Neurodiversity Celebration Week: sharing lived experiences
Last editedMay 20225 min read
This week at GoCardless we’re internally recognising Neurodiversity Celebration Week with our employee-run resource group, Access, organising a range of educational workshops and lived experience talks. The term neurodiversity was coined back in 1988 by sociologist Judy Singer, and it refers to variations in the human brain and cognition, for instance in sociability, learning, attention or mood. You may be more familiar with ADHD, Autism, Dyspraxia, or Dyslexia which are all neurodiverse conditions.
There is still a lot of stigma surrounding neurodiversity which means that many people either don’t feel comfortable disclosing their status or have many more obstacles to overcome in their personal and professional lives. Some of our colleagues have agreed to share their personal experiences, including the challenges, learnings, and even the wins, so that together we can help to bring awareness to neurodiversity and to create an environment where others have the confidence to live authentically.
Since my first job at 16, I have seen attitudes towards neurodiversity transform in the workplace. When I started working, I sadly realised pretty early on that it was not an environment where I could be honest about who I was. I learned to mask a lot of my personality as I didn’t think people would appreciate seeing it.
One of the most challenging things I find about being neurodiverse is the constant concern I have over how I am perceived. Many times I have agonised over how I've spoken to a colleague and whether I’ve offended them. It gets quite exhausting sometimes.
Despite the frustrations, there are definite upsides! I always find that I can offer a different perspective on things. This can be quite beneficial when a team needs motivation. I can play that role very well and I find it rewarding when I can. This is the first time I have ever disclosed to my colleagues that I am neurodiverse. It’s great that I finally feel comfortable doing this. It has made my transition into this career a lot smoother so I definitely see this as a win!
I’ve always been neurodiverse (ADHD & autism), but I never knew it until I started transitioning. Like many teenage cis girls go through, (second) puberty made it suddenly drastically worse to the point where I am now genuinely disabled by my ADHD without medication. The last four years have been stressful and traumatic trying to get that help, which took three years on the NHS. In the meantime, I struggled to do my job. After that, I had to re-learn how to work again, now I have meds that work.
Working at GoCardless hasn’t been all smooth sailing; having to use a MacBook is a massive barrier to work because it adds a lot of extra difficulties to everything I have to do, and it took me nearly a year to learn that our company values are aspirational and not a promise by the company. At the same time, it is the first workplace I’ve been in where I have received actual support for my ADHD. I’ve been able to have the time to get to grips with everything, as well as encouragement, help and flexibility.
One of my first experiences here was the onboarding document suggesting I start a “brag document” – something I’d only previously seen in neurodivergent support contexts because they’re super helpful for us. People are very happy to accommodate many of my neurodivergent traits as long as they understand them. Having come here riddled with anxiety and trauma, I’ve been able to find a groove, feel welcomed and work with my team to find ways of working that suit me better without causing trouble for them. Being able to be fully open about being neurodivergent and having such amazingly supportive colleagues make it a pretty great place to be!
Due to tumultuous familial circumstances, I did not have much structure or consistency in my life. However, I think my unwitting-neurodivergence worked in my favour as I was hyperfocused on books and hobbies (I like to say I have approximate knowledge of many things). I was not diagnosed as being neurodivergent in my school years, instead, I was considered “gifted” and started school two years early. I then went on to spend the majority of my elementary and middle school tenure being enrolled in gifted classes. Despite this, I would score average or below average if I was disinterested in the subject of an assignment.
I tend to learn and pick up new things very quickly, so as I went through school my disinterest often turned to frustration. I would fidget to try and pay attention in classes, something which would regularly get me in trouble. Eventually, I felt like homework and the structured way of working was not for me, so I left high school and got my GED.
It was in my adult years that I finally started to realise that my thought processes were different to those around me. Because of my home life, I sought psychiatric treatment to find out if I had any conditions that could've been passed down from genetics or childhood circumstances. I was initially diagnosed as bipolar at the age of 25 and put on medication - but this led to other issues and so I ended up seeking a second option. It was at this point that I was told that I had ADHD and Borderline Personality Disorder (which had been misdiagnosed as bipolar).
It’s been difficult to get the proper care and support that I need as there’s still a lot of stigma around BPD and ADHD. Plus, I live in the US and the medication that I need is highly regulated here which means it can be difficult to obtain. I have been navigating through life based on my own research with minimal help from healthcare professionals.
I found it much easier to navigate through life when I didn't know my diagnosis, but I am grateful as it means that I can be more self-aware of how I affect others. I’m quite grateful for the positives of ADHD and the ability to be an original thinker. It’s never boring in my mind, I love how enthralled I get in the things I am interested in. The downsides are that focus doesn't last long. During times of stress, it's hard to stay on track with day to day tasks. I get stuck in ADHD paralysis and have a hard time getting out of it.
Although considered a disability, I believe I am more able than most, I just do things differently and I want this to be acknowledged and destigmatized in the medical world so people who have been through the same things as I can, have the same opportunities to heal as neurotypicals.
Different people flourish in different environments. Our brains all operate differently, which means we do not all respond in the same way to the same inputs around us. Unfortunately, for me and I am sure, for many others, the UK education system didn't quite support me in that way. I went through school desperately trying to fit in, so being ‘stupid’ wasn't an option.
I could never understand why certain things didn't come easily to me: How could some people form a perfect answer when I couldn't even remember the question? Why would students happily volunteer to read to the class while I would try to rehearse the lines in case I was picked on next? I would do anything to avoid answering questions or reading aloud due to the fear of being laughed at. Instead, I would create so much of a scene that I knew would get me sent out of my lesson. My teachers never wondered why I acted up, I was just disruptive and naughty. They'd do anything not to have me in their lessons.
Despite what my teachers thought I would become up to age 18, I did continue on to university. It was there I got diagnosed with dyslexia. All of a sudden, the fact you got extra time, sat in a small room for exams and the possibility of getting a free MacBook, was very appealing.
I learnt then that having dyslexia was certainly not something to be ashamed of. I was so interested in learning more that I wrote my dissertation on manipulating properties in reading material and the effect it has on uni students with dyslexia (happy to share if anyone is interested in reading!). Looking back, not only was it the reading and processing aspect of dyslexia that wasn't accepted or supported at school but also the creative side. I've always been eager to learn more, dig deeper and challenge answers. At school, this was seen as rude and inappropriate, but luckily for me, many workplaces (especially GoCardless) prefer innovative thinkers, encourage asking questions and want you to delve deep into the problem. Dyslexic individuals tend to be natural problem solvers, as we can see the bigger picture right from the start. We tend to think outside of the box, rather than being sequential thinkers. We can think of many ideas via many different routes. We also tend to be visual thinkers, so we can use our imagination to spark interest and curiosity. All things that could be massively valued at work!
So yes, I may still get my b and d's the wrong way, couldn't tell you my left from my right and for the life of me can't tell the difference between 'there' and 'here'. But overall, I think being dyslexic is pretty great!
Learn more about neurodiversity
If you're interested in finding out more about neurodiversity, then why not take a look at some of the useful resources we've listed below.