ADHD – A unique journey

January 22, 2019 - Daniel Aherne

Here at Adjust we focus on Neurodiversity and the Workplace.

Neurodiversity means that there can be significant differences in how we process information, problem solve, communicate and think. At Adjust we like to think of Neurodiversity as a “celebration of individuality”.

We exclusively focus on the Neurodiverse conditions of autism/Asperger’s, dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. This blog will focus on ADHD.

ADHD stands for “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”. The NHS defines ADHD as “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural disorder that includes symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness”

However at Adjust we feel that the language surrounding the diagnostic label of ADHD is outdated, negative and does not focus on any of the strengths that ADHD can bring. This negative language can lead to damaging stereotypes and myths.

At Adjust we want to bust some of the myths and stereotypes around Neurodiversity and focus on the strengths that are often overlooked.

Myth: ADHD is a condition that affects “young hyperactive, naughty boys”

Fact: Many women and girls with ADHD are undiagnosed because of the damaging stereotype that ADHD is primarily a young boy’s condition. It should also be noted that many boys and men are also going undiagnosed due to not fitting this damaging ‘hyperactive, naughty’ stereotype.

As a result, many undiagnosed adults especially women with ADHD are not receiving the support that would enable them to reach their true workplace potential.

We talked to Claire Ryan to about her journey from childhood to getting a diagnosis of ADHD as adult and the impact that the condition has had on her life. Here she recounts her story:

Growing up I was described as having ‘too much energy’ but also as ‘lazy’. My school reports were full of comments such as ‘Claire is capable but needs to apply herself’. ‘Claire needs to focus on her work, not what is going on around her’. Thing is, I was trying really hard, but the constant negative feedback made me feel like I just wanted to give up. When I was 12, my parents sent me to a Convent Boarding School in the hope that the discipline would do me some good. I was never in trouble during school hours, but I was still never the student everyone thought I ‘should’ be.

Growing up I was described as having ‘too much energy’ but also as ‘lazy’

After school was a different matter altogether. I was suspended during my first year there because, in truth, I was bored. The lack of structure, guidance, activities and stimulation was exactly the opposite of what I needed. I was also never forgiven for this and for the remaining 4 years, I was always ‘that kid’.

I have always struggled with focus, either being able to focus completely, or not at all. This meant school work took so much longer as my mind and body battled with my willpower. I couldn’t revise for my GCSE’s, I literally had no idea how to, nor the focus to but managed to leave with 9 GCSE’s including 2 A*’s.

My childhood had been overrun by a constant daily internal battle and this continued into my adult life. When my children began gathering diagnoses I had some lightbulb moments. This led to me ask for a referral in order to seek some answers.

I went to my GP and asked to be referred to the Maudsley Hospital in London for an ADOS assessment. I knew I was different and thought I might have been autistic, although that never felt quite right. It took 18 months before I was seen by the team at the Maudsley and I arrived terrified, armed with a pile of school reports and questionnaires which my parents had filled in. It became clear quite quickly into the assessment that they did not think I was autistic, but they completed it and asked me to wait outside whilst they discussed their findings. When I went back into the room, they said ‘you do not meet the criteria for an autism diagnosis, but you do for ADHD’. I felt nothing but relief. Pure relief that someone had finally recognised my struggles, that I wasn’t ‘that kid’, that I was actually trying really hard even if the adults around me hadn’t ever seen it. I hoped this would be a huge turning point in my life and accepted the offer of medication without hesitation. I spent the next few months re-evaluating my past and re-assessing my self esteem and confidence. They had always been low, but now I felt I had the answer to so many ‘why’s’.

When my children began gathering diagnoses I had some light bulb moments. This led to me ask for a referral in order to seek some answers.

Claire describes her experience of having ADHD at work:

I flitted from job to job until my current job, which I have been in for 16 years. In previous jobs, I didn’t feel stimulated enough, engaged on a mental and physical level or challenged to push my abilities. I found study difficult, but mainly because I just wanted to do the job. Reading has always been tricky as my mind wanders off and I could read the same paragraph 5 times and still not know what it said, however I managed it and gained the qualifications I needed. At work I found organising incredibly difficult, especially the admin side of my role.

