Author Archives: ubiard001

Paradoxical career strengths and successes of ADHD adults: an evolving narrative. Lay Summary. November 2023

This blog is a lay summary of research conducted by the Birkbeck alumna and career coach Tamsin Crook and Professor Almuth McDowall.

Research focus

This research offers a positive-focused exploration of ADHD adults’ perceptions of their career-based strengths and successes. The paper reframes the predominantly pathologised view of ADHD, offering important insight and guidance for coaching professionals working with neurominority clients, presenting nuanced, relatable narratives for the ADHD community.


We interviewed seventeen participants, all self-identifying as successful in their careers. We used the feedforward interview technique (FFI), which focuses on positive experiences and ‘high points’ to elicit empowering personal narratives. We found this a very useful technique for qualitative research with a neurominority.

Core themes

Findings revealed two core themes:

  1. the paradoxical nature of strengths;
  2. career success as an evolving narrative. Participants expressed achieving career success ‘in spite of’ and ‘because of’ their ADHD.

ADHD strengths

Participants described their strengths in three ways:

  1. ‘Core strengths’ seemed to be particularly attributed to their ADHD, such as spontaneity, making connections, and justice sensitivity:
“The things we ADHDers do best are the things that we do out of an emotional response…”
  1. ‘Adaptive’ strengths such as hyperfocus, altruism, humour, and resilience were often described as a response to trickier elements of the ADHD condition:
“…by helping other people knock down their barriers, I am mothering the ghost of the girl I used to be.”
  1. ‘Overplayed strengths’, such as autonomy and energy:
“As soon as you get momentum with ADHD, it’s amazing where you can go. But the momentum works both ways… if you get in a bad place, it’s very easy to go down.”

Career success

The participants had a range of responses to the concept of career success. It was interesting to combine these into a visual model with an evolving narrative, ranging from a fundamental difficulty in recognising their success, through to confidently embracing their achievements and future potential, often moderated by the diagnosis of ADHD and the self-awareness that it brought. It was clear that participants felt that their most authentic successes occurred *because of* their ADHD; successes achieved *in spite of* their ADHD had been hard-won.

“I do think that the biggest difference came when I accepted my strengths and found strategies for my weaknesses… when I stopped trying to fit into boxes I wasn’t going to fit in…”

Implications for practitioners

  1. FFI is a very effective and accessible method for accessing personal narratives which doesn’t need training beyond good listening skills and understanding how to ask the questions with participants who might have experienced throwbacks as well as success.
  2. Career coaches can use this balanced, pragmatic, strength-based approach to enable each individual to better understand their ADHD, develop personal agency and succeed, both subjectively and objectively in their careers.

More Information


Neurodiversity Assessment In Forensic Contexts

This is a lay summary of Chapter 19 ‘Neurodiversity Assessment In Forensic Contexts, by Nancy Doyle, Lorraine Hough, Karen Thorne & Tanya Banfield’ – which appears in G.C., Fisher, M.J., & Jones, L.F. (Eds.) (2022). Challenging Bias in Forensic Psychological Assessment and Testing: Theoretical and Practical Approaches to Working with Diverse Populations (1st ed.). Routledge. 

Who was this chapter written for?
This Chapter was written for Forensic Psychologists working with neurodivergent people in prisons. Drawing on a proposal by Judy Singer, the authors agree that that there is nothing inherently disabling about ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and that diversity in the way we think is a natural feature for humans.

Problems with umbrella terms
We noted that the UK Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorate Neurodiversity Review (CJJI, 2021) used Neurodiversity as an umbrella term referring to the group of conditions falling under the category of neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). We suggested it is better to use ‘neurominorities’ or ‘neurodivergence’ as umbrella titles, because neurodiversity itself includes everyone. There are more neurominorities in prison than there should be, considering how many there are in the population in general. This means that Forensic Psychologists should be aware that lots of people in their care may be neurodivergent, as the following summary shows:

(CJJI, 2021) Over 50% of the prison UK population is dyslexic.
(McNamara, 2012) Up to 80% of people in a UK prison have some kind of speech, language or communication difficulty.
(Young et al., 2018) Approximately one quarter of people in prison in the UK would meet diagnostic criteria for ADHD.
(CJJI, 2021) Approximately 5-7% of those meeting Liaison and Diversion services in the UK have Autistic traits, with around 16-19% of those in prison showing signs of Autism.
(Prison Reform Trust, 2021) Approximately 34% of people in custody in the UK have a Mild Intellectual Disability (MID) or Borderline Intellectual Functioning (BIF).
(Prison Reform Trust, 2021) 49% of women and 23% of men in custody in the UK have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression.
(Shiroma et al., 2010)


Estimated brain injuries amongst Criminal Justice System populations vary significantly based on the populations being studied and the assessment method, but analysis of international studies suggests that rates of brain injury in convicted populations is approximately 60%.

