I’m Sophie, Research and Events Coordinator here at RCW. As the newest team member at Real Conversations Works, I wanted to discuss the importance of understanding neurodivergence and highlight how this can appear differently from person to person.
My experience with ADHD
My friends often tell me their first impressions of me were that I’m outgoing and confident. While this is true, you wouldn’t necessarily immediately attribute it to the fact I’ve got ADHD. Short for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the name doesn’t help with overcoming the stereotype of someone with ADHD as being impulsive or unable to sit still and focus on classes or meetings.
Everyone experiences neurodivergence (and in my case ADHD) differently, so trying to create a mould that fits all is simply impossible.
What is Neurodivergence?
Neurodiverse people, or those who have traits associated with neurological differences (such as Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and ADHD), see and interact with the world around them differently. It’s important to recognise that there’s no universal way people can or should think, learn, or behave, so when defining what it means to be neurodiverse, I think it’s incredibly important to highlight that these are not deficits, simply differences.
Neurodiverse people who don’t fall within to neurotypical work styles have been at a disadvantage for a long time. But in the last decade, there’s been a significant focus on understanding and learning to support those with cognitive differences, by focusing on their strengths. Their strengths can be hugely varied but include unmatched creativity to being strong problem-solvers. Research shows organisations that were early with acknowledgement and implementation of neurodiversity support systems were successful for individuals and the organisation themselves.
A visual example of ADHD
This iceberg model shows how the internal and lived experiences impact every element of my life, including work, but only highlights pitfalls. It also shows that often, the internal struggles those with neurodiversity face, and what others see on the surface, are very different. Whilst no two brains are exactly alike, the language that’s often used to describe attributes is quite negative or medical and doesn’t help to destigmatise neurodiversity.
As somebody with ADHD, I have several unique strengths that are able to shine through in the right role and environment – where there is an understanding, patience, and good support systems in place. The table below shows the fine balance of what can happen to my performance due to how my ADHD is managed.
|If unsupported can run the risk of
|Taking calculated risks and pushing boundaries.
|Sometimes difficult to calculate risks with poor long-term planning.
|Being a good problem solver and thriving with uncertainty.
|However, also need explicit instructions due to inattentiveness and memory issues and can suffer with ‘choice paralysis’ with too much uncertainty.
|Ability to hyperfocus and work/perform under pressure.
|Poor time management and organisational skills can sometimes impact quality.
|Being insightful, empathetic, and caring.
|Trouble regulating emotions / ‘all or nothing’ thinking.
Trial and error
I’m a ‘trial and error’ kind of person, who prefers to learn through reflecting on an experience rather than extensive planning. This means that knowing what’s best for me can be tricky going into a new workspace. I’m always eager to try new things but the implications of being neurodiverse are much deeper than just being ‘a bit chatty’ or having a messy desk. It means I need enough stimulating tasks to keep me focused and engaged, and to make sure there’s flexibility with time. That flexibility could be by limiting the length of meetings and allowing me to juggle different projects (within reason) simultaneously. That may sound like hell to some neurotypical people – but we’re all different!
Utilising personality insights
In our team at Real Conversations Work we use Insight personality profiles to visualise how we work. These profiles explain how our brain works and provides suggestions for myself and managers about how to get the best from me. Providing me with the support I need requires no additional cost but makes a world of difference. It just means patience, explicit instruction, occasional help with time management, and constructive feedback.
Making positive differences
The perfect example that brought visible benefits was at university, where despite initial pushback, my academic department provided me with my lecture slides before the lecture. What was interesting was those lecturers who were willing and efficient in doing so, resulted in better marks than the modules with staff that showed reluctance or were unreliable in giving me the support needed. This was such a small action but it made the difference in me being able to engage with content and discussion in class rather than have to concentrate solely on getting notes on the page that I wouldn’t be able to contextualise.
All change starts with an open dialogue, patience and a willingness to be understanding and accommodating. If you had a team day out at the beach and someone had to stand in the sun, would you blame them if they got sunburnt? Probably not, instead, you’d come up with solutions, whether that was going to a shadier beach, or providing them an umbrella or sunscreen.
Neurodiverse people have much to offer, but in a world with a default designed for neurotypicals (think educational system), we have only recently started receiving the support and reasonable adjustments that we need to excel. Some organisations are working hard to create guidelines and put systems in place which is great. However, it’s also important to have real conversations and encourage people to be openminded to enable those systems to reap the rewards.
I recently wrote a blog about how the team at Real Conversations supports me, helps me excel as someone neurodiverse, and how important clear, open commincation is when it comes to the workplace.
So what can you do to help neurodiverse people use their superpowers?
- Make an inclusive culture the main goal when you hire and train people. In our team, we encourage openness and start building trust from the first interaction. We use insights discovery during onboarding to make it an enjoyable process and speed up the team understanding how to get the best from each other. I can personally vouch for this, it felt like an inclusive and productive discussion with everyone about our working style, rather than me having to speak up and explain etc.
- Understand different neurological differences. Educate yourself through sources such as this helpful CIPD guide around ‘Neurodiversity At Work’. You could also start conversations with people in your team and organisation to help remove some of the stigma or misconceptions around neurodiversity and promote more understanding.
- Advocate inclusivity through non-judgemental language. Reflect on the fact that no two people are the same by avoid labelling and thinking about the impact of your words on individuals’ self-perceptions through pigeonholing and misconceptions. Promote the benefit of supporting neurodiversity in the workplace: Some people may not have a formal diagnosis, but inclusive practices can benefit the wider working population anyway.
- Offer reasonable adjustments. Help the individual to identify what extra support is needed. Here are some examples of things that have worked successfully for me:
- more short-term, bite-size ‘deadlines’ or steps, and a central electronic place to store these (we use Monday.com) for accountability.
- extra time for reading and information processing if there’s a lot to take on board.
- support with regular check-ins and making sure that the task is repeated back by me to make sure I’ve retained the information shared. (And no, this isn’t patronising – I find it very useful!)
Whilst neurodiversity is officially classified as a disability in legal terms in the UK, we don’t need to limit neurodiverse people by using that label. It only takes a little effort and understanding to set up the right environment for me to succeed and to bring my unique strengths to the team.
In our next blog, my manager, Sarah, is going to talk about what she’s learned from me about working with a neurodivergent team member (both myths and realities!).
To find out more about how to manage diversity in the workplace, book a call with us. We’d be happy to talk it through.