Career Counseling Intervention with Students with ADHD: A Case Illustration

By LaToya B. Gathers

The song “Growing Up is Hard to Do” by Neil Sedaka is a testament to the struggles young adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) endured due to their disability. When it comes to making a career decision, their maturity and social development lag behind that of their peers. While the schools have come a long way in training educators to teach all kinds of minds, lack of awareness and acceptance of students with ADHD and learning differences persist, especially in the area of career development and intervention. The case of John (a pseudo-name) below illustrates existing limitations associated with having an ADHD label. However, it also shows that success is attainable when school counselors are pointed to the right tools to help promote students’ career development.


The Case of John

John was a student with ADHD who had been off his medication for five years. I met John when he was a 15 year old freshman in high school. John was referred to my office by his Language Arts teacher who believed he could benefit from targeted career development intervention. During his time in my office, the sessions would begin with breathing exercises to help lessen accompanying anxiety. This was followed by engaging conversation to gain his trust, which included asking John about his hobbies and quintessential facts that he loved (i.e. how large is the universe?). John responded enthusiastically that astronomy was his favorite subject.


Overall, John impressed me with his knowledge of careers. At the end of my first session with John, I had an epiphany that I would steer him towards science-based careers, starting with astronomy. The career counseling sessions included the administration of the Kuder Career Assessment (Kuder, 2008). It was apparent that John liked the categorizing of his likes and dislikes that this assessment entails. To help with John’s motivation and persistence, a reward system was introduced. John received a reward each time he successfully completed a task. As time progressed, the reward system was no longer needed. Also, John participated in the lunch and learn series held monthly by the school, where students learn about different career clusters. During his participation, John became so involved he did not engage in his usual practice of speaking over other students. Below are a summary of the lessons learned in the sessions with accompanying interventions:


Intervention Utilized with Lesson Learned

  1. Structure each session: When developing career intervention plans for students with ADHD, it is important for school counselors to structure the session to ensure success. This is crucial for a student with ADHD to assist with focused attention during the counseling sessions (Dipeolu, 2011).


  1. Establish trust: School counselor are encouraged to invest in building a relationship with the student by connecting on student’s existing passions and interests, as this helps to create positive feelings. John’s trust was gained through engaging conversations about his hobbies of learning scientific facts.


  1. Lessen accompanying anxiety: Find out what strategy the student is already using to lessen anxiety. If no strategy exists, use deep breathing exercise to help the student calm down. How many times have you heard "Take a deep breath and count to 10." What works for older adults, works for younger adults as well (Fost, 2011). Deep breathing is one of the simplest ways to calm the human body. Alternatively, soft instrumental music could be use to help student lessen anxiety. For example, in my office I often play classical music to create a calming environment with great results.

  2. Social skills training: Social skills training helps the young adult with ADHD be less impulsive and to behave in a more socially acceptable way. Techniques that were used with John included coaching, role-playing, and behavior rehearsal.

  3. Anchor the sessions on student’s interest and/or hobbies: Find out the student’s interest by paying particular attention to what they currently enjoy. For John, during the initial talk, I noticed he liked categorizing information and playing with scientific facts. Therefore, this interest was incorporated into the career counseling sessions.

  4. Introduce a reward system: In the case of John, good behavior was encouraged through praising and rewarding him for each success. John was given a reward each time he completed a task. It helped to keep him motivated and to persist.

  5. Establish a routine: In the course of the weekly sessions, help the student establish a routine. In the case of John, a routine was established that provided stability and reinforced the reward system used. John’s sessions began with breathing exercises and centered around his interest in science subjects/careers, followed by the introduction of the reward system for encouragement and motivation, etc..


Career Intervention Outcome

By the end of the career counseling sessions with John, he became noticeably less anxious and was calm. The intervention was so effective that words got around the school and other students were referred by interested teachers. This led to the development of a small group that later became the foundation for a very successful career development group intervention. As for John, he is now a successful science teacher at a high school. He attributed his success to the career counseling interventions he received as a young adult.


In closing, students with ADHD are known to become easily overwhelmed by the number of choices associated with the career decision making task (Bahny & Dipeolu, 2012). Therefore, they are fearful of making the wrong career and vocational choice. As such, assisting these students with their career decision making should be approached with great care by school counselors. Utilizing the above approach will assist students with ADHD to focus on the process involved in career decision making by narrowing down their options in order to choose the career paths that allow them to shine best.




Bahny, R. & Dipeolu, A. (2012, November). Cognitive information processing model and students with LD/ADHD: Prescriptions for intervention. Career Convergence. Retrieved from https://careerconvergence.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/66287/_self/layout_ccmsearch/true


Dipeolu, A. O. (2011). College students with ADHD: Prescriptive concepts for best practices in career development. Journal of Career Development, 38, 408-427. doi: 10.1177/0894845310378749 (published first online December 20, 2010)


Fost, H. M. (2011). Learning Works for Kids. Retrieved from http://learningworksforkids.com/skills/working-memory/


Kuder. (2008). www.kuder.com



Latoya B GathersDr. LaToya B. Gathers is a psychotherapist and government contract worker for her business Career Works and Counseling. She focuses on rehabilitation behaviors for Autism, Aspergers and ADHD through social needs associated with home-based discrete trial programs and appropriate social skills intervention  plans. Dr. Gathers provides a leading series of social skills groups focusing on interaction with typically developing peers and appropriate play skills as well as career training in the rehabilitation program.  She can be reached at gatherl@gcsnc.com

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