Students with ADHD experience myriad academic and social difficulties that could create barriers to their post-school success. As students mature, these difficulties are translated into career and work related problems. Career counselors hold important keys to help students with ADHD tackle these problems because of their unique expertise. The following career counseling keys may be utilized to help students with ADHD overcome barriers to post-school transition success.
Counselor Focused Keys
Knowledge of Specific ADHD Symptoms: Career counselors often are lacking in essential knowledge regarding ADHD, particularly how the disorder translates into career, work, and vocational difficulties (Dipeolu, 2010), The DSM-IV-TR provides specific criteria for ADHD symptoms including core symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity-impulsivity, or both (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Familiarity with these symptoms will help counselors provide the assistance necessary for students with ADHD to attain post-school success.
Characteristics of Adolescents with ADHD: ADHD is a neurologically based disorder that persists over one’s lifetime. As students with ADHD mature, symptoms of hyperactivity are replaced by those of inattention, and thereby potential to overlook these in counseling increases.
Associated Myths: Career counselors can help students challenge myths related to ADHD early, before they crystallize, so that they do not become barriers to the attainment of post school success. They can help disprove these myths by encouraging students to critically examine them.
Applicable Legislation: The revised version of Individual Disabilities Education Act (2004) stipulates that students with ADHD receive services under the “other health impairments” category. Section 504 provision grants “reasonable accommodations” to any student who has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity (Gregg, 2009). For students with ADHD, learning is considered to be substantially limited due to symptoms of ADHD, and therefore, students are entitled to academic supports and accommodations in school and at work.
Career Choices: Careers that promote creativity, allow for flexibility in work pace, and incorporate a variety of duties may be well suited for students with ADHD. Careers that require attention to details, focused attention, and high levels of concentration could accentuate students’ weaknesses and should be avoided. Exploratory activities to pinpoint careers that are consistent with students’ strengths may be beneficial.
Work Implications of ADHD Symptoms: Counselors need to be familiar with how ADHD symptoms affect work performance. Some of these are expanded upon under the student focused keys section below.
Student Focused Keys
Self-awareness: Career counselor can help students with ADHD develop a clear sense of their strengths and weaknesses, as this self-knowledge can substantially impact career choice and success at work. A healthy self-esteem built on realistic self-knowledge is a required foundation for satisfying career choices.
Direct-advocacy: Self-advocacy skills allow students to learn to speak on their own behalf. Teachers, parents, and other support sources serve as buffers while advocating on behalf of students with ADHD for needed services. These well-intentioned advocacy efforts often leave students unprepared to advocate for themselves.
Social relationships: Symptoms associated with ADHD may create problems in social situations and difficulties in developing friendships. For example, not taking turns, blurting out answers, and talking excessively are a few symptoms of ADHD that can be detrimental to relationships. However, these difficulties can be addressed effectively in a group context. Within this modality, students have the opportunity to learn from peers, receive feedback, and develop needed social skills.
Career decision-making: Identifying a suitable career is primarily a decision making activity. Students with ADHD are at a disadvantage because making career decisions requires focused attention (Dipeolu, 2010). To remedy this, counselor could introduce students to existing models of career decision making. A Guide to Good Career Decision Making by Sampson, Peterson, Reardon, and Lentz (2004) is one model that provides students with a framework (visual aid) of the career decision-making process and can help provide focus to the career counseling session without losing student attention.
Career-related anxiety: Career exploration activities to enhance the development of possible career options is highly valued among students in high school. However, students with ADHD may experience anxiety regarding activities aimed at career selection. Conversely, when student efforts are focused at obtaining information regarding a few selected occupations, related anxiety is minimized.
Attainable goals: Students with ADHD have trouble developing long term goals due to difficulty in the area of the brain responsible for planning and organization. As a result, these students should be encouraged to set achievable and realistic goals. When indecisiveness is combined with a lack of focused attention, potential for failure is increased (Dipeolu, 2010). Career counselors can help by breaking down long term goals into series of short term, achievable goals.
Organization and planning resources. Devices such as a phone book, an at-a-glance calendar, post-it notes, binders, and bulletin boards are commonly available tools to help students manage their environment and accomplish their career goals.
Though the difficulties associated with ADHD are myriad, the associated career, vocational and work-related difficulties are avoidable when career counselors help students acquire the skills necessary to unlock their potentials utilizing a combination of the keys discussed.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., Text rev.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
Dipeolu, (2010). College students with ADHD: Prescriptive concepts for best practices in career development. Journal of Career Development, doi: 10.1177/0894845310378749.
Gregg, N. (2009). Adolescents and adults with learning disabilities and ADHD.: Assessment and accommodation. New York, NY: The Guildford Press.
Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004), Public Law No. 108-446, 20 U.S.C. 1462 (2004).
Sampson, J. P., Jr., Peterson, G. W., Reardon, R.C., & Lenz, J. G., (2004). Career counseling and services: A cognitive information processing approach. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Abiola Dipeolu, Ph.D., LP is an Assistant Professor, Department of Counseling, School, & Education Psychology, University at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York. Her research interests include career development of people with disabilities, career interventions for individuals with ADHD and LD, and post- school transition issues. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica L. Sniatecki, Ph.D., C.R.C. is an Assistant Professor, in the Health Science department, The College at Brockport, SUNY. Dr. Sniatecki has taught a number graduate and undergraduate courses in the area of rehabilitation, vocational, and career counseling. email@example.com
Marvin Lalin is a member of the CSTEP research mentorship program, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York. Currently involved in a number of projects, Marvin is a member of Dr. Dipeolu's research team. Mlalin@buffalo.edu