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Transitioning from College to the Workplace with ADHD

Joining the workforce is a challenge for anyone. For someone with ADHD, it can seem like an uphill climb with no end in sight. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

It is important for parents and caregivers to prepare the student for the transition into real life before college ends. A critical study (Newman et al, 2011) has shown that a mere 20 percent of students with ADHD seek accommodations while in school. One of the reasons may be that it is the students, not the parents, who are required to reveal the disability and request help. But students with ADHD may not be aware of the problems which they are likely to face or of the help that may be available. As a result, they may not ask for assistance.

Families that help ADHD students handle the requirements of college are essentially providing them with the necessary skills that will help them integrate skills into the workforce. These skills can be learned. The ADHD student may simply need some additional support.

Building Important Skills

Even students without ADHD find college a challenge, and the problems are amplified for someone with ADHD. The efforts of family to instill basic self-care skills while the student is still in college will become invaluable when the student faces his or her first job. This includes proper sleeping habits, eating, and forming relationships with peers. On a daily basis, the ADHD student should be making goals (even if only small ones) and be encouraged to follow through. By making use of a to-do list, the student can break down his day into manageable portions.

Encourage the ADHD student to write down all expected tasks (including details such as lunch breaks) and to check them off when completed. When an ADHD student experiences success at these daily habits, increased self-esteem and a sense of empowerment will follow. The more he or she can do by himself, the better he will be prepared to navigate independently on a job. It’s important for families to realize that these are small steps that keep building into self-reliant behavior.

While this skill-building is important, it is equally as important for the ADHD student to understand the necessity and benefits of relaxation, exercise, and having fun. These are not indulgences yet are instead an important part of being a well-balanced person who is ready to face the world.

Additional Support

Along with counselors and medical personnel, the family can monitor the student’s progress and help during difficult times. If he or she is taking medication, it is essential that pills are not abused or left untaken. Again, close monitoring can ensure success in that area. This should be done with consistent praise for any positive accomplishment. Praise will invariably bolster self-confidence and lead to greater positive results. The more positive the ADHD student’s self-image, the easier it will be to face the challenges that follow college.

Prior to or following graduation, a meeting with a career counsellor can lead to a job most suitable to the ADHD student’s talents. Some people simply function better in a less structured and more creative environment, and a counsellor can advise of a variety of opportunities and options. Many successful people with ADHD have learned to channel their innate restlessness into thriving entrepreneurship.

ADHD on the Job

Proper preparation in college can make the difference between success and failure in the workplace for an individual with ADHD. On the job, ADHD symptoms, such as having difficulty with concentration and remaining organized, can be especially troublesome. But with the skills already learned, they can become very manageable.

To-Do Lists

It can be difficult for someone with ADHD to remain focused. The workplace offers a myriad of distractions on a constant basis. This is where the habit of keeping a to-do list is invaluable. Everything should be written down: meetings, calls to be returned, people with whom to speak and plan, and projects that need to be finished. More than likely, this list will change frequently and need adjusting, but it is a tool that can keep the employee with ADHD organized and on top of things. Making lists in college will transfer naturally and easily to making daily to-do lists at work.


Exercise has been proven to help alleviate stress. Anyone with ADHD should make short exercise breaks a part of his or her daily schedule. This can include taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking to work instead of riding the bus.

Time Management

The workplace requires greater time-management than college. Help your ADHD family member set specific time limits for tasks. This can be incorporated with the to-do list. For example, “check emails – 10 minutes,” “prepare report – 2 hours.” In addition to the list, setting an alarm can be very useful.

Note Taking

The more notes the ADHD student took in school, the easier it will be to take notes at work. Taking notes will keep him or her focused and prevents the sense of restlessness that can be a part of ADHD.

Peer Accountability

If possible, find a work buddy to help keep the ADHD employee on track and accountable.

ADHD Accommodations at Work

Finally, learn about possible accommodations offered by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. Employers are eager to retain talented employees and will often consider easy and inexpensive accommodations that can help someone work more easily and productively.

The transition between college and work is both challenging and rewarding. The more life-skills the ADHD family member has developed in preparation for this step, the easier it will be.

It can be beneficial to talk to a professional about challenges with ADHD or other mental health problems. Our Resource Specialists can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community.

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Author Bio: Courtney Cosby is a contributor at ADD Hero and has been writing about mental health for many years.


The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc.

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1 thoughts on “Transitioning from College to the Workplace with ADHD

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