Living with neurodiversity can be a daily challenge. If you are one of the millions of Americans who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), for example, you know all too well the impact your condition can have on your relationships and your home life.
However, it’s not only your personal life that is likely to be impacted by ADHD. The odds are that you have felt its effects in your professional life as well. Indeed, nearly half of working adults with ADHD report that they feel as if their condition has negatively impacted their work life, with a significant majority reporting that they must work harder and longer than their neurotypical colleagues.
What findings such as these illuminate above all is the critical importance of self-advocacy in the workplace. To be sure, fighting for the opportunities and rights to which you are entitled is not easy but, in the end, it is a necessary and worthwhile endeavor.
What Is Self-Advocacy and Why Does It Matter?
Self-advocacy, simply put, is the process of defending your rights, of understanding your own needs, and taking proactive steps to ensure those needs are both respected and accommodated. The ultimate goal is to ensure that you are treated equitably and fairly, and that you do not experience discrimination or bias, whether conscious or unconscious, from those around you.
Self-advocacy is particularly critical for neurodivergent persons in the workplace because there is still so much misinformation and stigmatization surrounding these conditions. Unless your peers and managers become educated on what neurodiversity is and how it manifests in conditions such as ADHD, workers who are neurodiverse will continue to be misunderstood and marginalized in the workplace.
Such marginalization can have devastating consequences not only for one’s career but also for one’s social, psychological, and financial well-being.
Know Your Rights–and Your Value
One of the first and most important steps you can take when you begin to advocate for yourself in the workplace is to understand both your rights and your value. You cannot hope to fight for your rights if you don’t first appreciate what it is, exactly, that you bring to the organization.
When you clearly define the value you contribute, the more confidence you will have when asserting your needs and expectations. Plus, you will have the evidence you need to better make your case. You will be able to clearly articulate why it is in the company’s best interest to do what is needed to retain and support you in your work.
In addition to understanding the unique value you bring to the company, you also need to understand the rights you enjoy as an employee with a legitimate medical need. Under the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), for example, employers are legally obligated to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities if those accommodations are needed to help the employee do their work successfully. If your employer refuses to provide those reasonable accommodations or subjects you to harassment or discrimination due to your diagnosis, you have the right to take legal action.
Navigating Difficult Conversations in the Workplace
Talking with your employer or colleagues about your condition may not be easy, but confronting the challenge can yield immense rewards. After all, how can you expect to experience a supportive and productive work environment if your supervisors and colleagues don’t understand your needs?
If, for example, you find that your ADHD significantly affects your memory, you might discuss your challenges with your coworkers, requesting that they write important information down and provide timely reminders. Writing notes to yourself can also be an ideal way to help you keep track of important details. Best of all, if your coworkers understand that this is something you need to perform at your best, they can encourage and support you in the process.
Honoring Your Own Boundaries
No matter how well-educated you may be in regard to your legal rights and no matter how much data you collect to quantify the contributions you’ve made to your company, sometimes it’s just not going to be enough. There is, unfortunately, such a thing as a villainous work environment due to bad corporate culture and if you find yourself in one of those, there’s not much you can do. When the corporate culture is bad, sometimes the best solution is simply to move on.
The Wide-Ranging Benefits of Self-Advocacy
Despite what the name implies, self-advocacy isn’t really only about helping yourself. The benefits of self-advocacy extend far beyond the person doing it by creating a culture that is more inclusive, diverse, and supportive overall. The end result is a team environment in which everyone benefits by supporting, encouraging, and being supported and encouraged by one another.
When you have ADHD, self-advocacy in the workplace isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity if you want to enjoy the long, successful, and fulfilling career you deserve. Though it’s not easy, when you have a plan, when you understand your rights and your value, and when you recognize the benefits that your advocacy will bring to the corporate culture as a whole, you can muster the strength and courage you need to be your own best advocate.