Introducing Dan Lane, our Neurodiversity Network Lead
Growing up I didn’t see myself as particularly different or remarkable, although I did find academia harder than my peers. Throughout school I felt like I disappointed pretty much everybody for not living up to my potential.
It’s easy to believe the negativity
It never occurred to me or anybody else that I might have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and that made school harder. I found it exhausting. I was able to be reasonably present in class, but when I got home each day, I would literally fall asleep on the floor. Looking back, I can see that it was the physical effect of the cognitive strain of forcing myself to concentrate. I didn’t feel like I was less capable but for some reason I couldn’t get myself to pull it all together. To some extent, the more you’re told you’re lazy or not living up to your potential, the more that feeds into your own self-talk. This has played directly into my ways of working professionally, where I have continually overcompensated with long hours to avoid any accusation of being lazy.
Diversity is all around
There is still a lack of appreciation for the prevalence of neurodiversity in society generally, even though the official statistics say about one in seven people are neurodiverse. When you are diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD, autism or another neurodivergent neurotypes, it’s easy to feel both alone and as if you are in a position of vulnerability or “less than”. Society typically dismisses neurodiversity as a weakness. And yet, when you look at the various strengths associated with people of different neurodiverse profiles, you find remarkable abilities that have so much value, like deep expertise stemming from special interests with autism. People with dyslexia or dyspraxia are also often very talented visual or verbal communicators. My ADHD makes me resilient, creative and great in a crisis. This is insight I wish I had been introduced to years ago.
It wasn’t until my early thirties that I was diagnosed with ADHD. I had been working in a small, rapidly growing, company, and that really played to my strengths. There were constant fires to fight and complex problems to solve. When I was offered my first management role in charge of a centre of excellence I had to transition from high-powered problem solver to manager and strategy-maker. It was stressful and a time of high anxiety. I wanted and deserved the progression, but I didn’t know how to do it when it didn’t play to my strengths. Then, in the space of a few weeks, two different people – including my mother – asked me if I had considered that I might have ADHD.
When it rains, it pours
I immediately did lots of research and online tests. I was interested in first-hand accounts of how ADHD feels and found a lot that resonated with my experiences. I was eventually referred by my GP for an assessment and eventual diagnosis.
For me, pre-diagnosis and pre-medication, there were days when I felt like I was driving in monsoon rain but without windscreen wipers or brakes; I had a reasonably good idea of where the road was and felt mostly aware of the cars around me, but it could be pretty scary. My experience of driving the car was not the same as other people’s. I knew where everything was, I knew how to drive, but something made it harder for me.
The truth changed everything
Receiving the diagnosis changed everything for me. At first I felt incredibly positive, being able to fill in the gaps in my personal narrative, but then I felt grief. What if I’d had therapy or treatment as a teenager? What could I have done differently or achieved? Could I have fulfilled all that potential I was supposedly missing? My emotions were in conflict, I felt changed in some profound way. Meanwhile, for everybody else, I was still the same person.
I didn’t tell anyone about my ADHD when I first joined Baringa, some of those old concerns about prejudice playing up in my mind. Over time it occurred to me that there must be other people, like me, who also had an undisclosed or undiagnosed neurodivergence that was having an impact on their lives. Eventually I decided that both for those people and for myself, disclosing my ADHD was the right decision.
When I did reveal my ADHD, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive and we launched our neurodiversity network in October 2020. People have been very open to it; at Baringa we have that kind of culture. Our first focus is to build dialogue and awareness - creating a safe place to have this conversation, where people are comfortable with disclosing a neurodivergence or talking about how their brain works without fear of consequence or negative perception. I’m passionate about helping my colleagues be supported at work and finding opportunities to operate in their zones of strength, rather than continually striving to address lower value development areas.
Acceptance and empathy
I’m starting to appreciate the process of forgiving and accepting myself and valuing the way my brain works. If I were to offer any advice, I’d say: be open about the things you find challenging and pay attention to the things you’re good at. Be curious; allow yourself to learn from somebody who sees the world differently to you. Lead with empathy and value the possibility that two people might see the same information and come to different conclusions. Sometimes brains are just wired differently.