In 2006, at 42 years of age, Jay Carter was diagnosed with ADHD. Trying to understand his daughter’s learning challenges, he read Driven to Distraction, by Ned Hallowell and John Ratey. “On every page, I said, this is me, this is me, this is me,” says Carter, who was officially diagnosed at a local assessment center. “The missing piece of the puzzle was understanding my ADHD and how it manifests itself and how it impacts my life.”
He laughs recalling the day he walked into Starbucks on his way to the 2008 ADDA Conference and saw the headline on the front page of the local paper: “ADHD – it’s not just for kids anymore.” A few days earlier, Carter sat in that very Starbucks and, over a couple of lattes, told a reporter his story.
“I tell people I disclosed my ADHD to the entire state of Minnesota and half the state of Wisconsin,” Carter says. “But that article actually opened a lot of doors for me.” He wasn’t nervous about disclosing his ADHD, although he does admit to second thoughts in the days leading up to it. “But for me, it was the right thing to do and I thought my employer would be supportive enough that it wouldn’t be an issue, and it really hasn’t been,” says Carter, who has worked for the same Fortune 100 company for 14 years.
“At work, people streamed by my door, saying it ‘explains a lot,’ but every single one of them also said, ‘my wife,’ ‘my brother,’ ‘my son,’ ‘my daughter’ – they all had someone within one degree of separation with ADHD. I think it helped people understand that ADHD is just as much an adult condition.”
As a result of that article, Carter’s company asked him to sit on the Disability Advisory Committee, a volunteer committee that advises the company on all things pertaining to disabilities such as accommodations and education. A year later, he was asked to co-chair that committee, which he has been doing ever since. Carter also serves on the board of the Minnesota Business Leadership Network, which is focused on disabilities in the work place, and in 2010 became chairman of that board, which is the only employer-led organization that helps promote, hire, train and recruit people with disabilities. Carter also sits on the corporate advisory board of the United States Business Leadership Network.
“It’s a way to help a lot of people,” Carter says. “For example, I wanted accommodations for myself, but rather than just making the request to my department, which would have been quicker and easier, I went through corporate channels to help my company understand accommodations for people with ADHD, blazing the trail for others. It took a long time, but the next person can say, ‘I want what he’s got,’ and it’s already in the system. It has been really rewarding, though it’s always a challenge to help the company, and to help people in general, understand the best approaches and best practices for disabilities in the workplace.”
Companies react well when someone says, “I can’t lift 25 pounds higher than my waist,” according to Carter. “The doctor tells us what to do, and we do it. But other accommodations must be co-created between the person who needs them and the person who is going to give them.” Carter emphasized that more than half of all accommodations for people with ADHD cost nothing at all, and 75 percent of all accommodations, no matter what the disability, cost less than $500. Accommodations can be as easy as finding an office for an employee in a quieter location, helping someone with time management, and even some coaching is an option.
Carter has paid for some accommodations himself, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, speech recognition software, but his company purchased the Mind Mapping software he finds indispensable. One of the most important accommodations the company made for Carter is providing him some administrative help in the form of a virtual assistant. “That has really made a big difference in my personal productivity,” he says.
Carter admits he was lucky his employer is understanding, but he assures others that in most cases, people with disabilities can get what they need to be a more productive employee without disclosing everything. “I tell people to disclose just what you must to get what you need. You can say, ‘I have trouble concentrating,’ or ask your boss to list your tasks in order of priority so you will know what to work on first.”
Since being diagnosed with ADHD and working with a coach, Carter feels he has made large strides in his career. Even with the poor economy, while Carter says he couldn’t ask for a raise, he was able to ask for a promotion, something that would have been impossible without the knowledge he now has about his ADHD. Inspired by his own coaching experience, Carter is now a certified ADHD coach himself and runs, Hyperfocused Coaching Systems, LLC. “I really wanted to help others and have the same kind of impact on others that my coach had on me.”
Judy Brenis is an ADHD coach based in Santa Cruz, California. ADHD has touched her life in the form of her 22-year-old daughter who was diagnosed with ADHD at age five, and Judy is passionate about helping those with ADHD create successful, happy, and healthy lives. Reach her at www.judyadhdcoaching.com.