Oct 01, 2012
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THEME: Workplace

From MTV to ADHD: Design Considerations for a Distracted Generation

I want my MTV.  I also want my PSP, my Internet, my iPhone, my twitter, my Facebook…

The technological advances and the rise of the entertainment culture have had a profound effect on modern society and have shaped more than a generation. In many ways, this generation is more technologically savvy than any before – a generation of multi-tasking lateral thinkers that are connected to the world around them in a myriad of ways. Taken to the extreme however, it is also the ADHD generation (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) comprised of individuals who suffer with an inability to focus on sustained tasks and an uncontrollable need for external stimulus that can manifest itself in many ways.

Whether the ADHD epidemic is driven by biological factors, increased awareness and diagnosis, or other cultural forces, it is having a significant social and economic impact. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 10 children (5.4 million) aged 4-17 years were diagnosed with ADHD in 2007. As these individuals enter the workforce, they can have a direct impact on an organization’s culture and productivity. The CDC estimates that the work loss cost of adults due to ADHD was $40.1 billion in 2010.

Design for the ADHD Workforce and Mainstreaming

While the concept of “mainstreaming” is most often applied to integrating special needs students in educational settings, it can also be applied to the workplace. With 1 in 10 workers potentially being ADHD  it is imperative that workplace design be as inclusive as possible.

I have long believed that for many ADHD students, the uniformity of an artificially lit and conditioned school classroom environment actually exacerbates their symptoms. The lack of variability causes the student to “self-stimulate” and disrupt their own work process and those of others. The same can be said for many monotonous workplace environments with the extreme being the cube farms found in the Dilbert comic strips series.

The key to creating a responsive workplace environment that is sensitive the needs of workers with ADHD is good sustainable design that maintains a connection between occupant and the outside environment. The ideal workplace for a staff member with ADHD provides  a continuum of spatial, thermal  and auditory environments that have ready access to sunlight throughout that day. In fact, access to full spectrum daylight has long been believed to enhance concentration and to suppress symptoms of people with Autism. Such an environment will enable the ADHD worker to seek equilibrium and select the environment that provides the best sensory envelope that meets their physiological needs while enabling them to focus on the task at hand. Ideally, a worker can literally migrate throughout the office during the day depending on their sensory needs. When coupled with mobile office technology that enables freedom of movement throughout the space, all barriers to their performance will be eliminated and the organizations productivity will be enhanced.

  1. Gisela Garrett
    3:48 pm on December 3, 2012 | Reply

    A similar issue comes up often in the theater world: an audience member, whether or not they have ADHD, will often become tired and/or distracted if the scenic and lighting designs are too static. Even plays that only have one setting will find a way to incorporate a few key stimuli; something as small as a series of subtle lighting changes can do the trick.

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