When ADHD and ASD leave school and college

As a therapist with ADHD myself I was so jealous of my school friends who knew what they wanted to be one day, as I had absolutely no idea myself. Later in life, I would describe them as having laser beam minds, they could concentrate on one thing and apply all of their energy to getting there. Yes, they may have wanted to become doctors and needed to pass physics chemistry and biology in one sitting, but at least they knew that. I on the other hand only knew what I didn't want to do, I didn't want to do typing, I didn't want to work in a shop and I was incredibly shy.

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Going through my working life I was more of a sparkler than a laser, each new job was a bright new shiny button which held my full attention at the beginning, meaning that I was usually very keen, got on well and got promoted quite quickly. Once the gloss wore off however I would find myself losing interest in the day-to-day humdrum activities, beginning to underperform and eventually walking from the job before they pushed me.

Rarely would I start to look for new employment before leaving somewhere, this was a lesson which only came much later as my personal responsibilities increased. This is often the pattern when looking at the CVS of the neurodiverse, pretty different occupations which seemed to have jumped around all over the place, like the brilliant sparks from that sparkler darting in different directions all over the place.

Many of the young people I see in therapy have gone through school avoiding the lessons which were intended to equip them with life skills, how to balance budgets, how to actually look for work and keep a record of what they have applied for, how to care for themselves within their own homes because these were lessons they could bunk off quite easily as they did not lead to an exam. Ironically when they have left school or college or dropped out of university, they're often overcome with anxiety about what comes next. The idea of having to earn a living and become self-sufficient seems immense to them, they have no idea what to do and will often sit at home gaming and going nowhere. Procrastination reigns supreme.

Agonisingly the parents of these young people may not have encouraged them to register as unemployed because they do not like the idea of their YP sitting at home getting money for doing nothing. They don't realise that because of this they will not benefit from any of the help and support which can be given by the job centre. They will not have their national insurance contributions credited to them and as such may not qualify for a full pension if and when in the future they do retire from work.

When these young people present in counselling we work first of all with the idea that the job they take up first does not have to become their career for life. They simply need to take the first step in gaining work experience. Establishing some routine in their lives will get them used to getting up on time, showing up on time, and working for eight hours a day. Once this discipline is established, they can start to think about what it is they might actually like to be doing.

If a young person takes a job which they do not enjoy then they need to reframe how they are thinking about it, it is their ability to do that job which gives them the funding to pursue other things in life which could give them more enjoyment. Is there another course they may like to study in further education which would directly feed into a career? Taking up part-time study can mean that the humdrum job does not feel as if it has to last for the rest of their lives. Studying a course in which they have a special interest and one which they have paid to attend is not like school at all. Most importantly the job in which they are not inspired no longer feels as if they are in prison, but rather they are keeping their heads down and staying out of trouble while they formulate 'The Great Escape!'

I can honestly say that for me I did not pursue a career that I consciously chose to do until I was 50. I started at that time to study to be a counsellor, even though it had been an idea that I had had when I was 18. Starting the study at that time was actually quite scary, what if I didn't enjoy it, after all, I had no Plan B for this one. The recognition that the job I might be doing by the time I retire may not even have been invented yet, that I would have been learning new skills throughout my life, might have been useful for me to know back in school. It would have made me feel less of a failure when I left.

Education and learning are what can keep us young and just because our teenagers might not want to go to university most definitely does not condemn them to failing in life. Career advice in school can be poor if present at all. Watching my young neurodiverse clients start to have small successes and gain self-esteem for a job well done is such a real pleasure for me now. I try to be for them the counsellor that I wish that I had back at that age.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bromley, Kent, BR1 5GD
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Written by Sally Spigner, MBACP, Dip. Psychotherapeutic Counselling | CBT
Bromley, Kent, BR1 5GD

Aswell as being a counsellor with ADHD myself, I have seen this condition both from the side of parent and the client. I also have a special interest in helping the parents of children with SEND and medical challenges, as whilst there can be a lot of provision for the children, their co-journeying adults can find themselves in shreds.

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