Career Counseling for Children with ADHD: Advice for Parents

Those of us with ADHD are good at a lot of things—but finding and maintaining a definitive long-term career path, not so much.

Telling ourselves that “we can be anything we want if we put our mind to it” is like dropping us in the middle of the ocean and telling us to swim to shore. Michael Phelps could train our shots and we still wouldn’t know which direction to swim. Everything would appear the same shade of blue, and we would focus on the eerie feeling of a shark lurking nearby, staring at us. We could become so confused, intimidated, and paralyzed with indecisiveness that we would most likely drown.

Parents, don’t despair! You can support your teen with ADHD and help them find a promising career. As a former ADHD teen who also taught ADHD teens, I picked up some lessons for ADHD youth caregivers.

Career Advice Tip #1: Love us

Give your child with ADHD the time they don’t give themselves. Take an intense interest in your children and take care of them a lot of Love, imagination and patience – especially when they are annoying or rebellious.

Career Advice Tip #2: Focus on who we are, not what you expect from us

Focus less on what you want your child to be and more on what job could make them happiest in 20 years. I have a friend with ADHD whose mother pushed her to pursue a career in law. My friend forced her way through law school and spent 20 years in a job, all of which she hated because her mother saw “lawyer” as a sign of success.

[Read: Abandon Your Pre-Conceived Notions of ‘Success’ (and More Advice for Parents of Teens with ADHD)]

She resented her mother for pushing her down this path and eventually told her at age 41. That’s a difficult conversation to have with yourself — let alone your mother. Now my friend works part time and uses her overtime to practice on her indeed interested and much happier.

Career Advice Tip #3: Don’t ask us what we want to be when we grow up

Many people with ADHD find it difficult to visualize the path to long-term success. 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 gross and scary and confusing and too long for us to handle. We keep trying to take the shortcuts from A to C, and then we get depressed when it fails. We need our parents to help us identify what’s important to us and then guide us down a B-path that sparks those interests on the path to success.

To find the best point C, think about what often distracts us when we’re under pressure. How can this “distraction” become something constructive? How do your children understand the world when they are anxious? If your child gets distracted by video games, pay attention to the types of games they love and try to understand how they engage in those games. These could benefit their broader learning and career prospects.

Career Advice Tip #4: Explain the boring bits

Children with ADHD need their parents to explain to them the harsh and boring realities of any dream career. What exactly does it mean when parents say a career will be “tough” and “hard work”? We are often more captivated by the prestigious image of ourselves in an almost fictionalized version than by reality. Offer unbiased, recently researched details about the challenges your child is likely to face in this career; Don’t be negative or discourage them from pursuing their dream, but be honest and give the accurate information they may have missed so they can weigh the reality of this commitment.

[Self-Test: Could Your Child Have ADHD?]

(I wish I had received this advice years ago. It could have given me more stability, contentment and direction in my professional and personal life.)

Career Advice Tip #5: Interest and interaction are everything

I became a journalist and teacher because of the diversity and creativity of my workload. I’m happy to fit in and persuade random strangers or overtly powerful people to talk to me about their remarkable experiences. Writing cleans my head and the world around me, 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 examining gross pimples, cuts, lumps, and orifices—not the other way around.” She works seemingly every hour of the day , because she cares deeply about them and feels an unrelenting fascination and satisfaction in her work.

Parenting Advice #6: Don’t Wait!

We are talented, intelligent, quick, energetic and creative – intrepid cavaliers in the face of exciting challenges. Basically, there’s nothing we can’t learn, as long as it’s consistently engaging and interactive (if possible).

Children with ADHD depend on the people who respect them and assume that those people have an omniscient understanding of who they are Yes, really are and what is the best direction for them. (We often only realize that adults are just as clueless as we are when it is too late). Do not wait! Discuss potential career paths as early as possible.

Career Advice: Next Steps

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