ADD/ADHD problems and tech writing/editing careers?

Subject: ADD/ADHD problems and tech writing/editing careers?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 2004 10:49:04 -0400


Anne Davis wondered: <<I am struggling with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and, looking back on my career, it makes sense that I was diagnosed with this problem. Even though I consider myself a decent reader and writer... I continue to have a lot of trouble concentrating and focusing on large or complex documents, following instructions (written and oral), following through on writing tasks, getting jumbled up when handling forms and paperwork, ineffective time management, trouble being on time, and generally feeling/being lost in space most of the time.>>

Sounds an awful lot like my son, and I can't tell you how reassuring it is to hear that you made it through; it's my biggest ongoing stress trying to figure out how to help the poor kid cope.

You didn't mention whether you had received professional counselling and treatment by a qualified psychiatrist. Ritalin has gotten a bad rap because it's overprescribed by doctors who don't understand ADD, and who increase the doses until kids are zombified rather than helped. I can tell you from firsthand experience that if you need it, you need it bad, and that it works. Matt picked up 2 years of reading skills in the space of a couple months once we put him on Ritalin, and began developing normal social skills. I can also assure you that he wasn't even remotely sedated by the pills. On the contrary, there were times when we guiltily wished that he had been so we could have a break.

<<In any case, my question is, where to go from here.>>

First step is to consult with an expert; your GP (family doctor) is almost certainly _not_ an expert, but can probably refer you to one. Many adults are belatedly diagnosed (including my cousin's wife) and find someone to work with them on finding a combination of pharmaceuticals and training/counselling.

With a firm diagnosis and treatment plan in hand, you can now talk to your boss: "I have a medical disability, and here's how I'm coping with it. I may need you to be understanding with me, and work with me to find solutions that work for both of us." For example, many kids with dyslexia are granted special priveleges when taking tests: extra time, a private and quiet workspace with no distractions, makeup tests, etc. This is very difficult to do in the modern workplace, but perhaps you can come up with at least something that will help (see below).

One thing that can works well, or at least better than the old way, is "active listening": When you have a conversation with someone or receive instructions, always paraphrase what they told you and ask them to confirm that you understood. (This works for all of us, but can be crucial for people with perceptual difficulties.) Try asking your colleagues to adopt this approach with you. "Anne, I'd like you to repeat what I just said. Yes, that's right. No, you missed a point. Let's try again." It can be awfully humiliating to have to do this (you feel stupid), but it really can work.

<<Do I continue to try to make my ADD brain fit a highly-focused, attention-to-detail technical writing career, even though it's been a struggle for 10 years with no promotions, 5 layoffs (some were due to the economy, but not all), and numerous difficulties on the job with frustrated coworkers and bosses, not to mention the work itself--or search for a completely different career path.>>

If you're enjoying the work, stick with it and see whether your medication helps. ADD doesn't inevitably prevent you from doing excruciatingly detailed work; a good friend is a top-notch computer programmer despite his ADD, and he's learned to manage it very well indeed. Another friend with ADD is a top-notch medical writer and editor.

<<It gets to be frustrating and even demoralizing when bosses tell you "I know you can do this," only to find that "you missed so much" and "what's wrong with you, why aren't you getting it?">>

What these people fail to understand is that this kind of advice or encouragement is akin to telling a diabetic "if you try real hard, you don't need insulin". They don't understand that ADD is a biochemical problem that needs (at least in part) a biochemical solution. It's not simply "bad attitude" on your part.

I suspect that I have a light case of ADD, and that Matt got a more full-blown version from me; one reason I spend so much time in e-mail is that I can't concentrate for long stretches on any one thing, and need frequent breaks to release all that pent up mental energy. Who'd have figured that I'd be able to work professionally as an editor?

--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)


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References:
ADD/ADHD Problems and Tech Writing/Editing Careers: From: Anne G. Davis

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