Celebrating Neurodiversity in the workplace during ADHD Awareness Month
Image source: VectorMine
I’ve always been aware that I think and behave a bit differently than others, but it wasn’t until I was recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD (combined type) that I realized why. Since then, I’ve worked to improve my own awareness of my diagnosis to more deeply understand myself – and others like me. I’m making sense of who I am and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. There’s a considerable amount of misinformation and stigma surrounding ADHD life. In recognition of ADHD Awareness Month and Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, I’m sharing my personal experiences with ADHD to raise awareness of the condition, and encourage everyone to support our differences so that we can all achieve amazing things together.
What is ADHD?
ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is a frequently misunderstood neurodiverse condition, not a mental health condition. It’s a developmental impairment within the brain’s self-management system and falls under the same spectrum of neurodiversity as autism, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. Neurodiversity refers to the concept that brain differences are normal, not deficits or impairments, simply the result of natural genetic variation . Neurodivergent or not, everyone has different neurocognitive abilities. These differences don’t need to be “fixed”; but rather understood.
The lightbulb moment
As a child, I was often described as calm, well-behaved and a “bit of a daydreamer.” I was easily distracted and often unfocused, but my behavior wasn’t problematic. I recall having a lot of big emotions, but I processed them internally, hence the calm exterior. During adolescence, my symptoms became more prevalent due to new life challenges like an increase in academic and social pressures and higher expectations to regulate my behavior, thoughts and emotions.
Surprisingly, it was the social media app, TikTok, that led to my eventual ADHD epiphany. I’d watch the occasional TikTok titled, ‘ADHD in women’ or ‘lesser-known signs of ADHD’ and was fascinated by how non-stereotypical they were. Many were relatable to my own life, but I didn’t think much of it until my feed became consumed with ADHD-related content.
Getting to know my neurodiversity
Dr Kojo Sarfo, a mental health professional who has ADHD himself, captured my interest with informative TikToks about “time blindness” executive dysfunction, and other symptoms commonly associated with ADHD. Suddenly I began to identify and apply these qualities to my own life - and understand the things that were different about me but had always been mistaken for my “quirky personality”. I still wasn’t convinced, but I also felt a pull to improve my quality of life so I investigated further.
My first step towards an official diagnosis started with a survey that was generated by an Adult ADHD survey from the Attention Deficit Disorder Association. I discussed the results with my general physician who referred me to the appropriate health services to learn more about what it meant for me, and how to best optimize and thrive personally and professionally.
Neurodiversity at work
Small steps lead to big change, and with an estimated 15-20 percent of the world’s population exhibiting some form of neurodivergence, it is important to shape a diverse and inclusive workplace for all.
Employees with ADHD might need to do things a little differently to perform at their best. For me, simple things like recording meetings and receiving written communication rather than verbal are helpful, so I can take the time to process the information. We’re all different, so the best thing to do is to ask the person how you can support them, or check out these tips for supporting ADHD colleagues at work.
My performance, mood and energy levels are determined by a sense of interest, challenge, novelty, urgency, and passion – I can’t stand being bored, and I find I thrive in a fast-paced, ever-changing work environment. My favorite ADHD quality is “hyperfocus” - I do not like repetitive tasks, but when I'm interested in something and my hyperfocus is engaged, my enthusiasm and energy drives me to complete tasks quite quickly and efficiently. Whether it’s learning a language, playing a new instrument, starting a business venture or baking a masterpiece, my hyperfocus has given me the ability to take on a variety of useful and interesting skills. I also find that turning a task into a game, also known as gamification, is a great way to turn my mind ‘on’ when it comes to getting work completed.
Support in the workplace
My career in tech was a bit of a happy accident led by my impulsivity and hyperfocus – one of the many reasons I’m learning to love my neurodiverse brain. After being dissatisfied working in education, I applied for a role at a tech start-up (ContentCal) and was hired as a Customer Success Manager, with my energy and enthusiasm landing me the job. I loved the job, and soon after, it quite literally brought me to Adobe (via the acquisition of ContentCal) where the company encourages individuality, creative thinking and the freedom to be oneself – unapologetically.
Adobe offers employees several tools to support physical and mental health including a wellness reimbursement fund; access to the Headspace meditation app; LifeDojo, a wellbeing app that allows you to design your own behavior-change program with the support of a personal health coach; virtual physical fitness classes; employee assistance counselling sessions; and wellbeing events.
Normalizing neurodiversity is important to me, and I’m grateful that Adobe empowers me to vocalize and normalize my condition, because breaking perceived stigma starts with open communication. Whether you’re someone who wants to speak up to raise awareness or someone who takes the time to learn about disability directly from people who live with it every day, we can all do our part. I truly take Adobe’s values to heart - to be genuine, innovative, involved, and exceptional, this Disability Awareness Month, and every month.
Learn more on how Adobe is supporting diverse communities during National Disability Employment Awareness Month here.