Three years ago I started my industrial placement at Rolls-Royce and I had absolutely no idea that I had ADHD. Throughout my school years my teachers and I were both equally frustrated that I was not reaching my potential. This is not to say I did badly, I did quite well, but I knew I was capable of so much more.
My teachers thought I was arrogant and lazy; I believed them. I really wanted to be organised and have everything together; I envied those who did, I wanted to be like them.
ADHD is hugely misunderstood by the general public, which I believe to be a major contributing factor to my late diagnosis at 22. Simply put, an ADHD person’s brain has less dopamine in it. Sustaining attention is just one of the many executive functions managed by dopamine in the brain; accessing memories and emotional regulation are also executive functions, for example. All are impacted in a person with ADHD.
This is not to say I am not capable of sustaining attention, far from it: the superpower of ADHD is ‘hyperfocus’, or a flow state. In this state, I am totally immersed in my work. My mind is focused on just one thing, and one thing only; it’s working extremely fast, everything is flowing and slotting together almost perfectly, I lose all sense of time (a large part of what makes time management difficult).
It is the state of mind I enter almost every day at Rolls-Royce. The triggers are personal interest, urgency, challenge and novelty. I love working on new, interesting and challenging problems every day. The agile and flexible working environment that has been built within the company is so beneficial for me, especially the flexible working hours.
The transition from the structured environment of school to the independence of university was not easy for me: building and maintaining routines is another executive function. I assumed I was still not serious or motivated enough. I looked forward to my industrial placement as it would force me to learn the skills that have always held me back. Even though I loved my placement and everything I was achieving, my life outside of work was feeling progressively hectic and unmanageable. Eventually the penny dropped that these missing elements I saw in others, but not in myself, were connected.
My story of late diagnosis is not uncommon. The stereotyping of what ADHD looks like (hyperactivity, misbehaviour) has led it to be simultaneously under and over diagnosed: hyperactive symptoms are not always present, are more common with males (so women with ADHD are much less likely to be diagnosed), and typically dissipate with age if they are present; but this external hyperactivity is just replaced with a state of internal restlessness. Depression and anxiety are unfortunately very common in adults with ADHD, particularly the undiagnosed.
Today we live in a highly structured, routine-based society. Those with more dopamine who have more of an innate sense of planning, organisation and risk aversion have thrived. However, people with ADHD have a knack for innovation: we are naturally divergent thinkers, bouncing from idea to idea, thought to thought, and a lot of us have spent our whole lives looking for faster, more efficient ways of doing things as a coping mechanism.
The transition back to university was even more difficult, especially as it was significantly less structured than work, but I threw myself into researching ADHD friendly organisation strategies. After learning about the OPEN employee resource group on my return to Rolls-Royce as a graduate, and its mission to get the best out of employees with disabilities, I knew I needed to get involved. I want to help increase awareness of what ADHD really is and how it is best managed.
Read more about our OPEN employee resource group for anyone impacted by a disability.