ADHD – Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly shortened to ADHD, is a lifelong condition that causes impulsiveness and hyperactivity, while also effecting the ability to concentrate. Most countries consider ADHD to be a Specific Learning Difference, or SpLD.

It isn’t a disease or an illness, and cannot be cured. While not uncommon on its own, it is often diagnosed alongside other neurodivergent conditions like Autism or learning difficulties.

It is split into three types: predominately hyperactive, predominately inattentive, or combined. All three are referred to as ADHD.

How does it impact people?

ADHD will impact everyone differently. Some will have few problems that are easily controlled while others will have many difficulties which require medication to help control. ADHD usually causes; Restlessness or an inability to remain still for extended periods, difficulty managing boredom, difficulty in organising and managing tasks, a lack of awareness of their own behaviour, impulsive and addictive behaviour, a tendency to procrastinate, a lack of self esteem and a tendency to worry – both excessively and needlessly.

What about ADD (Attention deficit disorder)?

Until 1987, hyperactivity wasn’t thought to be a frequent or important symptom of ADHD. This meant that ADHD, as a diagnosis, didn’t exist. Instead ADD or Attention deficit disorder was the “official” name given to what we now call ADHD.

Hyperactivity is now considered to be both an important and frequent symptom of ADHD, with the conditions name being changed from ADD to ADHD to reflect this.

Both ADD and ADHD are the same condition, with the terms sometimes being used interchangeably by those with ADD.

The advantage of ADHD.

ADHD has the potential to be the “smoking gun” for success – but only when the employee is adequately supported. This is especially true in social or creative roles.

The main benefits someone with ADHD can leverage are:

  • Creativity, resulting in an ability to think “outside the box” and problem solve,
  • Resilience,
  • High levels of energy,
  • A spontaneous and courageous nature, caused by the need to try new experiences,
  • High levels of empathy and social intelligence, resulting in excellent communication skills,
  • An ability to hyper-focus on subjects which interest them,

These traits make those with ADHD well suited to roles such as:

  • Marine crisis management,
  • Maître D’ or other public facing hospitality roles,
  • Recruitment and human resources,
  • Sales,
  • Engineering officer roles, especially on ships where a more hands on approach is required,
  • VTS operator in a busy port,
  • Project management.

For example, someone with ADHD would likely excel at marine crisis management. They would see the “crisis” as a challenge to solve, turning their innate creativity and high levels of energy to make decisions in a rapidly evolving environment, adapting to any changes with ease. Their high levels of social intelligence would enable them to communicate effectively and efficiently with their team, acting as a “king pin” to ensure the crisis is resolved quickly and safely.

Recruiting talent.

ADHD can be a superpower – but it can only be unleashed if you give candidates a fighting chance. This means you need to make some adaptations to your recruitment process. Fear not though, they’re usually minor and have little-to-no cost.

Advertising the position.

Keep adverts concise and easy to read. Allowing the advert to be copied into a text-to-speech reader will make the advert more accessible, too.

Receiving applications.

Ensure that your application form has a section for the candidate to confidentially disclose their condition to you, alongside any adaptations they feel they will need – Never assume that someone holding a seafarers medical requires no adjustments.

Screening candidates.

The pre-interview sift can put those with ADHD at a disadvantage. Adjusting the sift  progress straight to interview can help. Psychometric testing results will be skewed by ADHD, so an alternative to this would be recommended in order to create a ‘level playing field’. You can still require candidates to sit job-specific exams, but the standard “finish X in Y” time can still disadvantage them as they will have a tendency to focus on the time restraint rather than the exam itself. If you need to use an exam as part of the screening process, provide it in an alternative, format so you are getting the best from your candidate.

The interview process – An alternative approach

Interviews are great for typical candidates, but they’re not the only approach to take – especially if you’re trying to recruit Neurodivergent talent. A workplace trial will allow your Neurodivergent candidates to truly shine, helping you to see first hand the talents and abilities they’re able to bring to the field.

This is even more true in the marine industry. If someone holds a certificate of competency there’s very few reasons not to give a candidate a single trip SEA and review their performance, instead of going through the usually lengthy and time consuming process of interviewing.

Avoid points based interview approaches. Preventing Neurodivergent talent from showing through, they introduce negative bias – especially in the post interview selection stage. Skills based approaches are a much better alternative that will help guard against this, helping you secure a candidate that has the right qualities for the position.

The interview process – Prior to interview.

As with any interview, it is important to provide the candidate with as much notice as possible. This allows them to not only prepare, but also bring any adjustments to light well in advance – Making the process much less stressful for all concerned.

Provide the candidate with a window of time to arrive for their interview instead of a set time. This will reduce the amount of stress the candidate is under, and prevents them from worrying about being tardy.

It is important to give the candidate as much information as possible about the interview. Providing basic instruction (for example: “Go to building X, proceed to the main reception and sign in. Ahmed from HR will escort you to the waiting area”) can also help.

Make sure they have a quiet place to wait before the interview that is free from distraction. This will help them remain focused on their interview.

If your pre-interview process requires the candidate to sit an exam, such as on maritime law or COLREGS, it is important to allow the candidate extra time to complete the task.

The interview process – During the interview.