Many neurodivergent people in prisons do not know that they are neurodivergent, or don’t have a diagnosis. Does this mean that Forensic Psychologists should try to make diagnoses using specialist tests? We explained that neuropsychology is not finding strong evidence for neurominorities as separate diagnoses. In fact, there is more in common across the different conditions than there are features to separate them. Because of this, it is hard to make accurate diagnoses.

We also explained that diagnosis is made difficult because of intersecting identities, such as those in this table, which are affected by biased definitions and tests:

  • Definitions, tests and questionnaires make it easier for boys to be diagnosed. This is because they ask for examples of behaviour that is more normal for boys.
  • Also, girls get stronger messages about sitting still, being sociable, reading and writing. Boys get stronger messages about being physically active and good at maths.
  • Transgender communities have fewer differences between male and female diagnosis rates.
Race and Ethnicity
  • Definitions, tests and questionnaires make it easier for white people to be diagnosed. This is because they are based on things that are more usual for white people, such as the way we make eye contact and talk.
  • It is also because teachers, psychologists and medics are already making too many snap judgements about people from non-white communities, such as Black people, Roma people, Asian people. They are often seeing white people as less ‘difficult’ and calmer, so they think if there is a difficulty, it must be medical, whereas for Black or Brown people they are assumed to be ‘bad’.
  • Wealthy families can afford private diagnosis and are more likely to be diagnosed if they need to.
  • Wealthy families can afford private tutors and private schools so their children are less likely to need help at school.
  • Wealthy families are more likely to have time to help their children with homework and being organised. They are also more likely to jump in to resolve social and emotional difficulties.
  • A family’s wealth makes a difference to how people get diagnosed and when

When we added together the differences for different types of people, and how unreliable testing is, we advised psychologists working in prisons to focus on needs rather than labels. We advised working with different types of testing (see following table) to assess neurodivergent people in prisons.     

Tests Important facts Strengths Limitations
Cognitive ability testing (standardised)


MUST be validated with data analysis and approved by a peer review publication. Gives very accurate information about how well a person thinks using different areas of thinking – verbal skills, memory etc Expensive, takes time. Not always immediately helpful to a person who wants to know what to do next.
Self-Report  questionnaires (standardised)


Must be validated with data analysis to check how reliable the answers are.

Good ones will also be approved by a peer review publication.

Makes sense to people taking the tests.

Useful for thinking about what to do next.

Can be affected by how the person feels on the day. They might answer differently at a different time or on a different day.
Testing that has not been standardised (whether self-report or ability testing) These provide information about a person’s experience. They cannot be used to make predictions about what people might need.

 We then explained what types of help are useful for different challenges, rather than recommending help based on a label.

Challenge Recommendations for potential strategies and reasonable adjustments
Executive functions – working memory and processing speed
  • Memory aids /strategies – little and often; rehearsal; recency and primacy issues, so structure key messages; mnemonics; visual imagery; internal aids; external memory aids – post-its, alarms, to-do lists etc. Chunking.
  • Concentration techniques such as anchoring, visualisation and hunger / time of day, self-awareness
Executive functions – planning, time management and organisation
  • Environmental aids such as signposts; labels; orientation boards; colour doors; wayfinding lines showing routes; use of daily routines.
  • Errorless learning: break down tasks into smaller steps; build in opportunities for success; graded activities to ensure success.  Teaching functionally equivalent or functionally related skills.
Language – verbal
  • Simplify complex instructions and avoid abstract tasks.  Promote learning by doing. Repeat if needed.
  • Practice role play conversations that come up frequently; develop exercises to assist offenders during questioning. This might include supporting them to self-advocate with comments such as “sorry I can’t process that all at once, can you ask me just one question at a time?”
  • Develop packs of prompt cards for asking for help / more detailed instructions to support people in daily interactions within the prison and through the gate, such as above or:
    “Can I stop you there? It would work for me if you allow me to practice while you talk, I remember better that way.”
    “I’m sorry, I find it hard to process lots of words, could you possibly slow down?”
  • PQRST – preview, question, read, study, test – this is a useful structure to support individuals with learning new information.
Language – written
  • Advocate for education departments to have access to assistive technology to meet demands of the modern world through the gate.
  • Avoid temptation to replace 12 years of education with a 2-week literacy course, often not adapted for neurominorities. For example, phonic tuition alone may not correct spelling and reading difficulties; new strategies should be applied if these have failed repeatedly.
  • Literacy support charities might offer a more specialised programme and can help with providing differentiated material that inspires engagement.
Motor control and balance
  • Train techniques for managing state and dealing with panic. Support individuals to avoid self-shame, slow down and take time with tasks that they find difficult.
  • Advocate for education departments to have access to assistive technology – handwriting is reasonably obsolete in modern workplaces. Touch typing may be more appropriate to learn.
  • Planning and practising movements and journeys before starting.
  • Rehearsal of frequently required motor control tasks.
Sensory Sensitivity


