ask the readers: how to succeed at work when you’re not neurotypical

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

Longtime reader here and you’ve answered a question of mine in the past. I’ve noticed a lot of people who, like me, have ADHD in comment threads, which is SUCH a helpful community for me to crowdsource coping strategies. I’m wondering if you might do a special open thread to solicit suggestions for people with ADHD (could expand to the full spectrum, including autism, asperger’s, dyslexia, other things I’m less familiar with too, maybe?) in the workplace.

I feel like I need help that isn’t geared toward neurotypical folks, but all I see online are webinars and expensive coaches. I’d love to know what’s really working for people, and if there are workshops I should be using my organization’s professional development stipend for, or books I should pick up, that sort of thing.

Let’s do it: an open thread for readers who aren’t neurotypical about what’s been useful for you. Post your questions and your advice in the comment section below.

{ 745 comments… read them below }

  1. Less Bread More Taxes*

    I can’t wait to hear others’ success stories! I have autism, and while I hide it well, I had one boss I just couldn’t work with as he wouldn’t write anything down and one thing I needed was written instructions. After months of asking (and some awful interactions with him), I went to HR. After that, I was taken off some projects and I didn’t have the energy to fight them over the retaliation. I guess I learned that if a company isn’t willing to budge an inch for me, I can’t work there. I left after only 5 months.

    1. Writerboy*

      I am on the autism spectrum and have trouble with verbal instructions. I write down every single thing that I hear in a meeting and if I’m not clear on something I go back and ask my manager to clarify. I have never identified as disabled at work, and have not always had great relationships with managers, but for the last couple of years I have been working with a fantastic team and feel incredibly valued and fulfilled.

      I am in my 50s now and didn’t really know what my issue was until it presented in my son and I began to connect the dots, so I am still learning how to manage, but I have learned a few tricks like the one above about obsessive note-taking. In fact, my manager has asked me to teach her my note-taking system because she thinks it might help her in meetings with the “grownups.”

      I’m really curious to see what other tricks people have learned since my son is just a couple of years into his working life and also navigating university.

      1. Cobol*

        Both of you keep up the good work. I have ADHD and I to need to write things down.* It drives me crazy when people insist that I just need to focus on listening and not working.

        *It’s fascinating to me that autism and ADHD are functionally opposite, but the problems and coping mechanisms are so similar

        1. Oh Snap*

          Some people would argue that they are on the same spectrum. Many autistic people have ADHD.

          My child is autistic so I am reading this with interest.

          1. Close Bracket*

            Yes, many ADHD and autism spectrum conditions can be co-morbid, but that doesn’t make ADHD a spectrum condition. Many people on the spectrum have OCD as well, but again, that doesn’t make OCD a spectrum condition. The term you want is “neurodiversity” or “neurodivergence.” You can find the correct context for using those terms with a google search.

            1. Zillah*

              Actually, Oh Snap is right – the hypothesis isn’t that ADHD is on the autism spectrum, it’s that ADHD and autism are different manifestations of the same condition and/or that they exist on a spectrum (as opposed to the autism spectrum).

              1. Zillah*

                (To be clear, it is just a hypothesis, but there has been some research done around it – it’s not just random speculation.)

                1. Pomona Sprout*

                  That is fascinating! I have ADHD, and so does my daughter, so this of great personal interest to me.

            2. ADHsquirrelWhat?*

              There’s a certain amount of speculation that it’s all actually some kind of “executive function disorder/difference” that is expressed in various different /ways/ but has a similar /brain root/. (or perhaps a group of different exec function conditions that express in different ways, brains are weird).

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          ADHD and autism are actually pretty similar, and many people have both. Google webmd ‘adhd or autism’ for a good overview of how the two overlap / don’t overlap / interact.

          1. Cobol*

            Interesting. I’ve sort of classified them as hyper attention to one detail, and struggle to focus on one detail.

