We sat down with Ellie Middleton, an influencer in the area of neurodivergence, to talk about being neurodivergent in the workplace, but first some context on what this means.
Two of the most commonly diagnosed neurodivergent types are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but do employers recognise and understand what these mean?
What is ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that can cause unusual levels of hyperactivity and impulsive behaviours. People with ADHD may also have trouble focusing their attention on a single task or sitting still for long periods of time.
What is Autism?
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication.
This is a handy infographic on Autism being more of a pie chart than a linear spectrum.
“I’m Ellie. I’m 24 years old. I work in personal branding. I’m Head of Community at Neuropool so that involves helping neurodivergent people get into jobs.“
What has your journey with ADHD been like?
“I was diagnosed with ADHD in about October (2021) time. I had kind of always been misdiagnosed with anxiety and depression. I kind of dug around after spending a lot of time convinced that anxiety wasn’t the problem and eventually got my diagnosis with ADHD, which made a lot of stuff make sense that had gone on through my life. I realised that anxiety is not the problem, but a side effect of whatever else is actually going on. After doing my own research, I went to the doctor and said “I think I’ve got ADHD.” After a brief test, you can be referred to a specialist, but the waiting list is 2-3 years, so I went private. I’m also on the waiting list for an Autism diagnosis. A lot of the stuff around Autism resonates with me so I think the two are probably comorbid.”
How is ADHD diagnosed?
“Unless it’s picked up in you as a child which is usually the case for a lot of boys at school. As an adult, you would have to go away and do the research yourself and then go and talk to your GP. If they then think it’s the right choice they will send you on to the neuro-developmental service in your area.”
What can employers and workplaces do to help?
“In the past, I had always disclosed my anxiety, but it turns out that is also my ADHD. I think for me, the thing that has helped me the most is having someone that understands that some days will be better than others. I think flexibility is super important and being able to say to an employer that I need to go for a walk for an hour and make up the time later. It’s important for employers to understand that not wanting to do something and not being able to do something are two completely different things. If you’re having a bad day, you can want to do all the work in the world, but it’s just not possible.”
What tools are out there currently to support neurodivergent individuals at work?
“Access To Work is a really helpful scheme for people with disabilities. I used the funding for my ADHD coach, but I found out that there are lots of things they’ll help you with for work. After an assessment, they offered me funding for transcription software, a standing desk and a digital notepad. There are so many things available that can make day to day life easier for neurodivergent people.”
How does Neuropool help unemployed people who are neurodivergent?
“Neuropool works in three main ways. Firstly, candidates can sign up directly by submitting their CV or get help from a mentor. Another way that we work is directly with universities on employability programs for neurodivergent students. Finally, we work directly with employers to offer training but also do the recruitment for the employers.”