Q: It seems like more and more people are being diagnosed with ADHD or ASD as adults. What can I do to support them, even if they won’t disclose?
A: Whether through an addiction to TikTok or a slightly more academic route, you may be aware that there has been an increase in adult diagnosis of ADHD and ASD over the past 10 years.
This surge has led many of us to explore our role in supporting neurodivergent employees. As someone who was diagnosed with ADHD during that recent boom, it’s been fascinating to watch organisations grapple with this reality from a different perspective.
Let’s face it, disclosing any diagnosis in the workplace can be daunting. Although coined in the early 2000s, many organisations are still learning about neurodivergence.
Due to this lack of understanding, many neurodivergent people face the possibility of discrimination, with discrimination claims relating to neurodiversity up by a third in the UK alone in 2021. These claims only represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to negative experiences at work – and we need to take action.
Disclosure isn’t the only way we can take action, and we shouldn’t push for this. An adult diagnosis can be challenging for so many reasons. Many of us who were late diagnosed have an armoury of coping mechanisms (I have my 'I’m listening' face down to a fine art.)
However, these strategies are put in place to hide struggles, challenges and exhaustion. To disclose is to admit 'I’m not as good as you thought I was'. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to advocate for neurodivergent people without disclosure. Here are a few suggestions:
- We are all unique. Ask all employees to create preference profiles that outline where and how they work best as part of their induction. Mention neurodiversity as this opens up a dialogue with their manager that could build into a disclosure with time.
- That includes you. When Judy Singer coined the term neurodivergent, she meant you too. We all have cognitive differences that define where we thrive and where we survive. Create a workplace with flexibility and ensure there are quieter and more collaborative spaces so everyone can find their most productive space.
- Focus on strengths. It would be desperately boring if we were all the same. Support managers to think about their teams in terms of strengths rather than sticking to a rigid job role. Re-thinking how we hire people and assign work in terms of the strengths a team needs helps those with specific skills or challenges. Allowing neurodivergent people to lean into their strengths is a great way to increase performance.
- Easy access. Many neurodivergent people need specific tools or accommodations like headphones or specific software. Make these tools easy to order and access without having to disclose. Give IT colleagues the challenge of creating the easiest possible way to access these and make them available to everyone.
The magic of these tips is that they will benefit everyone and could make a difference to any neurodivergent people in your workplace. Just remember: 'I’d never have known you had ADHD' isn’t a compliment.
Jess Peacock is a neurodiverse diversity, equity and inclusion consultant
The full article of the above first appeared in the July/August 2022 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.