            1. TheOtherLiz*

              Hyperfocusing happens to ADHD folks too! For instance: I set out to clean the bathroom. 2 hours later my husband finds me on the floor next to the sink, consolidating 5 travel shampoos, with all the soaps splayed out everywhere. When I get going on something it’s INCREDIBLY hard to switch away from it. At work, this is most difficult when people want an immediate response to every email, and those emails interrupt my hyperfocus flow when I get into it.

              1. Cobol*

                Oh I read like a madman because of hyperfocusing, so I know it happens. It’s hard to write a thoughtful response on a phone. In general I’m up for a distraction, and the opposite would be true for somebody with autism.

        3. Nea*

          Oh, “don’t write it down” makes me grit my teeth and I’m neurotypical! Someone teaching me a computer program used to insist that notes were distracting, and I had to keep telling her that unless she wanted to remind me of every single one of the steps tomorrow, she needed to let me write the process down today.

        4. Alienor*

          What is their complaint about you writing things down? I don’t have ADHD (that I know of) but do take a lot of notes, just because memory is fallible and I’m working on at least 15 projects at any given time. I would seriously side-eye someone who tried to get me to stop doing it, like…”you do want me to remember these details, right?”

          1. Cobol*

            Some people think it takes you out of the moment. It usually comes from people who think there’s only one right way to do something, and they can’t see their own shortcomings.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I don’t have ADHD, either. My ex- boss would not let me write down a 25 step process on the computer because:
            a)He did not want to wait for me to write down each step. It would take too long.
            b)The process was intuitive so no need to write it down. (The computer prompts did not guide you to the next step. You had to know what the next step was and then follow the prompts for the sub-steps.)
            It took 2 hours to do the process, IF you knew what you were doing. If you did not, it would take longer, of course.

            Big surprise, I did not remember all the steps. (I was informed an idiot would remember these steps so I should be able to remember. I did the process maybe once a week, so the learning curve was long.) For weeks he got steps 1-14 completed and he would have to do the last 11 himself. He ended up having to retrain me on the last steps and correcting stuff when there were exceptions to the rules. This is because he never showed me where the exceptions were and how to handle them. Probably it did not matter because I was not allowed to write anything down anyway. If he had showed me, I might have been on information overload at that point.

            So this story is not quite done yet. The boss went behind my back and complained about my work. Neato. Fortunately, a few people were aware of the setup/sabotage here and started my answering questions.
            I concluded at the bottom of this mess was a boss who thought very little of himself. He was disgusted that he had such a crappy job and had done nothing with his life. In turn he was not able to respect his subordinates because their job was crappier than his and they had done even less with their lives. He believed he supervised a bunch of losers and he believed himself to be a loser. It was actually kind of sad all around.

            1. Cathy Gale*

              What a horrible jerk. A twenty five step process is hard for so many people, all kinds of people, who don’t also have an executive function issue.

        5. Zillah*

          *It’s fascinating to me that autism and ADHD are functionally opposite, but the problems and coping mechanisms are so similar

          I find the relationship between them to be fascinating, too! I’ve experienced so much of it on a practical level, too – there’s an online support group I’m in that’s mostly autistic people that I fit into really well, even though I’m definitely not autistic and a lot of them aren’t ADHD.

        6. AnnaBananna*

          Grrrrrr @ “when people insist that I just need to focus on listening and not working”

      2. Anon because of stigma*

        My partner’s aspie, and has a few tricks:

        1. Writes everything down so it doesn’t have a chance to slip out of his head when someone makes him switch his attention to another subject.

