Time to Shine!
InventiveLabs, an innovative new “career lab,” is offering real-world education, training, and life coaching to young adults with ADHD.
Many teens who have just graduated from high school or college say the same thing: “Now what?”
They are uncertain about the next step to take, continuing their education or finding a job. For young adults with ADHD who have a job, and feel that it doesn’t suit them, a career path seems dim. They don’t know which job might make them happy, and they don’t ask for help and accommodations at the job they’re in. They are afraid to disclose their ADHD for fear of stigma or even of being fired.
David Mucha, a 22-year-old from Queensbury, New York, was formally diagnosed with ADHD at 21. “In college and beyond, there was a negative vibe when I asked for help. I felt that people wondered, ‘Do you really need help, or are you asking because you have a doctor’s note that says you do?'”
There Is Hope
Now there’s a new approach to career training for young adults with ADHD — an environment where they don’t have to apologize for their diagnosis or beg for accommodations they need. It’s called InventiveLabs, started by serial entrepreneurs Tom Bergeron and Rick Fiery. Both know about kids and adults with ADHD and LD because both have friends and family members who were diagnosed with the conditions. Bergeron thought, “Why don’t we form a center that takes bright, creative kids who have ADHD and dyslexia and give them the tools they need to turn their creative ideas into new products?”
The venture gives young adults (post-high-school age) who have struggled in school or the workplace the chance to define and pursue their goals. There are goal-specific academic courses to help young adults get the post-secondary education they need to pursue a dream career. There is help with launching a new business or acquiring skills needed to excel in the corporate world. No matter what the person’s goal, InventiveLabs’ strength-based programs tackle ADHD and LD symptoms head-on and develop the strategies needed to overcome them.
Located in Amesbury, Massachusetts, InventiveLabs was conceived as a business incubator. Its mission is to “capture the brilliance of individuals with ADHD and/or dyslexia who think and work differently.” The program combines hands-on entrepreneurial experience with academic courses — provided on-site by Northshore Community College — tailored to each student’s objectives.
The inaugural program, which started in October 2014, attracted applicants from Australia, South Africa, Europe, and Guatemala, with the majority of applicants living in the northeastern United States. Bergeron and Fiery selected teens and young adults who would make a well-rounded, diverse team. Some have college degrees, others work experience, and some have both. Participants follow their passions, working on projects such as designing their own line of beachwear, creating a more efficient wood stove, and developing cellphone apps.
Some Inventives — the 16 program participants — started with a business project in mind. Some, like many with ADHD, had work experience, but hadn’t found a career path. InventiveLabs’ goal is to help participants find what they’d enjoy pursuing. Some will leave the one- or two-year program with their own business, others might join a corporation or license out a new technology.
InventiveLabs tackles ADHD challenges from all angles:
1. Life coaching. Inventives receive life coaching sessions, as a group and individually, to work on goal-setting, accountability, time management, organization, and life skills. The life coach will also address the concerns and anxieties that arise from taking on a new project.
For those pursuing corporate careers, the coach will ensure that they understand the corporate world’s expectations, and can meet them, before leaving the program.
2. Therapy. Inventives will continue their ADHD treatment, and will also work to manage anxiety, depression, and other comorbid conditions that come with ADHD. The therapist will work to overcome challenges with group dynamics, self-confidence, and interpersonal relationships.
3. A stimulating environment. David Kay, a 25-year-old from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 18. Boredom at school held him back. “My teachers would say, ‘Dave, what the hell are you doing? You’re super-bright. Why are you failing this class?'”
Kay barely graduated from high school, and subsequently attended two colleges without graduating. “I like my classes most of the time, but I have no idea how the courses relate to me,” he says. “I get bored easily, and I can’t focus enough to get my degree.” Kay believes InventiveLabs’ personalized program will hold his attention and lead to success.
A typical day at InventiveLabs involves three to four hours of group time. The rest of the day is spent on independent project work. Each weekday offers different activities: Mondays, team building and project updates; Tuesdays, extra group work; Wednesdays and Thursdays, field trips (for research and team building) and one-on-one time with facilitators for goal-setting and strategizing. Inventives use Fridays to give progress reports to the group and facilitators, and propose strategies to meet any unmet weekly goals. “If they don’t know what they’re striving to accomplish each week, their projects spiral out of control pretty quickly,” says Bergeron.
InventiveLabs’ curriculum involves field trips — possibly rock-climbing with the life coach — that encourage using physical activity to improve focus. Other outings may be trips to museums, local businesses, or venues that will help Inventives move their projects forward.
4. Mentors. A mentor may mean the difference between failure and success in the life of an adult with ADHD. Mentors at InventiveLabs instruct students in everything from making presentations and sales calls to marketing. Entrepreneurs with ADHD will share their success strategies. Psychiatrist and ADHD expert Edward Hallowell, M.D., author of Driven to Distraction, is an Advisory Board member.
Best of all, perhaps, Inventives don’t feel stigmatized. Rebecca Carroll, 28, of Melbourne, Australia, was diagnosed with ADHD at 14. “My mom was tired of going to parent-teacher meetings to be told that her kid was a troublemaker or didn’t seem interested in school. She knew I loved learning, just in a different way.”
Carroll, a former personal banker and business teller in a large Australian bank, takes ADHD medication to manage her symptoms, but says there is little understanding of adult ADHD in Australia. Unhappy in her banking job, Carroll searched online and found InventiveLabs.
“I’m confident that the center will help us shine instead of making us feel like failures,” says Carroll. “When I talked with Tom and Rick, I didn’t have to hide my ADHD or become someone else to feel like I belong here.”
Having like-minded individuals to work with helps Inventives feel validated, supported, and accepted. “[InventiveLabs] gives me a chance to be around other people who have the same challenges,” says Carroll. “We won’t have to explain why we’re a little bit late or why we do things differently.”
Bergeron’s and Fiery’s respect for the ADHD brain is reflected in their expectations of the Inventives. “People have the flexibility to come in when they want, with the expectation that they’ll be here in the afternoon at the lab,” says Bergeron. “What we found is that you need flexible timelines but firm deliverables. When you get your work done is up to you, but it needs to get done within a certain time frame.”
Graduating from ADHD
The Inventives will find more than a career path. They’ll leave with an understanding of their ADHD, and more confidence and self-esteem.
“That’s the main goal,” says David Mucha. “To understand what we have trouble with and to work around that. By the time we leave, we’ll be good at that, instead of having to learn how to do it at our first job.”