Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD) Overview

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) Is a condition which affects someone’s behaviour. They may seem restless, impulsive and unable to concentrate on tasks. Most people are diagnosed in childhood and their symptoms improve once they are into adulthood. ADHD affects 2% of adults in the UK, with the majority being male.

What are the signs and symptoms of ADHD?

People with ADHD experience different symptoms and some may struggle with hyperactivity and not their attention span, or vice versa, while some people will have difficulty with both these things. Some examples of signs of ADHD in an individual may include:

  • Short attention span
  • Careless mistakes in work
  • Losing things
  • Struggling to listen to instructions
  • Inability to organise oneself
  • Fidgeting
  • Seeming unaware of potential dangers
  • Excessive talking and moving

Some people with ADHD may also experience anxietysleeping difficulties and depression. People often have ADHD alongside other conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and dyslexia.

How does ADHD get diagnosed and treated?

Fewer people are diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood as symptoms evolve. One example of this is that hyperactivity decreases, whereas attention span also worsens as the person is required to juggle more adult-level responsibility.

It is not possible to prevent ADHD, as it is thought to be in large part genetic or linked to epilepsy and premature birth.

The first steps towards diagnosis would be to discuss symptoms with a GP. These are then monitored over a period of weeks for signs of improvement.

If the life of the person with suspected ADHD is continuing to be adversely affected, a GP can refer that person for assessment. This is usually with a psychiatrist or learning disability specialist. Criteria for diagnosis include at least six months of showing symptoms, symptoms displayed at home and at school and symptoms that cannot simply be accounted for by developmental side effects, such as ‘growing up’, or ‘growing out’ of a difficult childhood phase behaviourally.

In adults, the symptoms which are key to diagnosis involve difficulties maintaining relationships at work and in one’s personal life. There also must have been evidence of symptoms going back into childhood, as ADHD cannot develop in adulthood.

Medication to increase activity in the part of the brain that controls attention span can be prescribed, at first in small doses. 

Therapy is also available and it can also help with related anxiety or sleep problems that someone with ADHD may be experiencing alongside. Parents are often offered therapy too to help educate them on the best way to cope with their child’s ADHD.

There are a few ways to determine whether an employee with ADHD might require reasonable adjustments:

The employee may or may not wish to disclose their ADHD, as many people have developed strategies for ‘masking’ their ADHD by the time they reach adulthood. Regardless, questions about the nature of any additional needs and what extra support may be required can be broached sensitively. For example:

  • Have they required adjustments in the past? It may be easy to assume that someone of working age cannot have ADHD as it is associated with childhood, but it is important that an employer does not jump to these sorts of conclusions or assumptions.
  • Diagnostic reports can be provided by an occupational therapist as proof of requirement for reasonable adjustments. Reports from the person’s time at school such as Education Health and Care Plans (ECHPs) can also fulfil this function.

What reasonable adjustments are possible for employees with ADHD?

Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with ADHD if they know, are aware of, or could ‘reasonably be expected to know’ that the employee has ADHD. Most employees will tell their employer what reasonable adjustments they need. They often involve simple changes in the way an employer might usually do things.

If the employee does not disclose a health issue or disability which may affect their performance upfront, an employer should broach the subject sensitively if they suspect that there may be a disability behind the employee’s reduced performance. Reasonable adjustments can then be made in accordance with the employee’s needs, including, in the case of ADHD:

  • Extra time to complete tasks to accommodate difficulties the person may have with planning, organising or writing, if they also have dyslexia.
  • A structured working day to allow the employee to concentrate more easily.
  • An active role, so that any hyperactivity can be channelled and put to good use.
  • Sensory adjustments, for example, reducing background noise to aid with concentration.
  • Raising awareness so that colleagues understand the employee’s ADHD and can help ensure the employee feels comfortable at work. This might involve learning more about the condition to gain a better understanding of what the employee might be facing day-to-day.

ADHD Signposting

ADHD Foundation – organisation working to improve attitudes to ADHD and other neurodiverse conditions, allowing these people to make use of their skills in a work setting and become more independent (0151 237 2661).

National ADHD Information and Support Service – service for information and resources to help people living with ADHD, those caring for them and those treating them in a healthcare capacity (020 8952 2800).

Mind – mental health charity with resources and advice to support someone with ADHD and the impact this may have on their mental health (0300 123 3393).

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