  • Training awareness of sensory trigger and strategies for avoiding these within the Justice System. For example, planning days and wall chart reminders of which events happen in which order can help identify where sensory triggers are and how to avoid / reduce them.
  • Advocate for adjustments like ear defenders wherever noise disruption is an issue; or wearing of sunglasses, reducing glare from strip lighting, as well as general notes on temperature, smell, touch and taste sensitivities.
  • Touch is particularly of relevance during shutdowns, when any attempt to physically approach a neurodivergent person may exacerbate defensive aggression rather than calm or control an outburst.
  • Psychologists can strongly advocate for decompression time and space for those who are sensory sensitive.
Emotional dysregulation
  • Regular reflective, coaching-based sessions to increase self-awareness are essential for most neurominorities.
  • Unhelpful or frightening behaviours can be supported by reinforcing positive behaviours; use of TOOTS, (Time Out On the Spot)
  • Structure sessions / session plans; anticipate hot spots.
  • People frequently exhibit warning signs, such as knee jiggling or nail biting, or breath holding, which indicate a pre-shutdown.
  • Developing self-awareness of triggers can facilitate self-advocacy before a shutdown.
  • Verbal communication is compromised during intense emotions. To counter, role-play short effective phrases to help attract support rather than control from staff. For example:
    “Can I self -isolate please, I am going into autistic meltdown?”
    “Help, fight or flight response happening.”
    “Help, trauma flashback happening.”
  • Adopt a coaching response, predictability / stability; create consistency across staff groups; use planners; set goals; use checklists, enable individuals to plan and structure their day.

We hope that this information helps people working in prisons to make a positive difference for neurodivergent people in prisons.


CJJI. (2021). Neurodiversity in the Criminal Justice System: A review of evidence (pp. 1–77). Criminal Justic Joint Inspection.

McNamara, N. (2012). Speech and language therapy within a forensic support service. Journal of Learning Disabilities and Offending Behaviour, 3(2), 111–117.

Prison Reform Trust. (2021). Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile (p. 66). Prison Reform Trust.

Shiroma, E. J., Ferguson, P. L., & Pickelsimer, E. E. (2010). Prevalence of traumatic brain injury in an offender population: A meta-analysis. Journal of Correctional Health Care : The Official Journal of the National  Commission on Correctional Health Care, 16(2), 147–159.

Young, S., González, R. A., Fridman, M., Hodgkins, P., Kim, K., & Gudjonsson, G. H. (2018). The economic consequences of attention- deficit hyperactivity disorder in the Scottish prison system. BMC Psychiatry, 18, 1–11.


Being happy to become a better citizen: happiness can help fight corruption

In this blog, Dr Luca Andriani, from the Department of Management, provides a summary of the 2022 study entitled ‘Corruption and life satisfaction: evidence from a transition survey’. The study was co-authored by Gaygysyz Ashyrov from Estonian Business School, in Tallinn, Estonia, and appeared in appeared in Kyklos, International Review for Social Science. 

Happiness is not only a state of individual achievement, but also a resource for a collective to become a better society. This is because happiness can drive individuals to be more committed towards their surrounding environment. Hence, a key question in our study was the following:  

Can happiness help fight corruption?
Corruption is bad for economies and societies, as it causes socio-economic distortions by reducing funds devoted for public goods, like safety, social services, and infrastructure. Good policies and regulations are essential to prevent people’s engagement in bribery. However, similar policies and reforms function in some countries better than in others. Fighting corruption, therefore, cannot lie exclusively upon appropriate policies and regulations. It also requires social support and public engagement.  

