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Occupation and ADHD: Young adults’ perspectives on the role of work in the manifestation of adult ADHD

  • Author(s): Lasky, Arielle
  • Advisor(s): Weisner, Thomas S.
  • et al.
Abstract

Although much is known about the difficulties faced by children with ADHD in school settings, very little research has explored the functioning of adults with ADHD in work environments. Experimental studies demonstrate that certain contexts can significantly reduce ADHD symptom severity; we ask whether the lived experience of young adults with ADHD in different work settings parallels these findings. Are there particular occupations in which young adults report functioning better than others?

To examine this issue, we interviewed 125 young adults, originally diagnosed with ADHD as children ages 7-9, regarding their current work environments. Many young adults reported that their symptoms are context-dependent; working in specific occupations, they feel less encumbered by their symptoms. In some of these environments, participants report feeling better able to focus; in others, their symptoms—such as high energy levels—become strengths rather than liabilities. Modal descriptions included work marked by high levels of stress or challenge, novel or varied tasks, a fast pace, hands-on work, physical labor, and/or work they found intrinsically interesting. For our subjects, ADHD is experienced as an interaction between themselves and their environment. These exploratory findings demonstrate the need to account for the role of context in our understanding of ADHD as a psychiatric disorder, especially as it manifests in young adulthood. Implications for clinical care and diagnostic conceptualization of the disorder are discussed.

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