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Study Looks at How Adults With ADHD Compensate

When you have ADHD, you find ways to compensate. Many people with ADHD start intuitively developing coping strategies before they even know they have ADHD.

StickyThese strategies can range from seeking out an ADHD-friendly work environment to finding an organizational system that counteracts some of the effects of inattention and hyperactivity. I talk about coping strategies a lot on this blog because structuring your life in a way that’s in tune with your brain can make all the difference.

Happily, I’m not the only one interested in the different ways adults with ADHD compensate. A team of researchers from University of British Columbia have just published a study looking at compensatory strategies used by 49 adults with ADHD symptoms.

Everyone participating in the study was interviewed about the coping strategies they used, and the researchers then divided up coping strategies in terms of the following categories:

  • Adaptation
  • Avoidance
  • External Support
  • Organization
  • Paying Attention

Looking through the data they’d collected, the researchers noticed a few interesting patterns.

First, there was overlap between the compensatory strategies people used in childhood and the strategies they used in adulthood. For parents and teachers working with children with ADHD, the takeaway here is clear: help children develop ADHD coping skills now, and it’ll pay off later.

The researchers then looked at whether certain coping strategies were more suited to certain symptoms and whether some coping strategies seemed to work better than others.

They found that compensatory strategies involving Organization and External Support tended to be used for dealing with inattentive rather than hyperactive symptoms. This makes sense when you consider that a killer organizational system will help you keep from losing things but probably won’t make you more patient, for example.

Even more interesting, the psychologists carrying out the study showed that compensatory strategies involving Adaptation were associated with better functioning. These strategies also led to ADHD symptoms having less of a negative impact when it came to parenting difficulties.

So we get to an important point about life with ADHD: adapting your environment and your life to fit with the way your brain works is one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself. You can’t will ADHD symptoms away. Pretending like you don’t have ADHD and living your life exactly as you would if you were someone without ADHD won’t actually make you someone without ADHD. But if you embrace your strengths and find an environment that doesn’t clash with the way you’re wired, you can thrive.

That’s not to say that Adaptation, as the researchers called it, is an easy coping strategy. In many cases, adapting your environment to the way your brain works can be harder than other coping strategies like deciding to follow a certain organization system because it can mean making big changes.

But the basic formula is to try a lot of different things and see what sticks. Find the things that are in sync with the way your brain works and do those things as much as possible.

Accepting your ADHD symptoms and working with them instead of against them will make you freer and will make life with ADHD less stressful and chaotic. But you don’t have to take my word for it – now I can just tell you to look at the science! πŸ˜‰

What are some ways you compensate for ADHD symptoms? Please share!

Image: Byrne

Study Looks at How Adults With ADHD Compensate

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2016). Study Looks at How Adults With ADHD Compensate. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 18, 2019, from


Last updated: 15 Sep 2016
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