        2. Uses headphones wherever possible.

        3. Has a few unobtrusive stims, such as white noise tracks he can put on his headphones if he gets too overstimulated.

        4. Works from home wherever possible – the commute is a real killer if you’ve got sensory sensitivities.

        5. Where possible, comes in and goes home early to avoid the worst of the rush hour.

        6. We schedule weekends very carefully to make sure he gets at least some time to spend on his special interests.

        All of this is done fairly quietly: he doesn’t have an official diagnosis, but he definitely has the traits and we do have a son who’s officially diagnosed, so we’re sure we’re right but he can’t legally ask for accommodations. And tbh, even if he had a diagnosis – not easy to get as an adult with a job and a family – it could be a mixed blessing: the stigma is not small, even in a field like his that’s almost certainly full of people who have at least some aspie traits, and he’s obliged to disclose medical conditions.

        Also, bluntly, he takes various dietary supplements like phosphatidylserine, bacopa monnieri and CBD that help manage anxiety.

        Not gonna lie, this isn’t a complete solution. Sometimes he comes home and has a meltdown; learning how to deal with that is part of life. But it helps.

        Mind you, supposedly the office is going to move to hot-desking soon, and boy are we dreading that. (Just what he needs! Constant change and disruption! More unnecessary organizing! Less privacy! More noise! More visual distractions! No chance to adapt his workspace!) So if anyone has any advice on how to cope with that, I would so love to hear it.

        1. ChimericalOne*

          I can’t imagine hot-desking working for him… It wouldn’t work for me (I’m Aspie + ADD, too). I get why a diagnosis seems more con than pro, but it might be what he needs to do to keep that job, if he wants to keep it. Unless he’s got a sympathetic boss who he can present his case to (e.g., “I understand why the office is moving in this direction, but I don’t think I’ll be able to continue doing my job effectively if I need to find a new desk every morning. It’s challenging for me to focus in a new environment, and it’s daunting to think I’ll need to do that every day once we start hot-desking”).

          1. anon because of stigma*

            It’s not just that; we’re in the UK and our health service is underfunded and won’t refer adults for diagnosis unless they’re at the point of a serious breakdown. Private referrals cost too much, and in addition there’d be no guarantee of a diagnosis: this country is still dominated by the Baron-Cohen model, which has a hopeless blind spot when it comes to diagnosing intelligent, amiable adults who’ve worked hard to develop their social insight skills. So barring a change of government or a serious breakdown, it’s just not doable.

          2. only acting normal*

            The entire reason I pursued an ASD assessment at age 40, rather than staying just “fairly sure I’m autistic but not diagnosed”, was because my office switched to hot-desking and the official assessment was the only way to secure the accommodation of my own desk.

      3. Parenthetically*

        “didn’t really know what my issue was until it presented in my son and I began to connect the dots”

        This same scenario happened with a friend of ours and it’s changed his life for the better in so many ways. It’s one of MANY reasons I’m grateful for the increase in diagnosis of autism spectrum.

      4. cara*

        I’ve got ADHD and PDDNOS (so, like, waaaay at the edge of the autism spectrum, but technically still on it), and holy heck do I take notes on everything. Phone rings at work (ugh) — there’s a pen in my hand before I answer, and I start writing before I even know if it’s anything worth taking notes on.

        I get a ton of emails, most of which are not actually my problem, so I’ve got inbox rules set up to filter them so I only get the new email chime for stuff I actually need to see now, and the rest goes into folders I check multiple times a day. This is super helpful because I can’t always remember to check my email, but generally the new email sound makes its way into my brain even if I’m kind of zoning out. And then every time I look at my inbox, I check for new emails in other folders. And whenever possible I keep my email window in view on the screen.

        I’ve learned I need to keep any immediate tasks/important notes in view at all times, and in my immediate field of vision if necessary, or I’m likely to forget they exist. (In high school, there were times I’d forget to go to band lessons despite literally writing the time on my hand, so…even this is progress.) So in jobs where I have lots of paperwork, I tend to file things in specific piles in plain sight when possible, especially if it’s stuff I need to look through frequently.

        Building routines and habits is also super important for me. The hard part being, of course, to remember to do whatever it is enough times in a row for it to become a habit. Calendar and phone reminders are lifesavers for this (I’d say, “How did I ever remember anything before smartphones?” but the answer is, “…I didn’t”).