Our results clearly suggest that: 

  • Individuals more satisfied with their life conditions and financial situations are more likely to report a corrupt exchange if witnessed 
  • They are also more likely to believe that other people’s actions against corruption can make a difference 

Former Soviet Bloc and “Happiness Gap”: anti-corruption reforms are not enough
The context of our study focuses on the countries of the former Soviet Bloc. Despite numerous anti-corruption reforms introduced since the end of the Cold War to facilitate the institutional transition towards more market-oriented economies, corruption and bribery are still highly prevalent. Additionally, Central and Eastern European countries suffer from the so called “Happiness Gap”. This refers to Central and Eastern European citizens being less satisfied with their life than their Western neighbours, despite the economic convergence of these countries with the rest of Western Europe in the last two decades.  

The “Happiness Gap” is related to citizens’ feelings of uncertainty and frustration caused by the new way of living according to new rules governed by a more liberal market economy and democratic regime. Competing with fellow citizens to get a job, being unemployed, and feeling poorer compared to very close neighbours were emotions and conditions unknown during the communist regime in the Soviet Bloc nations. Under these new circumstances, individuals attribute this condition of unhappiness to public institutions and consider them ultimately responsible for the lack of well-being in the society they govern. We suggest, then, that implementing policies that improve citizens’ life conditions and expectations may have a positive impact on other aspects of the law and order of society.  

Happier citizens with better access to socio-economic resources may be more loyal to their public authority and more compliant with rules put in place to govern that society.
eyond our specific context of analysis, our study also presents a warning for Western Europe and other “high-income” economies. The increase in inequality and, hence, a subsequent decline of individuals’ life satisfaction, might drive citizens to become less compliant with rules, and more tolerant towards anti-social behaviour. In this respect, happiness has monetary value. Anti-social and illegal behaviours represent increasing monetary costs for society.  

A better understanding of the factors able to prevent, and reduce these behaviours, will help estimate these costs. Using indicators of happiness and life satisfaction to estimate anti-social behavioural patterns will allow valuation of the overall monetary benefit that can come from improving life conditions. This will help policymakers conduct more effective cost-benefit analyses of non-market service policies like those aiming to increase citizens’ life conditions. Even though corruption will still likely persist, it will be less tolerated – which is a key condition for fighting corruption. 

More information: 


A systematic review of interventions to support adults with ADHD at work – Implications from the paucity of context-specific research for theory and practice.

 By Kirsty Lauder, Almuth McDowall & Harriet R Tenenbaum (2022)

Why is this topic important?

People with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or ADHDers, can face workplace challenges that need supporting. Identifying the best support for ADHDers is important because the workplace is somewhere many adults spend their lives!

What is the purpose of this article?
We wanted to know what the evidence is for effective support to see if there is any research about ADHD and the workplace. One way to find out the best forms of support is to evaluate all the published academic research on a topic using a research method called a systematic review.

We found 143 published studies that evaluated support or ‘interventions’ for adult ADHDers. We looked at what was similar and different across all the studies and wanted to know:

  • where the research was conducted;
  • who the research participants were;
  • what kinds of support were evaluated;
  • what kind of support was most effective;
  • what support is relevant to the workplace.

What personal or professional perspectives do the authors bring to this topic?
The authors either identify as neurodivergent and/or have experience of working with people who identify as neurodivergent.

What did the authors find?
1/3 of studies were conducted in North America. The others were from Europe or Asia.

  • Most of the research participants were outpatients of ADHD Clinics, which means they get supported after getting an ADHD diagnosis from a psychiatrist.
  • 61% of the 143 studies evaluated medication and whether it reduces the core ADHD symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
  • The remaining 39% of studies evaluated psychosocial support (training, cognitive behavioural therapy- CBT) or a combination of both medication and psychosocial support.
  • Medication is effective at reducing the core symptoms in the short term.
  • Psychosocial support is effective in improving emotional and social challenges.
  • A closer look at each study revealed the important components of effective support to be:
    • an increased awareness of what ADHD is between the ADHDer and their support network.
    • a good relationship with the medical professional working with the ADHDer.
    • inclusion in group sessions with other ADHDers.
  • No studies were conducted in the workplace or related to the workplace.
  • Some of the skills training and coaching support focused on work-related challenges like time management and performance.

What do the authors recommend?
The authors recommend more research on what effective workplace support is for ADHDers. The more research there is, the easier it will be for practitioners to rely on an evidence-base for decision-making.

The existing research, mapped in this study, shows us which strategies are most effective for ADHDers:

  • A combination of medication and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) or skills training/coaching.
  • Involving the ADHDer’s support network.
  • Learning about ADHD and its impact on individuals.
  • A good quality relationship with support professionals.

How will these recommendations help ADHDers now or in the future?
In the future, we can apply these ideas to the workplace to make sure that managers and co-workers are included in the awareness of and support for ADHD, and to ensure that the ADHDer has psychosocial and medical support available.

More information: