Coping - and thriving - with ADHD

Architect Nick Simpson, who left RGS in 1999 for Newcastle University, wasn’t diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder until he was 39. Nick, who has contributed articles and been involved in online discussions on ADHD, explains how he found ways to cope – and how it eventually helped him find his niche

I GREW up just outside Ripon, starting RGS in 1992. In terms of neurodiversity, it was a very different time. You would maybe have heard of dyslexia at that point, but there was a sense that anyone with a special educational need probably wouldn’t get to the school anyway. Things have moved on, thankfully.

I was always known as a ‘dopey’ kid. I was pretty quick and played rugby, so one of my nicknames was Forrest Gump, after the film character. That’s one of the things about ADHD, most people think of it as something that largely affects boys and causes them to be hyperactive and disruptive, so if you don’t fit that model, it’s harder for it to be spotted. However, it seems to affect girls and women just as much and can also result in you just not being great at concentrating (the attention deficit part), meaning that you might be more of a day dreamer who doesn’t keep up in class.

My school reports were always the same; “Nick has the ability to do well, if only he applied himself”. My parents have always been super supportive, but that’s not what any parent wants to hear. I dreaded parents’ evening.

I managed to get enough in my GCSEs and A-levels to study town planning at Newcastle University. I hated it, writing reports and essays, but I enjoyed the urban design modules. Sticking at boring tasks isn’t a strength of people with ADHD, but an upside is that it can push you towards the things you love. In the end I decided to retrain as an architect (again, very supportive parents!), again at Newcastle, which I dragged myself through by working ridiculous hours. One of the misconceptions about ADHD is that if you’re doing well, you can’t have it, but a lot of bright people just find ways to cope, even if they’re damaging in the long term.

I worked in London for a few years, moved back up to Newcastle, started a family. My career didn’t really take off though; despite doing longer hours than colleagues, the same issue followed me. I had the ability but wasn’t producing enough. I was too slow. Once children came along, staying late in the office became less and less feasible.

The final straw was the COVID lockdowns. Working from home, despite always staying at my desk and working all hours, my productivity went off a cliff. My employers weren’t happy.

It was around that time that I heard a podcast with the comedian Rory Bremner talking about his ADHD. He started outlining his symptoms and the penny dropped immediately.

I spoke to my GP who referred me to the NHS diagnosis service, but it was clear that it would take ages to be seen (the waiting list now runs into years). I used savings to be seen privately and was diagnosed a month or so later, at the age of 39. Diagnosis helps a great deal, but it takes a while to understand things. It’s not an overnight thing, but it’s worth it.

Three years later I still work as an architect, now at a practice called LEAP, which specialises in super low-carbon buildings. I made the decision to move into an area of architecture that interests me, which makes a huge difference. It’s important for anyone to do that, but it’s pretty vital for someone with ADHD.


  • If you think you might have ADHD, talk to someone. Approach your doctor (some are more open minded than others). Diagnosis is always a good thing, in my opinion. If you don’t want to tell anyone after, that’s your choice, but understanding your own strengths and weaknesses is really important.
  • If you are diagnosed, give yourself some time to let it sink in. You’ll find that you reframe a lot of things. It took me a while to realise that times when I’d been told that I was being lazy, I wasn’t. You might feel angry about past events or as if you could have done better in life if you weren’t ADHD. It’s all valid, but take your time and go easy on yourself.
  • If you have ADHD, you probably really struggle with concentrating on things that don’t interest you. For me, my brain feels like a dog refusing to go for a walk when doing certain tasks. Again, understand your strengths and weaknesses, pick subjects that you enjoy and in the long term aim for a career that will suit you. A desk job may or may not be the right path, but there are loads of interesting ways of building a successful career.
  • Beware of survivorship bias. A quick search online of “famous people with ADHD” will show lots of people who have been hugely successful with it. Most of them are athletes, comedians, actors, people who perform and make a living on their feet. These though are the people who became successful, so they’re more likely to see it as a positive. Don’t put pressure on yourself that because they made it, that ADHD doesn’t have downsides and that any struggles you have aren’t valid.
  • Medication isn’t an area where I can make recommendations. Talk to qualified medical professionals and do research. It’s okay to use it, but it’s also okay to not want to.
  • Find your niche. If you can’t compete for speed, become really good at something. Neurodiverse people are often great at getting really into a subject that they love. I trained as a Passivhaus designer, which means I can design buildings to the highest sustainability standards. There aren’t many architects that have that, so that’s how I compete, while doing something that I love. A supportive employer helps too.
  • Exercise, diet and sleep are important. Often you might look to get a dopamine hit from snacking and many people with ADHD struggle with going to bed on time. Do your best to look after yourself.

*See links below for some of the articles and online discussions Nick has been involved in:

Neurodiversity and architecture: how practices can create supportive environments

JEDI talks January 2023: Neurodiverse friendly architecture (

(Nick's section is 46 minutes in)