our lives, it took awhile for me to come to this realization but eventually, one day, his reaction to tea tipped me off. A few cups revved me up but sedated him, compelling him to nap for quite a few hours. Now I know why he’s not a big coffee drinker.

In recent weeks I’ve been consumed with lurking ADD/ADHD forums and watching videos of people with ADD/ADHD describe their experiences and, in doing so, developed awareness of how misunderstood outward ADD/ADHD behaviors are. Tardiness, disorganization, irresponsibility, and forgetfulness are misinterpreted as purposeful and within their control. Instead, much of their way of being is due to an underlying natural compulsion to attend to novel stimuli.

As a supporter of neurodiversity, I believe it’s ideal to help people find niches that will allow them to take advantage of their natural gifts and keep personal costs (such as potential long-term side effects of medication) of forced normalization to a minimum. Those with untreated ADD/ADHD who don’t have any choice but to make their way in the neurotypical‘s world experience costs as well however. (Thus, I respect the decision to medicate or not as a choice best left to the individual and his/her specialist.) On the subject of financial costs, Scott Shapiro, M.D. points out:

“Overall, people with ADHD have less annual income,” Biederman said. “This was true for males and females. Those with ADHD had income approximately $10,791 lower per year among high school graduates, and about $4,334 lower for college graduates than their counterparts without ADHD.”

Given this, what are some career options for those with ADD/ADHD then? Peter Gray, Ph.D. provides a framework for understanding the strengths of those with ADD/ADHD in a discussion about the value of impulsivity:

…there is a broad range on the control-impulsiveness dimension that is potentially quite compatible with psychological wellbeing and contribution to society. The trick, for each person, is to find niches within their environment that play to their strengths rather than to their weaknesses. In general, people who are highly controlled are great in jobs that require lots of reflection and relatively little action, and people who are highly impulsive are great in jobs that require lots of action with relatively little time for reflection. This has nothing to do with degree of intelligence. You can be intelligent and impulsive, making terrific snap judgments; and you can also be intelligent and reflective, making good judgments after thinking things through very carefully.

In his own post, Jory F. Goodman, M.D. adds:

[People with ADHD] are said to have excellent peripheral vision when in fact they are seeing everything and processing the input simultaneously. Aurally they simultaneously attend to multiple conversations and sounds, intrude in other people’s conversations, carry on several at the same time and are basically very irritating to others. They usually need controlled noise in order to dampen their heightened sensory vigilance in order to study or focus on many things. Hence their excellence in multitasking. They make excellent middle linebackers, catchers, Navy SEALs, physicians and many other things. They don’t tend to do so well crunching numbers or following bureaucratic rules.

Beyond this, successful people with untreated ADD/ADHD can be found in a variety of fields (most of which are, hence, often recommended) – sales, politics, entertainment, and professional golf. They can also be found among the ranks of the greatest entrepreneurs and thinkers. Check out this list! Finally, I’ll leave you with this hilarious video created by a young man who describes his experience with ADHD.

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5 responses to “The Value of Impulsivity: Options and Opportunities for People with ADD/ADHD

  1. Lisa Duncan | Alternative Workstyle Enthusiast June 19, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    As always Lynn, great insights and lots to think about. The video is hilarious, and far too relatable! Love it.

    • Lynn Patra June 19, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      Thank you Lisa! Yes, he’s hilarious and has become such a popular YouTube personality/entertainer that he has a Wikipedia bio! I believe his success has much to do with his drawing from the natural strengths associated with ADHD. Upon going through names of comedians who have it also (Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, etc.) I just nodded along and thought, yeah I can totally see that!

  2. Mike June 23, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Reblogged this on This Got My Attention and commented:
    Interesting!

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