California Lawyers Association

ADHD in the Age of COVID-19

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Heather Benton

By Heather A. Benton

As a person who is quite easily distracted and who can be chaotic without a concerted effort, I know the struggle to hold a full-time job and have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I’m more or less like Dug in the movie “Up” if that gives a reference. Squirrels, real or imagined, seriously distract me. I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was an adult, but the traits were all there in childhood.

Hindsight is always 20/20. I have learned tools to help me navigate my life. They don’t always work. My Assistant Chief Counsel at the State Compensation Insurance Fund still sometimes comes by to suggest I clean and organize my office, my task lists are often mislaid, and my bluntness (or honesty depending on how you look at it) can be difficult for some to accept. So if you’re like me and you have ADHD, how can you improve your daily functioning at work? I’ve outlined some solutions below along with some tools to help you work from home and/or assist your kids in remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is ADHD?

There are three types of ADHD according to the DSM-5: Predominantly Inattentive, Hyperactive-Impulsive, and Combined. Hallmarks of ADHD – Inattentive are 1) failing to pay close attention to details; 2) losing things; 3) avoiding or disliking tasks requiring sustained mental effort; and 4) not appearing to listen, among other things. Similarly, the Hyperactive-Impulsive presentation of ADHD bears traits such as 1) fidgety with hands or squirming in chairs; 2) difficulty engaging in activities quietly; 3) talking excessively; or 4) acting/feeling as if driven by a motor, along with other trademark symptoms. When you have Combined ADHD you can have characteristics of both types. For more information, visit Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).

ADHD progresses to adulthood in 35%-65% of cases. ADHD may affect adults in the workplace by causing distractibility (both internal – daydreaming, and external – noise and movement in the environment); impulsivity; hyperactivity, poor memory, boredom-blockouts; time management and project management difficulties; procrastination, and complications with social skills.

Working with ADHD

Even when there isn’t a melee outside, I close my office door when I can. I regularly get feedback from my assistant chief counsel. Those monthly one-on-ones are extremely beneficial. I always take notes in a meeting even if I also doodle loops and flowers on the paper. Notes help me stay focused and pay attention to what’s happening in the meeting. And Post-it notes…well, let’s just say I should have invested in them long ago. Breaks and lunchtime are useful tools to recalibrate the brain and get the body moving. It’s your choice whether to disclose your ADHD at work or not.

Managers should consider the unique characteristics of each of their employees and when working with someone with ADHD, they should consider assisting in setting timelines and requirements, assisting with prioritizing tasks, providing constructive feedback, and allowing the employee to take notes during meetings.

ADHD doesn’t have to control your life. Sometimes it gets the best of me, but if I make a concerted effort to put my tools into place, I have far more success. Though I confess, my office still needs work.

ADHD does not have to overpower you in the Age of COVID-19!

“ADHD’s emotional reactivity can create sky-high stress levels in the face of a global pandemic. Some may feel tearful, and others irritable. The relentless sense of danger triggers those who might have experienced trauma in their younger years.”

My reaction you ask? Well, many days I’d rather hang out chatting with my mom than working. This COVID-19 pandemic has created discontentment and confusion for everyone, including our own employees working from home. This is a new dynamic for all of us and can be challenging to navigate. Here are some tips to work more effectively from home.

  1. Find a quiet place and set a specific place to work. Make it a designated workspace and TRY to keep it tidy. (For us ADHDers, that last part may be difficult.)
  2. Create a schedule and routine for everything and avoid multitasking.
  3. Make realistic to-do lists.
  4. Minimize distractions like checking social media on your phone, chatting with family, or watching TV.

You might be asking, what if I’m not the one with ADHD? What if my child has it and I have to help them work from home? Here are some of the best ways to help you and your child be more efficient in a remote learning and working environment.

  1. Have your child maintain a normal routine with regular waking and dressing times.
  2. Block out time in your day to help your child make a schedule. Try to be available to get your child started on schoolwork each morning. Schedule your break time when your child has to log on for a live class.
  3. Set up automated reminders for your child using calendar reminders or the latest personal assistants who shall remain nameless. (We all know who they are.)
  4. Set up a check-in system for schoolwork.
  5. Set a time for breaks to avoid getting too off-task for too long.
  6. Emphasize recess daily.
  7. Encourage reading.
  8. Instead of a structured assignment try asking questions like:
    • What do you want to learn?
    • What would you like to make?
    • Who would you like to help?
    • What would you like to read?
    • Who do you want to write a letter to?
    • What do you want to teach the dogs?
    • What do you want to do yourself that I’ve been doing for you?
    • How would you like to rearrange your room?
    • What would you like to eat (and help make)?

Instead of focusing on the outcome, like the perfect crust on a strawberry pie, focus on the learning objectives in making the pie, like measuring, counting, etc.

Most of all, listen, laugh, and love!

If you have an interesting story, tool, or nugget of information about your experience with ADHD, please complete the RAVE survey. Your story may be used in a follow-up article at a later date. Be sure to test your knowledge of ADHD by completing the RAVE quiz as well. Below are some additional ADHD resources and tools that may be helpful to you.

Heather A. Benton is an Attorney III for the State Compensation Insurance Fund. She is also a member of the California Young Lawyers Association Board of Executives and the California Lawyers Association Board of Representatives.

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