ATTENTION deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has long carried the stigma of the wriggling, naughty child who can’t sit still.
Experts now agree, however, that the condition persists into adulthood. Many adults with ADHD are highly creative and functional individuals – like musician Graeme Watkins of The Graeme Watkins Project.
Watkins became a household name in 2009 when he finished as runner-up in South African Idols V.
Having found a profession that plays to his strengths, Watkins has thrived, and enjoys a happy and fulfilling relationship with his wife and manager, Kim, who also has ADHD.
An instrumental approach
It’s critical to find a role and an industry that works for you, if you have ADHD
“I was diagnosed with ADHD late in life, because little was known about the condition in adulthood at the time. Now I know I’m part of a creative bunch, who most often don’t fit conventional moulds – which is why it’s critical to find a role and an industry that works for you, if you have ADHD,” Watkins said.
“I’ve learnt to embrace my ADHD and never think of it as a hindrance,” explained Watkins. “Sometimes I might take a little longer to do things, or struggle to finish tasks, but I never look for sympathy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with people with ADHD – it’s just an attribute, like having blue eyes or dimples.”
Stick to the notes
Though his ‘day job’ as a musician can hardly be labelled as conventional, Watkins emphasised the importance of keeping a routine for individuals with ADHD.
“Even if your work is unpredictable, create structure where you can, with designated hours for work,” said Watkins. “Set goals for yourself, but allow room for failure. Always be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t do.”
According to Watkins, education is critical in the wider acceptance of ADHD in workplaces. He believes children and teenagers often don’t understand ADHD and so individuals with ADHD are labelled and ostracised, and suffer later in life as a result.
If peers and colleagues know and accepts that ADHD doesn’t make you any less intelligent or capable, environments can be more accommodating and individuals themselves will have the confidence to pursue careers that empower, not limit them.
Know your own melody
Watkins’s wife, Kim, had a different experience of ADHD, having been diagnosed and treated from Grade 2, which she believes gave her the routine and structure she needed to cope with school.
I stick rigidly to a routine and won’t allow it to be interrupted
“One of the biggest challenges of being a child and teenager with ADHD was being labelled as ‘slow’ or ‘dumb’ simply because the people around me didn’t fully understand the condition,” said Kim. “Throughout school, I also struggled with the confusion of achieving great results for tasks that interested me, and poor results for everything else – which is why it’s vital to find a job you’re passionate about if you’re an adult with ADHD.”
Kim is Graeme’s manager and believes it’s the passion for her job that keeps her focused and her energy directed in the right place. Passion, as well as lots of structure and practice.
“I stick rigidly to a routine and won’t allow it to be interrupted. I also split out my time into creative and administrative tasks and make sure I finish one before moving onto the next. If I have admin to do on a certain day, I refuse to book meetings for early in the day, to ensure I stay motivated in the morning and am not interrupted,” Kim said.
“If possible, I try to book all my meetings and time on the road for one solid day, so it doesn’t mess with work on other days.”
Kim also swears by using visual tools to assist her in categorising and managing paperwork – highlighting and writing certain dates and names in colour. It’s about finding a way that works for the individual with ADHD, and not trying to squeeze them into an expected way of working that cause frustration and take twice as long.
The sound of a symphony
Accept that with ADHD comes colour and creativity and that’s a gift many people don’t have
“It’s essential never to judge yourself. Accept that with ADHD comes colour and creativity and that’s a gift many people don’t have. Find routines and structures that work for you and then embrace your strengths and challenges,” Kim advised.
Equally as important as deciding on a career in which individuals with ADHD can thrive, is finding a partner who’s supportive of their partner with ADHD. Although a husband/wife, manager/talent relationship isn’t common, a lot can be learnt from the way Graeme and Kim nurture and support the unique qualities in each other.
As Graeme puts it: “You can either be your own worst enemy or your greatest source of strength. You decide which it is. Be flexible, be open. And always approach challenges with the mind-set that a cube has more than one side – there are multiple ways to solve any problem, so find a way that works for you.”