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Study Looks at Compensation Strategies in Adult ADHD

A recent study looked at compensation in adult ADHD and found out that, actually, we don’t get compensated very well for having this disorder. Especially given how much time we have to spend on the job.

OrganizedOh wait, sorry, after reading in a little more detail, it looks like they’re talking about the other kind of compensation. The researchers interviewed 32 adults with ADHD to look for general themes in how adults cope with the disorder. Here are some of the common coping strategies they found.

1. Organizational Systems

Many of the adults they interviewed had developed strict organizational systems to keep themselves on track. These included keeping lists and using reminder smartphone apps. Here’s what one person said:

… over the years, I have developed strategies to cope with day-to-day work, like really closely structured check lists for every work step. So that I don’t forget anything. Because otherwise, even after three years in this job, I would still forget the correct procedures …

Interestingly, multiple people interviewed said they had eliminated paper from their lives entirely, partly because of a tendency to lose papers.

Several people said that they planned out their weeks rigidly and adhered to strict schedules and routines to stay on course.

Some people noted that these organizational skills that helped them compensate had been taught to them by their parents. So parents, take note – if you have a kid with ADHD, now’s the time to start helping them find coping strategies that work!

2. Task Switching

I’d never really thought about this, but it makes sense: if you’re having a hard time focusing on something, it can be better to stay productive by switching to a different task rather than wasting time forcing yourself to try and concentrate on something you can’t concentrate on.

Several of the people interviewed said being able to change tasks helped them appease their restlessness and stay productive when inattention interfered with their ability to stay focused on one thing for an extended period of time.

For some people, it was important to find a work environment where they could work in this way:

… That is probably why I stayed for so many years at the laboratory … I liked it there. I always had interesting tasks but they never took longer than half an hour. And then I could switch to another device and walk around and there was always something going on …

3. Movement

People frequently reported that being able to release their hyperactivity through movement helped them stay productive. This included exercising, playing sports and fidgeting while working.

However, some people also described taking steps to counteract their hyperactivity. One person described physically tying themselves into their chair. I have to say, that is not a coping technique I would find helpful, but I guess it goes to show that different things work for different people!

4. Drugs

People with ADHD often self-medicate with legal and illegal substances, and these interviews certainly seemed to fit with that.

Multiple people described using caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and marijuana to calm themselves down, improve their focus, or otherwise help with their ADHD symptoms. Over a third of the people interviewed described using cocaine, consistent with the idea that people with ADHD often self-medicate with illicit stimulants.

Of course, the researchers aren’t recommending cocaine use as a coping mechanism! Rather, the salient point is that when people have untreated ADHD, they commonly self-medicate, including with illicit drugs, which highlights the importance of correctly diagnosing ADHD.

These aren’t the only compensation strategies the researchers found. I’d encourage you to read the full article, which is freely available and includes lots of quotes from the interviewees. If you have any thoughts on these coping strategies, leave them below!

Image: Flickr/Uwe Hermann

Study Looks at Compensation Strategies in Adult ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2017). Study Looks at Compensation Strategies in Adult ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Oct 2017
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