    2. Dust Bunny*

      On the spectrum, too, and cannot absorb verbal instructions to save my life. My supervisor tried to sign me up for a series of training lectures and i finally had to tell him thank but it wasn’t working because they provided zero documentation and i couldn’t take enough notes and listen at the same time (and he agreed that he thought the format stunk, even if one didn’t have other complications)

    3. Catalin*

      I’m on the far end of the spectrum (I can usually ‘pass’ for NT), but I’ve had a LOT of OT and gotten a lot of help from friends in school/the workplace.

      The first few years/companies were rough as a working adult, but then I got incredibly lucky and landed somewhere that really works for and with me. When I’m on a new project, I usually feel-out the lead/PM/whomever I’ll work for and so far, it’s been fine. I’ll give them a discreet heads-up that my wiring isn’t quite normal (I avoid using terminology and no one’s ever asked). Ask for what you need.

      Jerks will be jerks; if at all possible, don’t work with jerks. “Don’t work for assholes” probably isn’t very helpful, but it’s the best I have. There are good companies/bosses out there. Try looking for a HUGE company that emphasizes inclusion/diversity/accommodation.

      1. Anonymous Aspie*

        I’ve got to say that sadly, “Don’t work for assholes” is exactly what I’ve found. (They wouldn’t necessarily see themselves as assholes, or even look that way to other people, but they are remarkably intolerant of my particular differences and difficulties.)

        I’m autistic and I’ve disclosed to three separate bosses. The first was just … really bad at it. She would be great when I was upset / dealing with anxiety so crippling I would be crying at my desk – a really “nice person” in the traditional sense. But how I interacted with people, in a direct, perhaps blunt, but honest way, just rubbed her up the wrong way. She wouldn’t make adjustments to her expectations and she made work hell for me. I was then moved sideways to another manager, who knew I was autistic, but just wasn’t really a very good manager. I applied for another job soon after.

        With the third manager I disclosed in the interview, made a very brief explanation and got the job. I’ve had a couple of bad patches recently, with lots of anxiety / crying in corners because of uncertainty about my work. He’s been brilliant every time, and shares my pragmatic approach of when I’m having difficulties, although I’ll really struggle with some non-obvious things, there are still really useful things I can do and let’s give me some time to do one of them, but not force me to go to meetings and make sure the plan isn’t going to change too radically while I’m working on it. This is the best kind of manager to work with.

    4. Arya Parya*

      I’m currently in the process of getting a diagnosis at 34 years old. I’m almost certainly on the spectrum, buy have taught myself to hide it well. Even without the diagnosis, I know I’m pretty sensitive to sounds, touch and smells.

      So when looking for a job, open offices are out. I currently share an office with my manager three days a week and that’s fine.

      I also write everything down to keep track of all my tasks. I use Trello for the things my manager needs to keep track of as well.

      I try to communicate by e-mail and Slack to also keep a digital trail of everything, so I can read it back. And I also don’t like phone calls, because I can’t see the other person. But I do phone calls when I have to.

      1. Loux in Canada*

        I may or may not be on the spectrum. Thinking of pursuing a diagnosis to see just wtf is wrong with me xD I work in an office that is a combination between open/cubes (I work in the open part), and some days I hate it and some days I’m fine. But I haven’t been taking care of myself very well lately (not enough sleep, etc) and I am leading a project so I am also dying of stress.

        1. Arya Parya*

          I recognize this. When I’m stressed out and/or haven’t had much sleep, noise bothers me more than when I’m relaxed and well rested.

