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5 Ways to Empower Employees or Kids With ADHD

ADHD is a trip. That trip often takes me to some of the best places imaginable, but can also lead me down a path so convoluted I swear Dante wrote a book about it. I’ve tried them all: Post its advancing like an army across desks, pinboards, endless planners, or turnkey “systems” — you name it. But my ADHD never felt “at home” with those. My business partner tried getting me into the software route: Airtable, Monday, Asana — you get the picture. But none of them got to the root of the issue: consistency isn’t about the system, it’s ultimately about the user.

I was recently asked to speak to a group of students and parents who were a part of the amazing LD Alliance program through Eye 2 Eye, a national organization focused on empowering kids with learning differences through several great initiatives ranging from their Near Peer program that pairs middle school-aged kids with LD with high school-aged mentors. In doing this talk on transitions, my career path, and ways I found to make my ADHD work for me, I realized that a lot of us spend a lot of time with trial and error, figuring out systems that work for our brains.

What I realized mid-talk was the importance of that trial and error. Of the space my business partner created for me when giving me license to fail or succeed at honing in on the right system or set of tools that mesh well with the way my brain processes and stores information. Those of us with ADHD have some wonderful superpowers. But we sometimes need help figuring them out or dialing them in.

That’s why after speaking to these kids, I wanted to write this short piece for the parents, teachers, and colleagues of us wonderful ADHD-ers. In my everyday life at Little Red Fashion, I spend hours a day looking for ways to better serve kids, families, and educators. When it comes to those of us with ADHD? Give us space to fail. Give us the license to try new or hybrid systems. If one doesn’t work, let us try another. If you notice common threads between what does work, tell us!

One of the greatest things we ADHD folks can receive is knowing we have the flexibility and accommodations to meet the needs of our unique brand of this condition.

Here are five ways to empower employees or kids with ADHD:

1. Organization isn’t as straightforward as you may think.

Many of us with ADHD have object impermanence. If it’s not in front of us, we forget about it! That makes the fact that clutter can easily overwhelm us and distract us even more difficult. Look for organizational or storage solutions that keep things visible but sorted. I find those work best for me so that I don’t forget about something but I don’t feel chaotic.

2. Keep one foot in front of the other.

Seriously, if the ADHD person in your life (who might be you) is prone to making lists that go nowhere, this is for you. Planning is great, but over-planning is a killer, especially for those of us with ADHD. Why? Because a giant to-do list gets intimidating, and it hides the dopamine fix we get from our small and medium wins. Set yourself or your ADHD-er up for success by making sure tasks are done one at a time and that strategic planning for list-making doesn’t get out of hand in a way that de-motivates. We need to chase the dopamine! Making small, measurable wins into a series of accomplishments helps us do that. For me, that means doing top-down strategic planning at regular intervals, then breaking that down by week and then by day into digestible bits. It helps if you can have a soundboard who doesn’t have ADHD, but if you don’t, that’s OK too!

2. Deadlines are our friends.

Seriously, we work well under pressure. Sometimes too well. Help make sure you or your ADHD-er have solid deadlines and keep them. It’s amazing how much we flourish under the gun, but we can’t make the mistake of procrastinating ourselves into a corner. That can happen all too easily if left unchecked. Friendly deadline reminders are great.

3. Don’t be afraid of delegation.

If you can’t do something, don’t. If you can afford to or are able to, delegate the things that trip you up because they aren’t in your wheelhouse. Let’s face it, those of us with ADHD are often not the greatest at doing things we don’t excel at off the bat. That’s OK! Play to your strengths and fill skill gaps related to your weaknesses. If you’re an entrepreneur, build your team around those weaknesses of yours as a leader. If you’re working with someone that has ADHD on your team or in the classroom, help them identify the best ways to cater to their unique skill sets or skill deficiencies. Give teams space to do so without fear of reprisal.

4. Communicate openly.

Seriously, this one is huge for a multitude of reasons. For one thing, our culture places a lot of shame and stigma on mental health in general, doubly so for those of us who are neurodivergent or who need accommodations to be our best selves. Communicating that your company/classroom/home etc. is a safe place for stigma-free discussions and needs assessments is hugely helpful, because too often we’re afraid to ask for help or the space to fail and experiment with what works for us! It’s not that we don’t want to thrive, we just hate being judged.

Let me close with this for those of you with ADHD like me: never be afraid to self-advocate. It can be hard to own our diagnosis in a culture that sometimes tells us it is “made up” or that we’re “lazy.” We aren’t. We’re just wired differently and that’s OK. In fact, that wiring is what makes us stellar in fast-paced entrepreneurial environments. Don’t take my word for it, the prevailing science agrees with me.  My best piece of advice to you all is to find the right space to have a license to experiment and find what works for you. Be open and fail quickly, then learn from it and adapt to find what works better.

Image via Emily Swift Studios.

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