The benefits of diagnosis

by Daley Jones
Co-Chair/Co-Founder | Metropolitan Police ADHD Alliance

I am writing this blog following a conversation with my ADHD coach. I was telling her how I have often struggled to quantify the positive effects my ADHD and dyspraxia diagnoses have had on my life, and the ‘assistance’ that has followed. What flowed from that conversation is effectively what I am writing.

I’d like to be clear on a couple of points. Although I am talking about my diagnoses for neurodivergent conditions, the positive effects I mention could easily apply to any diagnosis, disability or condition.

I should also add: as always, I can only talk about my own personal experiences. Everyone reacts differently, and feels differently following that moment where someone says, “You have x”.

The day I was diagnosed was, no exaggeration, one of the best days of my life. At age 36 I was told I had combined ADHD. At 37 I was told that I was also dyspraxic.

Throughout my life I have struggled – be this in school, university, work, or even in my social and leisure activities. In my previous blog I described those struggles in a bit more detail. However, the struggles themselves have caused me to have very poor self-esteem, and a very poor view of my self-worth. In most situations in life, my default position has always been a variation of “You cannot do this thing, you are incapable” which invariably leads to “You are an idiot/lazy/stupid/selfish/don’t care”.

When I realised that there was a reason for these struggles – a reason I was born with, that is a part of me, that is inherent in how my brain operates… it was liberating. I could finally say “It’s not your fault” which leads to “You are not (insert negative word here)”.

In turn, I now think, “OK, how can this situation be explained/demonstrated differently in order for my mind to understand it”. The more I have learned about both my conditions, the more I have been able to create understanding, strategies and coping mechanisms to help me.

Being able to explain why I struggle has also allowed me to explain this to my loved ones, friends, colleagues and bosses. If they understand, they will be in a better and more informed place to ultimately help me.

From a professional, almost HR perspective, being able to point to a diagnosis means that – God forbid I ever got into trouble at work – I would be able to point to my diagnosis and the protections I am afforded under the Equality Act.

You have a right to not disclose a condition to your employer. But think long and hard about this, and ask yourself: will my employer support me fully if they don’t know about my condition?

Accessing help – I will split this into sections:

I appreciate for many this is almost a ‘dirty word’ – I think society has created an unfair picture that to be ‘on pills’ is a bad thing. I think of it differently: if you had a serious muscular injury, you would go and seek help from a physiotherapist or osteopath. Therefore why should your brain be any different?

Many people point to the side effects of medication. Whilst all drugs will have side effects, I’d argue so does caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. I urge you to look at the potential side effects of paracetamol next time you pop one with a headache – it’s quite the list!

My ADHD medication has helped me immeasurably: it allows me to focus and get things done, and it brings clarity to my day-to-day life. My partner tells me it has made me “more thoughtful” – I think I was always thoughtful. The issue was engaging the right thoughts at the right time!

To get to the point I am at now with medication, I went through a lengthy process called ‘titration’. Titration is quite simply the process used to determine that I was on the right medication and the right dosage. Throughout the process, I was in regular contact with a nurse who got me to give feedback on how the medication was affecting me. I had to regularly record my blood pressure (I was sent a free monitor) and also give my weight. At any time if I was unhappy with the medication, I could have dropped my dosage or even tried a different type of drug. My point here is that it is well worth trying medication, and if one particular drug doesn’t work for you, be mindful there are others, with different dosages and different methods of use. (I take one pill daily, every morning – you can take a split dose, i.e. one pill in the morning, and one in the afternoon.)

However, if medication isn’t for you, there are alternatives.

Reasonable (workplace) adjustments
It is important at this stage to add that you do not need a formal diagnosis to ask for reasonable adjustments at work. If you are awaiting a diagnosis, or simply believe there is something work can put in place to assist you, you have every right to ask for assistance in the form of ‘reasonable adjustments’.