Myth: People with ADHD can’t concentrate

Fact: Many individuals with ADHD describe going into “hyper focus” when concentrating. Claire explains more, and describes some abilities associated with ADHD that are often overlooked.

If I am interested and mentally engaged, I hyper focus at work which means I don’t act impulsively, I don’t make quick decisions, I check and recheck because I have always understood how important this is to get right. Tasks took me longer to complete than others due to the checking needed and I also think has lead to me being a ‘perfectionist’ in all areas of my life. Anxiety was with me all day, every day and the mental effort it took to do the best job I could, resulted in me finishing work at 3pm absolutely shattered. After my son was born, I reduced my hours and only worked 3 days per week. This helped a lot and gave me the time to do household/family things that needed to be done. In my mind, it was either a work day, or a home day and I couldn’t mix the 2, or catch up in the evenings. My routine was so important to me to ensure I didn’t burn out, but I felt ridiculous trying to explain this to my family. I didn’t really understand why, so how could I expect them to?

If I am interested and mentally engaged, I hyper focus at work

Many people with ADHD do not feel confident to be open with their employer about their condition. This is always a personal choice and Claire describes her experience:

I wasn’t going to tell my Manger about my ADHD, I didn’t see the point. Ten years after I was diagnosed, I needed to change my medication which led to a period of crippling anxiety, requiring time off work. When I returned, I decided to be honest about why I had been off, because I wanted them to know that I don’t have a mental health condition, I have ADHD. My Manager was quite nonchalant about it and didn’t seem to be surprised. I was clear that I didn’t want or need adjustments and if I messed up, I wanted it to be viewed as being my responsibility, not my ADHD. I might review that one day and if it ever happens that I do mess up, who knows?! I am incredibly tough on myself and my performance at work. I am also a perfectionist and I would imagine others with ADHD might answer this question very differently. I don’t have to worry about being distracted, sensory issues with a uniform, or being in a difficult workplace. I have very supportive colleagues and am part of a fantastic team. I am lucky in my current role that I have found my perfect fit.

This may not be the case for everyone, my reasons for not seeking adjustments will be very different from those in other situations.

Myth: There’s no benefit to getting a diagnosis of ADHD as an adult

Fact: Getting a diagnosis, and the relevant support can be life changing – Claire describes her experience:

The biggest differences were medication and beginning to really understand myself. My new found awareness meant I could keep a check on things I might struggle with, or those which I might need to focus more on. Medication was life changing. I described it to my Husband as ‘my brain has let out a big sigh and relaxed for the first time in my life’! It was quite alarming to realise that I had never ‘relaxed’ before and it was welcome experience. I have been able to multi task at work better and because I was now tuned into my specific needs, I was able to set up structures to help with organising. As the pressure increases, I don’t lose skills I might have lost previously due to anxiety. Now I structure and then restructure to fit the demands. Things don’t take as long as I find reading easier now and I don’t need to check and re-check as much. As I manage my own time at work, I don’t have to ask for adjustments. I do a lot of admin at home so I can take longer if necessary, It rarely is now. I still hyper focus all day and I still forget to eat during my working hours. I still feel exhausted from all the mental effort too, but I feel proud of what I am achieving and confident I am doing a good job.

Medication was life changing. I described it to my Husband as…’my brain has let out a big sigh and relaxed for the first time in my life’

We hope that reading about Claire’s personal journey has been insightful and has helped you learn more about ADHD in adults.

Everyone is different, so others with ADHD will have other experiences and a different journey. If you are an employee with ADHD and want to have a confidential discussion about openness and support available in the workplace, feel free to contact us.

If you are an employer, you can contact Adjust to ensure you are making the relevant workplace adjustments for employees with ADHD. We offer training and consultancy to provide you with the tools to retain, recruit and develop your employees with ADHD.