A Research Paper By Isabelle Boucher, ADHD Coach, CANADA
The topic of my research paper is Coaching Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in the workplace. This topic is in line with my coaching niche established in my Coaching Model Paper.
The central piece of my research is to look at how coaching can help adults in the workplace that are either diagnosed with ADHD or have ADHD tendencies. I will begin by exploring what is ADHD, what are the signs and/or symptoms of ADHD workers, then I will explore how coaching can help and discuss an unexpected discovery I have made related to coaching adults with ADHD.
My research is very specific in terms of individuals with ADHD as it focuses on adults in the workplace. During my research, it has become clear that there are very few studies that focus on adults with ADHD in the workplace. Most studies and research papers
Found, generally focused on adults with ADHD and college students with ADHD.
Although I have found some research linked to the workplace, it has become clear that the adult person who suffers from ADHD will experience similarities whether in the workplace, in college, or at home. That being said, all research, whether anecdotal, scientific, or documentation review, indicate that coaching adults with ADHD is beneficial.
What is ADHD?
To better understand how coaching can help adults in the workplace who are diagnosed with ADHD, it is important to explain ADHD. According to Psychology Today, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurobiological disorder that can impact children and adults alike. It is a lack of development or weakness in executive skills.
According to neuroscientists, executive skills are located in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain: “The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is just behind the forehead”. Although there are is no known clear cause for ADHD, it is suspected that brain injuries, premature birth or low weight at birth, or genetics could influence the development of executive skills.
Executive skills, or sometimes referred to as functioning skills, are skills that help us facilitate and achieve our goals. In other words, they help us execute tasks. The better these skills work, the better we are at executing the tasks at hand.
There are seven main executive skills: planning, organizing, time management, self-control, self-monitoring, working memory, and adaptable thinking. Some symptoms of ADHD or lack of executive skills are:
- Difficulty prioritizing tasks
- Difficulty starting or finishing a task
- Overly emotional reactions
- Loses items easily
- Often/easily distracted by outside stimuli
- Difficulty managing time
- Often late
Signs and Symptoms of ADHD Sufferers in the Workplace
Now that we’ve identified the main executive skills and some of the symptoms, it’s important to turn our focus to the symptoms of ADHD in the workplace. The following are symptoms that an adult can experience if that person has been diagnosed with ADHD or is considered to have ADHD tendencies.
Some of these symptoms are:
- Easily distracted by external distractions (noise or movement, open office concept) or internal distractions (the person is daydreaming, or their mind is wandering).
- Impulsiveness such as temper outbursts or impulsive actions or reactions that are either physically or emotionally based
- Hyperactivity: the person fidgets, moves a lot cannot seem to stay still or sit for the duration of a meeting. If a person has a job where it requires them to sit for long periods of time, it can be very difficult when they suffer from hyperactivity.
- Poor memory: the worker forgets or misses deadlines, cannot remember their responsibilities or tasks to be completed, loses their office key, for example.
- Lack of attention: the lack of stimulation will make the worker bored easily when it comes to certain tasks such as paperwork or routine tasks. They get bored quickly and lose attention.
- Time management skills: difficulty meeting deadlines, completing tasks on time, or the worker is taking longer than required to perform a task, can often be late to start their workday or late for meetings.
- Procrastination: procrastination is an issue for the worker that suffers from ADHD. It is difficult for them to start a task because they may lack organizational skills, they do not know where to start, they are bored with the task, etc.
- Difficulty managing long-term projects: long term projects require several executive skills such as time management, organizational skills, planning, communication skills, etc. which can be challenging if the person lacks these skills.
- Completing paperwork: maintaining details, information, and files is difficult because of the attention required to details, organizational skills, etc.
- Communication or interpersonal/social skills: it can be difficult for a worker to be part of a team because they have difficulty controlling impulses such as interrupting others, talking too much, blurting out, or are being blunt with colleagues.
- Disorganization: misplaces documents or files, disorganized workspace.
How Can Coaching Help Individuals With ADHD in the Workplace
As previously mentioned, few studies focus on ADHD in the workplace specifically. However, most challenges and benefits, whether it be in the workplace, in college, or at home, have similarities.
Similar benefits are linked to improved executive functioning skills, better management of emotions & behaviors, and achievement of overall goals.
In terms of executive functioning skills, coaching helps coachees by improving their organizational skills. What is meant in terms of organization skills are time management such as estimating how long a task may take, when to start and when to finish.