ADHD can make sitting through an interview extremely stressful and demanding – Long periods of concentration, memory recall and repressing the need to move will all take their toll on the candidate. These stressors, unless properly managed, can negatively effect the performance of the candidate. Remember, the easier you make things for the candidate, the more they’re likely to shine. Consider;

  • Conducting the interview in a quiet area free from distraction,
  • Repeating things if the candidate seems unsure, uncertain or not fully focused,
  • Allowing the candidate to ask for a break if required,
  • Keeping questions short and direct. Don’t to ask multiple questions without giving the candidate chance to answer. Instead of asking long or complex questions, split them up into smaller, easier to answer “bite size” chunks,
  • Checking the candidate understands any information or instructions they’re given. Note that a simple “yes, I understand” may not be sufficient,
  • Making the interview interactive, stimulating and varied wherever possible,
  • Providing the candidate with a summary sheet of any information they’ve been given about the role, pay, conditions, etc.,
  • Prompting the candidate if they start to become distracted, are having trouble organising their thoughts or are struggling to focus,
  • Allowing the candidate to take notes, doodle or use fidget toys if needed,
  • Referring back to written information. For example, when asking questions about their CV, provide the candidate with a copy (if they don’t have their own) and physically point to the experience the question is referring to,
  • Letting the candidate walk, pace and move around during the interview,
  • Intervening if the candidate is visibility suffering from anxiety, stress etc. In some cases simple reassurance will be enough, in more severe cases it may be helpful to remind the candidate to use whatever coping mechanisms they have learned – structured breathing for example,
  • Giving the candidate extra time to process information,

While those with ADHD are generally great communicators, they may struggle to make eye contact during the interview – instead choosing to look elsewhere which allows them to better focus on the questions the interviewer is asking. This may be mis-interpreted by the interviewer as lying or being untrustworthy, so it’s important to guard against this misinterpretation.

Interviews aren’t fun for anyone, especially those with ADHD. Take a kind, caring and compassionate approach.

The interview process – After the interview.

Give detailed feedback to the candidate. If you’re offering the candidate the job (which you should!), make sure the candidate knows they have to reply and how – and allow them extra time to do so. Calling them to follow up can help make sure you secure the talent you need.

Keeping the talent.

Employees are only as good as the work environment allows. Want to unlock your ADHD employees hidden talents? Give them the keys they need – Adapt the workplace to help make their work lives easier, so they can spend less time fighting their condition and more time excelling at their job.

Adjustments that apply to both shore based and seagoing careers.
  • Break large or complex tasks down into smaller, easy to manage sections,
  • Allow regular breaks to move/stretch, especially if working at a desk for an extended period,
  • Have regular “check-ins” / performance reviews (preferably daily) so any issues can be dealt with quickly and efficiently,
  • Provide notes and instructions in written form rather than verbally,
  • Allow the employee to take notes as/when required, whether they’re in paper form or app based,
  • Allow the use of headphones/ear buds wherever possible,
  • Give the employee a “new-starter” information pack containing everything they need to know about the workplace,
  • Encourage the use of alarms and clocks to aid with time management,
  • Allow the use of “blocking” software to limit/remove distraction,
  • Allow the use of software to provide background noise,
  • Provide visual prompts and cues – Post it notes, wall charts, checklists, etc.,
  • Help with organisation – Marked boxes for tools, “shadows” on workbenches, etc.
Adjustments for seagoing careers.
  • Encourage the use of “closed loop” communication systems to prevent misunderstandings,
  • In some cases, it may be appropriate to consider whether the ships crew are suitable to work with an ADHD crewmember. Where there is any doubt, the crew should be given neuro-diversity training, made aware that the company expects them to be supportive and understanding, and that failure to do so will result in disciplinary action. Discrimination in any form has no place at sea, and it is important that this message is conveyed to vessel crew,
  • Ensure joining instructions are clear, easy to understand, and contain enough information to allow the crewmember to safely sign on/off,
Adjustments for shore based careers.
  • Provide large screens, so they can have everything they need open – This reduces memory load, and in turn reduces fatigue,
  • Allow the use of TTS (text to speech) or SST (speech to text) software,
  • Consider using an alternative working pattern – for example working for 25 minutes, then a 5 minute break. The fourth break should be longer,
  • Use a “buddy system” where the person with ADHD is paired with someone without. The “buddy” can help and support the person with ADHD to stay on task,
  • A tour of the workplace, staff and policies/procedures before the new hires first day will help reduce anxiety,
  • Locate the employee away from distraction – In a quiet area of the office for example.

The team may not react positively to someone with ADHD, for a variety of reasons. They may wonder why the person with ADHD can wear headphones while they can’t, for example. If this happens, it’s important that the matter is handled delicately and sensitively. Do NOT disclose the employees diagnosis unless you have their express permission – by disclosing their diagnosis, you place the employee in an untenable position similar to “outing” an LGBTQ+ individual. The best way to prevent this is to promote an open, inclusive, difference friendly workplace.

Common myths, busted.

ADHD only affects men.

Wrong! ADHD can effect anyone, regardless of race or gender.

People with ADHD are lazy and simply need to “try harder”.

Incorrect – ADHD isn’t laziness or lack of motivation. The condition makes it difficult to focus, especially for longer periods of time. It’s the same as telling a deaf person to “listen better”.

Those with ADHD can’t get seafaring medicals.

This is incorrect. It’s entirely possible for someone with ADHD to attain an unrestricted seafaring medical.

ADHD is caused by bad parenting.

False. ADHD is a lifelong condition caused by a difference in how the brain is wired. It cannot be caused by “bad parenting”.

ADHD can be cured.

Incorrect. ADHD is a life long condition and can’t currently be cured. However, it can be controlled with medication in more severe cases.