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Reframing Neurodiversity in the Workplace: From Liability to Asset

When Evan first started as a graphic designer at a marketing agency, diving into complex visual projects often made him lose track of basic daily tasks in an instant. He fought feelings of failure whenever teammates looked impatient after requesting assets he had forgotten to send. Also, because project parameters constantly changed, he couldn’t build a routine and often forgot what tasks or requests were current priorities.

Having recently been diagnosed with ADHD, questions swirled in Evan's mind about whether to disclose to his manager. He valued working at an innovative agency, which attracted him initially, allowing creative flexibility. However, asking for specific support around the project organization felt risky, even with ADA disability rights theoretically protecting employees like Evan against discrimination.

The reality? Stigma persists. ADHD myths equating forgetfulness with laziness or low motivation too often inform exclusionary workplace attitudes, well-intentioned or otherwise. Explaining needs stemming from neurology rather than choice requires careful self-advocacy in navigating disclosure decisions in competing contexts rife with stereotyping pitfalls.

But individual stories - our stories - reshape perceptions. By courageously bringing our whole selves to work, policies shift, enhancing inclusion. Progress remains slow, but fruits can resonate within everyday environments through constructive vulnerability and compassion, strengthening communal bonds.

The ADHD Mind Needs NICUP

For ADHD brains like Evan’s, managing competing design deliverables and shifting priorities while regulating focus proved extraordinarily taxing at times. He felt wired to thrive in stimulating creative jobs. Yet certain executive functioning lags presented painfully apparent to team members unaware of ADHD realities.

Creatively channeling the gifts of ADHD neurology, according to experts, relies profoundly on personalized conditions termed NICUP:

  • Novelty - We seek new ideas; innovation is a need in our lives.

  • Interest - We love work that intrigues us and piques our curiosity.

  • Challenges - We need to be challenged in the ways we enjoy.

  • Urgency - We need clear deadlines (and maybe a bit of chaos)

  • Passion - Passions drive our Purpose; however, this may change often, which is OK!

While more linear-thinking neurotypical peers bounce between structured importance-based priorities, Evan’s optimal workflow depended more on flexible systems tailored to his Interest-based neurodiverse needs. Once he understood that his mind worked differently, he started to explore how to optimize his environment and workflow. 

How Do We Assess Our Accommodation Fit?

Sometimes, we struggle with self-awareness and have difficulty assessing our needs alone. This is where professionals come into play. ADHD-Informed Psychiatrists, Therapists, and Coaches are great resources for helping you understand and define your skills. Also, reach out to your friends and family and discuss your ADHD with them and get their help!

This is what Evan did; he talked to his psychiatrist and therapist and worked to educate himself about his needs. He learned the overall struggles and common accommodations that the professionals suggested. Then, he worked with an ADHD-informed career coach and narrowed the information that he had down to reflect his own personal needs. Then he talked to his mom and discovered that, while his mother never got diagnosed, she still had found several things that worked for her, and these helped Evan flesh out his needs more.

Armed with knowledge of how his mind works best, Evan felt empowered to assess his work environment’s strengths and gaps. Did the dynamic creative role align enough with his talents to offset areas of difficulty concentrating? Could simple, reasonable accommodations bridge any divide between him and the organizational structure needed to thrive?

Questions Evan Asked Himself:

  • What parts of this job play to my natural abilities - and what triggers roadblocks?

  • Do I mask difficulties or ask for informal help to cope already?

  • What specific solutions could I request to showcase my assets better?

  • Might roles like event planning suit me better if no overlap exists between company needs and my needs?

By first reflecting internally, Evan gathered data and vocabulary to have thoughtful disclosure conversations, specifying exactly how he - and the workplace - stood to gain through openness coupled with tailored adjustments, allowing his unique skills to shine.

"Creatively re-envisioning support first involves examining where conventional options constrain rather than liberate your distinct talents." - Shane Thrapp

Strategic, Compassionate Disclosure

Walking into his manager’s office, Evan focused first on expressing appreciation for the agency’s innovative culture, which embraced his creative instincts despite occasional missed administrative tasks. He highlighted areas where he excelled, like designing visually striking graphics informed by deep client insights.

Evan then explained specific project management struggles he grappled with. Nervously yet courageously, he asked if they might discuss building on his strengths by troubleshooting growth areas together.

Evan emphasized his eagerness to learn systems, boosting talents like his intuitive visual eye through reasonable support adapting to his needs. He presented example options:

  • Using large visual calendars to map requests, changes, and track deadlines

  • Collaborating with detail-oriented teammates to supplement his big-picture approach

  • Structuring consistent routines allowing hyperfocus time for heads-down design work

His manager appreciated Evan’s candor and voiced his willingness to implement trial tweaks. They agreed success metrics should gauge increased project timeliness and positive impacts on Evan’s job satisfaction and sense of workplace belonging.

In the next month, Evan tested using a new digital kanban board to organize tasks while noting daily blockers. Paired check-ins with a project manager, Priya, helped supplement gaps. Over time, Evan gained self-assurance from seeing progress in sticking to delivery goals, while the agency benefitted from his enhanced creative contributions.

Through compassionate self-advocacy, Evan expanded his team’s recognition of neurodiversity assets needing accommodation—not inherently deficient “problems” requiring conformity cures. Their bonded understanding fueled momentum towards accessibility for all.

“When the expectation to conform collides with a neurodivergent inability to conform, gifts can easily be lost as weaknesses instead of nurtured as strengths.” Dr. Edward Hallowell

Where To Go From Here

While laws increasingly support workplace neurodiversity, moving from policy to practice remains an uphill climb, requiring persistent self and systemic advocacy. Consider these tips for propelling progress:

  • Reflect on personal needs, assets, and possible accommodations before disclosure. Be specific!

  • Lead disclosure with appreciation and solutions rather than just challenges.

  • Align requests with company priorities, showing benefits for all.

  • Share lived stories humanizing workplace struggles with empathy.

  • Consider job coaching, vocational rehab programs, or ADHD career consultants providing disclosure guidance and mediation.

  • Contact advocacy non-profits like CHADD if facing discrimination upon requesting ADA access and accommodation.

  • Identify environments genuinely fostering neurodiversity if dealing with sustained stigma elsewhere.

While often vulnerable, disclosure conversations that focus on reasonable accommodation and needs related to ADHD will frequently expand understanding rather than unleash backlash when handled collaboratively.

Legal protections such as the Americans with Disabilities Act also reinforce rights many remain unaware of as social resources for positive change expand.

Together, through compassion and courage, we can reshape inflexible systems! Take the chance and advocate for yourself and if you can, others who may struggle to express their needs.

What discussion around disclosure and workplace accessibility resonates with your experiences? Share in the comments below!

And if you need help with defining your struggles and the accommodations that you need, schedule a Discovery Call today!

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