This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week. It’s a brilliant signal that awareness has become celebration. And rightly so. Much about being neurodiverse in my life means it is rich, exciting, fulfilling and bloody great fun! And that should be celebrated.
My ADHD makes me extroverted; genuinely engaged in the lives of those around me. My hypersensitivity means I’m really tuned to people’s emotions, so am an empathetic, open person to be with. This has helped me as a leader too. I care deeply for my teams; their welfare, happiness and success.
Dr Tony Lloyd, Psychologist and chief executive of the ADHD Foundation, talks about how ADHD can have positive and negative impacts on both ability and ultimately employability. This is true for so many people across the neurodiverse spectrum. In the right setting among the right people, you can create the conditions where your neurodiverse superpowers come to the fore. And that benefits everyone.
All my adult life, I found ways to hack my ADHD. Whether it was making lists, changing my environment, standing up to work or listening to music (normally techno or thrash metal) to get through longer written tasks. These are things I discovered in my teens and early 20s. To this day, I’ll stand up to work at a high-table, or move part way through a meeting to help my focus.
There’s also been far less healthy hacks, like using alcohol to self-medicate. I’d drink to slow my brain down, to get me to a place where I could catch-up after hours on the more routine tasks that were so essential. I’ve chosen not to drink any more and take other steps to make manage my ADHD. But I still do early morning work, because it’s just how I’m wired.
I’m certainly not alone in having a busy inbox and calendar, filled with the indispensable, the urgent and the utterly irrelevant. But they all look the same to me, so navigating my day via tools like outlook is one of the most challenging things I face.
Writing and then failing to send an email feels way worse to people like me. Because we hate to cause problems for people. Or that people think we don’t care. Or that it causes more judgment of our cognitive ability. Doubt, especially in the absence of signals otherwise, can lead to people heading downhill. And that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
My diminished executive function means interpreting that information is hard. Not to mention on machines that have access to the world’s information; half of which is already spread across the 39 browser tabs in two different browsers on at least two devices at once.
People like me will recognize many of these things. It’s why people with ADHD sometimes report mental exhaustion, anxiety and depression. Navigating through daily tasks is doubly hard because you’re controlling the ADHD traits that can cause you setbacks, while harnessing everything it has to offer.
As you’re reading this in Neurodiversity Celebration Week, I hope you take away that having neurodiversity expressed openly in your business is something to embrace.
We might work at odd times. Send emails with unfinished sentences (or not at all). We’ll get up in meetings and have a stretch, or get unnaturally obsessed about a detail that might not seem relevant. Or go off on a tangent about 90’s raves at an inconvenient moment.
But we’ll challenge you to rethink the traditional or tried/tired ways of getting things done. We’ll ask the awkward questions. We’ll care for the work and the ones who make it more than anyone can or will know. And you’ll walk away from conversations and think: “I have absolutely no idea how they connected this to that, but something special just happened.”
All of that adds up to a rich, diverse and fulfilling environment for everyone, neurodiverse or otherwise. But we need your help to celebrate the best that we bring.
Iain Preston is chief client success officer EMEA at Wunderman Thompson
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.