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“My ADHD is my superpower” neurodiverse confidence in work

KK Harris - Executive Coach

My diagnosis with ADHD was a watershed moment. Receiving the news, I saw things through a new lens. My life-long struggles suddenly made sense. I began to see how my traits and skills enhanced by ADHD could be used to my advantage, rather than focussing on what I found difficult. My brain works differently, it always has. But now I could see this in a positive light.

For many, myself included, a late diagnosis with ADHD is an emotional and liberating experience but one that can also bring with it a feeling of stigma, even shame. The world isn’t always accommodating to difference. When my diagnosis was confirmed, I was tearful and made the decision to resign from my job role at the time due to the inadequate support. It was scary to tell people for the first time, but now I feel empowered every time I do. For workplace leaders, it’s time to rethink neurodiversity and ensure your neurodiverse talent feels empowered to request the support they need, utilise their best skills and have the psychological safety to challenge stigma.

There’s a distinguished list of successful people who have ADHD including the likes of Simone Biles, Will Smith, Whoopi Goldberg, and Richard Branson.  These people have achieved amazing feats without letting stigma, or an unaccommodating world, stand in their way. This is how every neurodiverse person in the workplace should feel, but too often the lack of support from leaders pushes out talent, to the detriment of both the individual and the organisation.

Stigma and the lack of psychological safety
Micro-aggressions such as describing people as ‘flaky’ or ‘crazy’ do not have a place in a workplace that nurtures ADHD talent and allowing stigma to thrive can be very dangerous for your organisation. These words were used to describe me from a young age and upon reflection, I know they had a big impact on how I behaved. Being constantly exposed to stigma can leave employees suffering from imposter syndrome and they may subconsciously hold themselves back from progression. This lack of psychological safety can make people feel like a burden in the workplace and can be a blocker to their progression.

Not only do these individuals see their careers suffer but those around them will be impacted by the loss of talent and unique ways of thinking that could transform work for the better. Of course, stigmas are present across social groups and will be combined when someone has multiple identities. For example, someone who experiences stigma because of their ethnicity can be burdened by further stigma upon a neurodiversity diagnosis.

If a workplace manages different employees carefully, and works to oust stigma, the benefits are invaluable. Successful leaders know that variety is the lifeblood of innovation – if unique skills and behaviours are given space to flourish.

Empowering individuals
With structural changes and support, neurodiverse employees are fantastic, effective employees. Think about how we see physical differences and how these are accommodated. Employees above a certain height may feel they require simple screen and seat adjustments to perform at an optimal level over long periods of time, yet they will unlikely feel shame when requesting specific support. The psychological safety when requesting support should be the same whether the difference is physical or neurological.

By focusing too much on the stigma of neurodiversity, businesses overestimate the amount of support neurodiverse talent need and inevitably miss out on great candidates. This is as much the case for new hires as it is for existing workers, with many employees feeling ashamed to ask for additional support, they are inevitably held back in the workplace.

I think of my ADHD as my superpower – while I have my own struggles, I know that, as a coach, my ability to focus on things I’m passionate about, be empathetic, and listen intently are incredible strengths that I’m proud to show off to clients. We need to create an environment where this kind of empowerment thrives.

Coaching and culture
Ongoing coaching is an excellent way to ensure hiring managers and those in senior positions are properly educated on neurodiversity within the workforce, what it means for them and how they can help to support those within their teams. If you have nurtured a workplace culture that encourages open dialogue and feedback sharing, one of the best ways to track how well a business is doing is to ask the employees themselves. After all, the people who are neurodiverse are the experts on their own conditions.

Neurodiversity surrounds us, in fact, it’s estimated that 1 in 7 people in the UK are neurodiverse. In every industry, we can benefit from making the world more accessible for those who are neurodiverse and embracing their learning differences and the way they see the world. If we don’t acknowledge these needs, businesses will miss out on the talent and potential of thousands of candidates.

My own journey to accepting my own ADHD has not been a straight line to a simple finish line, quite the opposite but its thanks to this journey and the support received along the way that I can now wear my diagnosis on my sleeve. My hope is that in years to come neurodiverse talent across the board can feel this way, put stigma behind them and look forward to a career where their strengths are celebrated, and perceived weaknesses are accommodated.

What to do if you think you may be neurodiverse?
To pursue an assessment and treatment for a neurological disorder can be a huge step. It can be difficult to both admit to yourself that you need an assessment, and then comes the challenges of who to speak to. For ADHD you want to track symptoms such as trouble organising or forgetfulness. If you are confident that symptoms are present, you can speak to your GP who can refer you for a formal assessment with a psychiatrist or occupational therapist. The assessment can include several elements and although different clinicians will vary somewhat it will typically include a thorough diagnostic interview, information gathering from independent sources such a spouse or family member and standardised rating scales for ADHD. From this the medical professional will be able to make a judgement on if you are neurodiverse and then advise on next steps.

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