      2. Cat Lady Cometh (with cats)*

        I went for an interview for an admin job that offered a stupid amount of money and had pretty good perks too. I didn’t love the company but I was more than willing to consider this a good move for a few years – until they told me the phones never stopped ringing for the FOURTEEN people I would be supporting. Funny, the recruiter neglected to mention that last detail – no wonder they were paying so much! I noped out of there. I cannot deal with phones more than a few times a day on average. It’s the sound, the interruption, the verbal nature of it… Everything in writing for me, please.

        Speaking of which, my current boss basically does not do written instructions now thanks to a repetitive injury and she is not a terribly skilled verbal communicator (or any kind of communicator, so having it written down really, really helped). She will go back and forth about one thing, jumping on to something that may or may not be related (I may or may not find out after another 15 minutes of trying to listen), and then circling back around to something maybe more closely related to the first thing we started talking about. I have to constantly bring her back to the thing that she wants me to do. It’s more that she’s really indecisive so she needs to talk for nearly an hour to get all her thoughts out, with me there, to then (mostly) decide what she wants me to (maybe) do. When she has made a decision, however, it’s rapid fire information and she cannot talk fast enough for her brain and I have literally had to shout STOP at her so I can get my notes written correctly because the first four times I said ‘let’s slow down a bit now’ she didn’t hear me. She was not too happy when I explained that this process is less than ideal for me (and, in fact, anyone that has ever worked for her).

        Another issue I have is that I get frustrated with people who aren’t willing to adjust when the argument is very compelling as to why an adjustment would be the best idea (at work). I have to adjust all the time, and I’m now very sensitive to how to bring about change in the least disruptive manner possible – so why can’t NTs? I also do not believe in change for change’s sake. I still often despise change, but I do it when it makes the most sense for the work and for the business. So sometimes I get annoyed when others won’t appear to pay me, or my work, the same courtesy. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt though, and just find ways around it.

        1. Arya Parya*

          Your last point! I’m currently in such a discussion. They’re asking me for my understanding of their situation, but are completely unwilling to umderstand my situation. Drives me nuts.

        2. Close Bracket*

          > I’m now very sensitive to how to bring about change in the least disruptive manner possible – so why can’t NTs?

          NTs are not nearly the empathic geniuses they like to make themselves out to be. I love (by which I mean hate) how they expect people on the spectrum to accommodate NT ways of doing things. Like, which of us has the disability here? That would be me, not you.

          Since I know someone’s going to say it:

        3. Iron Chef Boyardee*

          “When she has made a decision, however, it’s rapid fire information and she cannot talk fast enough for her brain and I have literally had to shout STOP at her so I can get my notes written correctly because the first four times I said ‘let’s slow down a bit now’ she didn’t hear me.”

          Would your boss be receptive to the idea of you recording her and you can transcribe the information you need at your own pace?

    5. Jen*

      My son has autism and these comments have been good to read to see how things might be for him at work.

      Where I work, I know of one person in our IT department with autism. Based on my son, I could recognize what was going on with him fairly easily. But what I’ve loved is after I worked here for a while, someone asked “Who is a good person to contact in IT for help on my computer?” and I overheard someone say “Call Ricky – actually e-mail him. He’s not good with talking to people but if you e-mail him he can remotely take over your computer and fix it and he’s awesome.” and there was no meanness about it or even statement of him not being neurotypical – just “Hey, he seems to work best this way.” and acceptance of that. I thought it was pretty great.

      1. Sorrel*

        I love this – and actually once you get into professional jobs (in my experience at least) I find this attitude more than a negative one.

    6. LQ*

      (These are things I haven’t seen other people mention, I do plenty of the other stuff too.)

      I’m in meetings all day nearly every single day. Lunch has been the biggest key for me. I just don’t bring it and have to go get it. Every day. No one begrudges me from going to get lunch. No one will object to that, no matter how much they need my time, no matter what else they need from me. No one objects to, sorry I just need 20 minutes to grab lunch.

      And then I get to go for a walk to grab lunch. And put in headphones and have a break. A quiet sensory shift where no one talks to me, and I go to the same places for the same lunch specials so no decision making either.

