Those of us with ADHD are good at many things — but finding and sustaining a definitive long-term career path, not so much.
Telling us that “we can be anything we want if we put our minds to it” is akin to dropping us in the middle of the sea and telling us to swim to shore. Michael Phelps could be coaching our strokes, and we still wouldn’t know which direction to swim. Everything would appear the same shade of blue, and we would hyperfocus on the eerie feeling that a shark was lurking nearby, eyeballing us. We could become so confused, intimidated, and paralyzed with indecision that we’d most likely drown.
Parents, don’t despair! You can support your teenager with ADHD and help them figure out a promising profession. As a former teenager with ADHD, who also taught teens with ADHD, I’ve picked up a few lessons along the way for caregivers of adolescents with ADHD.
Career Counseling Tip #1: Love Us
Give your child with ADHD the time they don’t give themselves. Take a keen interest in your children and provide them with a lot of love, imagination, and patience — especially when they’re being annoying or bouncy.
Career Counseling Tip #2: Focus on Who We Are, Not What You Want Us to Be
Focus less on what you want your child to be and more on what job they could be happiest doing in 20 years. I have a friend with ADHD whose mother pushed her into a law career. My friend forced herself through law school and spent 20 years in a job she hated all because her mom saw “lawyer” as a mark of success.
[Read: Abandon Your Pre-Conceived Notions of ‘Success’ (and More Advice for Parents of Teens with ADHD)]
She resented her mom for pushing her down that path and, at 41 years old, finally told her. That’s a tough conversation to have with yourself — let alone your mom. Now, my friend works part-time and uses her extra hours to train herself on her actual interests and is much happier.
Career Counseling Tip #3: Don’t Ask Us What We Want to Be When We Grow Up
Many people with ADHD struggle to accurately imagine the path to long-term success. This is because we only see where we are now (point A) and where we want to be (point C). In the middle is B — a 10-year journey that’s icky and scary and confusing and too long for us to navigate. We keep trying to take the shortcuts from A to C, and then we get dejected when that fails. We need our parents to help us identify what we care about and then guide us down a B path that will stimulate those interests along the way to success.
To figure out the best point C, think about what frequently distracts us when we’re under pressure. How can that “distraction” become something constructive? How do your children make sense of the world when they’re anxious? If your child is distracted by video games, pay attention to the types of games they love and try to understand how they’re engaged in those games. These could translate to benefit their broader learning and career prospects.
Career Counseling Tip #4: Explain the Boring Bits
Children with ADHD need their parents to explain the harsh and dull realities of every dream career. What precisely does it mean when parents say a profession will “be tough” and “hard work?” We’re often more captivated by the prestigious image of ourselves in a near-fictional version than reality. Offer unbiased, recently researched specifics regarding the challenges your child will likely face in that profession; don’t be negative or dissuade them from pursuing their dream, but be honest and provide the accurate information they may have missed so they can weigh up the reality of that commitment.
[Self-Test: Could Your Child Have ADHD?]
(I wish I had received this advice years ago. It could have helped me have more stability, satisfaction, and direction in my professional and private life.)
Career Counseling Tip #5: Interest and Interaction Are Everything
I became a journalist and teacher because of the variety and creativity in my workload. I like adapting and persuading random strangers or overtly powerful people to talk to me about their remarkable experiences. Writing gets my head and the world around me in order, so these two interests align with my career.
My neurotypical ex-girlfriend became a highly successful surgeon because she “was a curious person obsessed with poking and investigating gross pimples, cuts, lumps, and orifices – and not the other way around.” She works seemingly every hour of the day because she cares deeply and has an unyielding fascination and satisfaction in her work.
Parenting Advice #6: Don’t Wait!
We are talented, intelligent, quick, energetic, and creative – undaunted cavaliers in the face of exciting challenges. Basically, there’s nothing we can’t learn as long as it is consistently engaging and interactive (if possible).
Kids with ADHD depend on the people they respect, and they assume these people have an omniscient understanding of who they really are and what’s the best direction for them. (We often don’t catch on that adults are as clueless as we are until it’s too late). Don’t wait! Discuss potential career paths as soon as possible.
Career Counseling: Next Steps
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