Are Internships the Right Experience for an ADHD Kid?


An internship can be a rewarding experience for your ADHD child. With your guidance, an internship can teach them real-world job skills, and be an invaluable first step toward a successful career.

Pursuing an Internship with ADHD

As an alternative to the usual retail or food service jobs, you may be encouraging your teenager to try an internship. Of course, you might worry about how your ADHD child would handle that obligation.

Sometimes, just getting through schoolwork and daily life can be a struggle. Adding an internship to the mix might feel overwhelming. While you want to give your child every opportunity to learn and grow, you don't want to derail their progress in balancing their responsibilities.

Take some time to assess how well your child is managing their current commitments. Is their school performance acceptable? Are they already involved in too many extra-curricular activities? Be realistic about how an internship might affect their ability to manage all their endeavors.

Different types of internships might suit your child's needs. For example, your child could enjoy a summer internship in one of their areas of interest - once they've had a few weeks to relax and decompress after the school year ends. A research internship might give them work experience and a stipend while helping them fulfill college degree requirements.

Reasonable Accommodations

Throughout your child's life, they will need to decide whether it is appropriate to reveal their ADHD diagnosis. A few factors can help them make this decision before they start an internship.

Workers with ADHD are entitled to accommodations under the law, although disclosing an ADHD diagnosis is a complex decision.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives those significantly impacted by ADHD the legal right to reasonable workplace accommodations. However, your child can't ask for accommodations under the legal protection of ADA without disclosing their ADHD diagnosis.

Those who choose not to reveal their ADHD during their internship may feel like they are avoiding an unfair stigma. They won't feel judged for having ADHD - they will simply be judged for their individual performance. However, they will perhaps be judged unfairly. Supervisors unaware of ADHD issues may quickly lose patience with chronic lateness, distractibility or difficulty finishing projects.

As a short-term stint prior to the start of a formal career, an internship gives your child the freedom to experiment with their answer to the disclosure question. They can choose to officially ask for accommodations - or choose to make their own discreet adjustments in the workplace. After their internship, they will have a better idea which decision to make in their professional life.

Deciding on a Field for the Internship

Internships are available in a wide variety of fields. Where would your child flourish?

If your child already has a very strong interest in a certain career, then this decision will be fairly straightforward. Simply find an internship opportunity to match their interest.

Many popular job boards include internships in their listings. If your child specifically wants to try the nonprofit sector, for instance, take a look at Idealist. You might try searching your state's job bank for an internship in a certain career field.

Your child may not know which field they want to work in. Online tools like the Interest Assessment, provided by the U.S. Department of Labor's CareerOneStop site, can narrow down the choices.

If your child still isn't sure which field they'd like to try, use their ADHD as a launching pad. ADDitude Magazine, for example, offers a list of 'Dream Jobs for the Easily Bored and Consistently Creative' with suggested careers including beautician, nurse, entrepreneur, daycare worker, and software developer, among others. Even if the jobs listed aren't an exact match for your child, the suggestions can certainly spur them to think of desirable internships.

People with ADHD have a low tolerance for boredom. If your child can find an internship in a field they care about, they will probably have a more positive experience. And the same thinking that helps them find internship success can later be applied to their permanent career choice.

Social and Emotional Benefits of an Internship for Young Adults with ADHD

Interning, particularly in an office environment, can help your ADHD child in many ways. Taming impulsivity may soon become a priority within a more subdued, multi-generational workplace. Acting out in front of peers is a lot more comfortable than under the scrutiny of older adults. The same subtle social expectation may prompt your child to deal with their frustrations in a professional manner, and not in a disruptive way.

Those with hyperactive ADHD may be prone to tapping pens against a table or tapping their feet impatiently. Working in an office may make them much more conscious of these behaviors, which will improve their self-control. Channeling their energy into workplace projects might help them find a productive use for restlessness - and they will have the pride of seeing their contributions appreciated by co-workers.

Organizational Life Lessons

Even doing tedious tasks during an internship can help your child manage their ADHD in the workplace.
Just like a regular job, internships can improve your ADHD child's organizational life skills. They'll get plenty of practice with all of these career-building activities:

  • Consistently getting to work on time
  • Being a self-starter
  • Getting through dull tasks
  • Listening more attentively
  • Following directions in a fast-paced environment
  • Becoming more tenacious and not leaving projects incomplete
  • Meeting deadlines

Through an internship, your child can start mastering these critical career skills. And when they enter the workforce full time, they will be much better prepared for the demands of employment.

Advantages of Internships for Career Planning

Internships are a sneak preview into possible career options. By choosing an internship in their preferred field, your ADHD child may find that their natural tendency to hyperfocus on favorite subjects predisposes them to excel.

Conversely, they may have a surprisingly negative experience as an intern in their chosen field - which might help them refine what kind of career they really want. Even an unpleasant internship experience can be valuable, if it saves them from frustration or even failure during their adult career.

Your child may enjoy their internship overall - although their ADHD puts a few extra bumps in the road. Using the real-life experience of their internship, they can figure out how to meet some of the challenges they will face in their careers.

From Completing an Internship to Landing a Good Job

A completed internship shows exceptional interest in a career field. The experience your child gains through an internship may tip the balance in their favor when they apply for regular work. Even if your child decides to divulge their ADHD diagnosis and ask for workplace accommodations, their internship experience might allay a prospective employer's doubts about their performance potential.

Internships are also fantastic networking opportunities. Encourage your child to keep up with their internship acquaintances. These professional friendships can support them along their career path. And an enthusiastic testimonial from a supervisor at the company where your child interned might be just the key to unlocking their new career.

Connections made during an internship can be the key to unlocking career opportunities.

Internships: A Dress Rehearsal for Your Child's Career

While you may have some legitimate concerns about your ADHD child's ability to cope with the demands of an internship, it could be a path well worth traveling. An internship is a unique opportunity for your child: It's a chance to try out a career with little or no experience, all while learning to manage ADHD in the workplace.

By Michelle Baumgartner
January 2020
k-12 learning with adhd

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