      I would not be able to do this job without that midday break. I tried going to the lounge with my lunch (there’s always someone there you have to decide on how to interact with, do I sit down with them, do I smile, do I say hi, let me run through my coping with this person thing and see what the correct response is, and then again and again) and I tried shutting my door (but then my computer is right there and I have work to do, I always have work to do and I’m incapable of not doing it, should I be better and just not doing it? Sure, but I should be a lot of things and I’m not) but the only thing that worked is “I’m really sorry, I haven’t had lunch, can you give me a few minutes and I’ll let you know when you can stop by?”

      I also changed out my wardrobe so my clothes (all dresses with the same cut) are all the same fabric which is a really nice sensory fix for me. (Also not having to pick in the morning which one I liked the feel of helped, they are all the same touch.) (Color doesn’t matter to me so much but the touch does, so same fabric, same physical cut is what I needed. They are lots of different patterns and colors, but they feel the same.) Plus pockets so I can have a small touch stone in my pocket and use that to not constantly fidget with my clothes.

      1. Corporate Goth*

        Yes – a work uniform is how I ended up with an entirely black wardrobe. So much easier. Much less stress. I have multiple pairs of the same pants, blazer, and shirt. I’ve spent two years stretching out the lifespan of my perfect pants after the company that made them shut down because I can’t find replacements. And I spin my lanyard or have a pen in hand to spin (not click!) to avoid some fidgeting.

        1. LQ*

          I went through a bad spot of taking pens apart and balancing every single piece of them (I’m really good at that!) luckily my boss just went oh it’s an LQ quirk and no big deal. But I have switched to pens that don’t come apart after I blew up a few of them. I have a bunch of fidget stuff in my office (slinkies are my entire fidget world) and everyone picks something up and plays with it so I don’t feel bad when I just really need to fidget. (I know some people say it’s distracting but I’ve never had anyone who doesn’t at least pick up or play with something at some point in the conversation.)

      2. TheOtherLiz*

        That’s a great idea. I started blocking off lunch at noon on my calendar, but I quickly stopped honoring it and so I eat haphazardly late each afternoon, letting my blood sugar crash, working while eating and never finishing the meal.

        1. LQ*

          Blocking it didn’t work for me either. But not having food here absolutely works.
          Is it cheapest? No. Is it The Best? No. Is it damn effective? Yes, yes it is.

    7. Jonathan Paul Katz*

      I work in local government, and was able to get accommodations around this – you are legally entitled to this under the ADA!

      I have asked for written communications regularly, and have not gotten too much grief around it. I find that it’s also better for neurotypicals, as they have something to refer back to.

      1. Sorrel*

        That’s a the thing with most accommodations for people who are not nerotypical – it’s simply good management!

    8. Manatees are cool*

      I am on the spectrum and also struggle with verbal instructions, and also hearing what people say over background noise as well as hyperfocusing at times. I’ve started to pretend I’m slightly hard of hearing because people kept accusing me of being rude or not paying attention.

      1. only acting normal*

        I say I have an “auditory processing disorder”, which yes I do, it’s a symptom of my autism. People hear “some sort of deafness” though, which they’re *slightly* more likely to accommodate without arguing.

    9. Rick*

      Oof. I’m sorry this happened to you.

      I am on the spectrum, too. I’ve had both good and bad experiences handling it at work. At my last job, I was struggling. My department was understaffed, so priorities would change a lot. Also, my bosses didn’t have great communication skills, so I’d often get those updates on what I should be working on now by them dropping by my desk and asking me to look at X. Then I’d email them with something like “hey, I’m not familiar with X, can you tell me what I should be doing here at X.1a and X.2b?” and never get a reply.