However, if you are diagnosed with a condition, the likelihood is that you will be legally entitled to reasonable adjustments at work under the Equality Act. This powerful piece of legislation states that it is an employer’s legal obligation to make these adjustments to allow you to do your job.

As I stated at the start of this article, I am diagnosed with ADHD. Under the Equality Act this is covered under the definition of a ‘disability’. Do I feel disabled? No. Do I believe that in the eyes of the law I am disabled? Yes. I found this definition which explains my answer:

“A disability is any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).”

This accurately sums up my feelings: much like ‘medication’, I am acutely aware of the negative connotations that arise from the word ‘disabled’. But I have made the decision to embrace my disability. The main reason being, it is not my fault I am disabled. I was born with my neurodivergent conditions, and was born into a world with structures that do not cater for the way my brain works – school, higher education, work and public perception.

I am more than capable of achieving the same levels of work and productivity as my ‘non-disabled’ colleagues – I just need things in place to ‘even the playing field’. I urge others, no matter what their disability is to think the same. I am going to endeavour to embrace my condition, and the advantages it gives me over my colleagues. Diagnosis, and the understanding it has brought me, allows me to do this. I now see that I am a round peg, who has spent his life trying to insert himself in square holes. I am now aiming for round holes, even if it will need adjustments to make the hole a bit more rounded.

Reasonable adjustments start with a conversation between an employee and their manager. The manager should ask themselves “how can I make my employee’s working life easier” in order for the employee to achieve their best at work. Although employees can have assistive software and hardware, it is often the little changes that can be made at work that have the greatest effect.

Each person’s condition is unique, and will affect them differently. This is why it is hard to produce a universal list of reasonable adjustments. However, a common example of a reasonable adjustment a line manager could action is to allow a staff member with ADHD time to focus on a task their mind finds ‘boring’. If you wanted a staff member to write up a case file, could they be allowed to complete this task working from home, or in a quieter area of the office? Whilst they are doing this task, could the manager try and limit the amount of calls, emails and other requests they receive? It’s a simple example, but these adjustments are potentially a massive help to a neurodivergent staff member.

Beyond these ‘line manager to staff member’ adjustments, hardware and software can be requested following consultation with Occupational Health and the Workplace Adjustments team. Reasonable adjustments can also be requested for exams (e.g. NIE, promotion) and for interviews for a new role. I received reasonable adjustments for both my Sergeant’s exam and a recent job interview I had.

Access to Work
Diagnosis also allows me to receive support via the Access to Work scheme. This is a Government initiative run by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP): after applying, a workplace assessment will be carried out. From this, a report is generated with recommendations around how an employee can be supported in the workplace. A list of recommendations is drawn up, along with the various different companies and groups that provide them. The cost of these various things is shared between the DWP and the employer.

I have personally received funding for 24 hours of ‘workplace coaching’ with a qualified ADHD coach/counsellor. I have an hour-long session every week with my coach, in which we discuss strategies and mechanisms to help me with the work I have. As my coach is also a qualified counsellor, she has also helped me to change my negative mindset around situations at work and in life. I cannot begin to tell you how immensely helpful this has been for me.

I also have funding for various pieces of assistive software. As it happens the MPS has licences for many of these already.

Access to Work can also provide grants for ‘hardware’, e.g. special chairs and desks to help you work in comfort, and equipment such as noise-cancelling headphones. They can even help fund means of transport to get you into work.

You have no obligation to disclose your condition to work (unless it potentially endangers your or a colleague’s wellbeing), and there are still negative connotations and stigma attached to ‘disability’, ‘medication’ and many of the various illnesses and conditions that exist.

But I implore you: get diagnosed, first and foremost for yourself. Fight for your rights and fight for fair conditions at work. You are not seeking an advantage over others. You are simply asking for a level and fair playing field. ∎

This blog was originally published on the Metropolitan Police Service intranet – it is reproduced here with kind permission of the author