Another executive skill is around project management such as establishing the required tasks to be done and estimating the time each task will take. These also fit in with prioritizing the tasks themselves, organizing office space, organizing space at home, keeping files in order, and keeping proper notes and records.
With regards to better management of emotions and behaviors, several sources indicate similar findings such as improved self-esteem and self-confidence. Many sources indicate that there is less blame and shame from the coachee. The adult suffering from ADHD also experiences a reduction in anxiety, stress, worry, and feeling overwhelmed.
Some documentation specifies that an improvement in the management of stress is also a benefit of ADHD coaching. Also, an increase in self-motivation is also cited as beneficial to the coachee-client.
Another benefit that has been found in research is an improvement in modulating emotions. The definition of modulating emotions, according to Abuse and Relations is:
“Emotional modulation means that reducing the intensity of an emotional experience or the length of time one experiences a dominant emotion.”
One of the symptoms of a person experiencing ADHD-like symptoms or diagnosed with ADHD is one impulsiveness. With ADHD coaching, impulse behavior is better managed over time.
With regards to the achievement of overall goals, coaching can help ADHD adults realizing their goals by reducing procrastination. Procrastination is a symptom of ADHD that can be addressed and improved by adults in the workplace and college.
Other interesting benefits filed under the achievement of overall goals, are course correction, learning to set boundaries for themselves, better manage distractions around them, improvement of memory, to name a few examples.
Adults diagnosed with ADHD can benefit from coaching so that it can better support them in their work and their studies, including working as part of a team and on their own.
There is no doubt that coaching can benefit adults and students alike. However, I was taken aback by the fact that pure coaching is not the best way to coach adults with ADHD.
Surprise Finding in Coaching Adults With ADHD
As previously noted in the introduction portion of my research, I did come across a surprising fact. This fact is related to coaching. Most sources and references that I have used indicate that coaching ADHD adults require specific training.
ADDitudemag.com, in its article Shopping for A Coach, quotes ADHD Coach Michele Novotni, Ph.D., SCAC, as explaining:
“strategies that work for clients without ADHD often don’t work for people with ADHD, whose brains are wired differently.”
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) recognizes ADHD coaching as a specific area of expertise. The ICF recognizes several coaching programs for ADHD individuals such as adults, students, kids, and parents of children with ADHD.
Although specific training is recommended to coach ADHD adults, there are some similarities to pure coaching. Notably, establishing long-term goals and session goals, identifying challenges or obstacles, and how to overcome them. More specifically, asking open-ended questions, paraphrasing, accountability, and acknowledgment.
Where ADHD coaching seems to differ from ICA’s coaching program is in helping the coachee (also referred to as the client) understand how ADHD affects them specifically – strengths and weaknesses. Other differences include the coach setting up a written plan with the client to reach the long-term goal, the coach provides instructions on tasks such as what actions to take, the coach creates systems that support and improve the clients’ executive skills, the coach measures progress, for examples.
The premise of coaching where the client has the answers and the coach helps uncover these answers does not necessarily apply in ADHD coaching. That is in part due to the executive skills the client is lacking.
The topic of my research paper was set to look into ADHD adults in the workplace.
I have found only a handful of resources speaking to this topic. However, it appears that broader research on ADHD adults, in general, would have been more appropriate as there are more resources on the latter.
Nonetheless, it has become clear to me, as I researched, that no matter the environment the ADHD adults find themselves in, they have similar struggles at home, in school, or the workplace. The lack of executive skills and their symptoms are similar whether it be in school, at home, or work – there can be deadlines in all 3 environments that can be missed, for example. Other examples can be that the ADHD adult or the client, is easily distracted by noise; this can show up at home when trying to cook a recipe, in the workplace when it comes to writing a report due for a meeting, or in school when trying to study for a test.
Based on the findings of my research as a coach, it is clear to me that having a good understanding of the ADHD brain, how it is wired differently and its effects on the person are key to successfully coach an ADHD adult.
The Smart But Scattered Guide to Success, Peg Dawson EdD, Richard Guare Ph.D.
Coaching Students with Executive Skills Deficits, Peg Dawson, Richard Guare
Joyce A. Kubik, The Efficacy of ADHD Coaching for Adults with ADHD, Journal of Attention Disorders, Volume 13, 442-453 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1087054708329960