      After a couple of months of this (megacorp) I’d worked up the courage to email my main boss disclosing my condition, asking for these things in writing, and offering to sit down with him and talk about it. His reaction was emailing me back, saying he didn’t want excuses but results, and CC’d every other manager in our department. HR dragged their feet on doing something about it (11 days between my first contact and them giving me a response other than “I’m looking into it so you have to give me time”), so I was out of there within another couple of weeks. I could’ve brought it to a lawyer, but TBH I live modestly, am well compensated, and wanted to avoid the stress.

      My current place is great. I haven’t disclosed my condition, but my boss here has a lot of common sense; we chat plenty, I’m treated with respect, and my good faith attempts to understand the parameters of what I’m doing and how it will help the organization are respected. It helps that it’s an international office (I work with people in Berlin, Shanghai, and London) so communication has to be in writing. It’s helped me because it’s easier to “socialize” on Slack too, and my boss has related compliments from other people overseas that I’m helpful and always have a positive attitude.

      I like that phrase: “if you meet a jerk in the morning, you’ve met a jerk. If you meet jerks all day, you’re probably the jerk.” Sums up my experiences pretty well.

  2. My Cabbages!!*

    I have ADD (adult-diagnosed) and I find that one of the most common pieces of advice is to make a to-do list, which is very helpful for me…as long as I make sure to do the following:

    -Don’t put EVERYTHING on the list that I can think of! This always just makes it impossible for me to figure out what I should start with and shuts me down. I need to stop after putting 5 things on the list; I can always add more when I finish those 5.

    -Have some sort of system for organizing the to-do lists. This seems so farcical, but I have a tendency to write the lists on random scraps of paper or random notepads, then I can’t find the one I’m looking for. I haven’t quite figured out how to keep my lists organized yet but I’m getting better.

    1. Bee*

      Oh man that is also totally a thing for me. I need to write down everything that needs doing or I’ll forget, but if I don’t designate which are for *today* and the order in which I’ll do them, I’ll get like a third of the way through five things and not finish anything. (I have a whiteboard in my office for my to-do list! It’s very helpful!)

      1. Bee*

        I’ve also found that I am more productive when I FEEL more productive, and some of that requires active tasks: a phone call, something that forces me to get up and move around, something with tangible results. Once I’ve spent an hour doing something that feels real, it’s easier for me to get through a bunch of emails or focused reading. I’m not always good at implementing this (hello, ADD), but it’s something I’m working on.

        1. My Cabbages!!*

          Yes, actually accomplishing even a minor thing makes the next one SO much easier!!

      2. Rose*

        Oh yes, I actually bought to-do lists that have a “Do Today” and “It Can Wait” headings. I also use a planner with a to-do list. Basically, I make a weekly to-do list and then daily to-do lists.

        1. boo bot*

          Yes, I have weekly and daily, and also a category of “do it eventually” – I color code, also, which makes it less overwhelming to look at a long list, I think.

        2. OhNo*

          Same, I bought a days-of-the-week labeled checklist, so I can organize a whole week’s worth of tasks in one go.

          I also made myself a mini-binder with different sections for each of my main work tasks, each with it’s own calendar of project due dates and big picture monthly checklists. That plus the weekly checklists and a shared project list with the rest of the department combine to keep me pretty on top of things. Aside from the occassional slip-up when I stop using one or more of them, of course.

    2. Cedarthea*

      I only keep sticky notes and one bound notebook on my desk so if nothing else I can stick my random notes into my book. I also use a dated calendar notebook thing so that I know what day I did stuff. That’s all I got, but it’s working better than my old system of random pieces of paper.

    3. Yvette*

      How about writing your lists on large post-its (3×5 or larger) and sticking them on your cubicle wall or desk top (as in furniture, not PC :) ), or if you need to keep them with you a small but chunky spiral note book?

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        If you do the post-its, you can group them under ‘to do’ and ‘done’ (or categories of your choosing) and explain that you are implementing Agile techniques. Very hot in biz speak today, and the post-its for tasks are a known, common recommendation. Digitally, you’d use Mural or similar, but I really need to write it for it to stick.

        But really, whatever format works for you is what you should use.

      2. OhNo*

        Beware of visual fatigue, though. I’ve tried this before, and if I leave post-its or paper on my wall for more than a day, it just becomes visual background noise that I don’t notice again until someone else asks what that paper/note is for. Even the bright neon post-its don’t keep my attention for long.

        1. TheOtherLiz*

          Thank you for naming this. It happens to me too. My computer screen is framed in a colorful patchwork of post its that are somehow invisible to me.

      3. Happy Lurker*

        I like reporters notebooks. They are tall and skinny – about 4 X 8. It keeps the to do list handy. I purchased a leather like cover to keep the notebook from falling apart. I bring it everywhere.

      4. Real_Ale*

        I am a consultant and super visual – if I can’t see it, it barely exists, for which reason I don’t do well with pocket notebooks, electronic notes or to-do lists since I can’t see them _all_ the time. My to-do list at home lives on the counter where I hang out the most; if I put it away I’d never use it.

        At one client site I was working 10-12 documents at a time (about 100 total) through a long process of create document in system, upload draft, review, revise, reupload, review again, convert to PDF, send for signatures…etc. I had a typing stand, and eventually another one next to it, with 11×17″ paper on – each document had its own cascade of post-its as it moved through the steps. I had a whiteboard for broader tasks too.

        I can see how this would become “wallpaper” for many people, but OTOH I had multiple people step up to examine my system, compliment me on the idea and then adopt it as their own. One guy brought it home to his daughter too.

        Wish I’d figured this out 30 years ago!

    4. Libervermis*

      I absolutely love planning and to-do lists, but my brain isn’t yours so YMMV of course. If you’re okay with an electronic to-do list, I adore the Todoist app. Simple, easy to reschedule things, can access it on phone or computer.

      If you really like hard copy, I had a lot of luck putting my list (grocery list for me) on the refrigerator and it just lived there. A friend attached her to-do list to a clip on her closet door. If the list can live somewhere, that’s often helpful for not misplacing it.

      That comment about not putting everything on the list is so smart, I’m fine putting all the chores/errands/etc on mine but I have to stop myself if I’m putting more than a couple work tasks on at a time because I’m likely to flail around then.

      1. CyborgScholar*

        I have been really enjoying the app Habitica, which gamifies both my daily, repeated things I need to do, and also my unrepeated tasks in the same app. It puts everything in RPG terms which works for me.

        1. Aerin*

          Love Habitica! I use it more for personal life than for work, but it’s been a huge help, especially in creating a nighttime routine that makes it so much easier for me to fall asleep.

        2. Dr Wizard, PhD*

          I tried to use that for work, then my boss called me out for using non-work websites.

      2. So glad I'm out of there*

        I use Todoist for work tasks, and Google Keep for personal life stuff. Both can be accessed online or via phone app.

      3. Phraseworks*

        I LOVE Todoist. I discovered it this year and it’s the perfect solution for me. Nested projects, organized by due date, easy to see what’s coming up today/tomorrow/next week. I have tried a bunch of different “list” apps and this one is the one that’s really working for me. I also like syncing it with my phone app and my mac, so I can update on the go and on my desktop. I rely on my phone calendar, my Todoist app, and making sure my email inbox is meticulously organized. I was diagnosed with ADHD back when I was 12, so I’ve developed a lot of “systems” to keep myself on-track at work. I still drop the ball sometimes but this helps a lot.

      4. ella*

        Todoist didn’t work for me, but keeping a bullet journal did. There’s a huge community out there if anyone is curious about keeping a handwritten notebook but could use more guidance on how to go about it.

        1. Alienor*

          I started using Todoist a while ago and loved it at first, but then ended up switching to a bullet journal for most things. I still use Todoist to schedule recurring personal and work tasks that I need a reminder about (taking medication is a big one), but write down the one-offs in my journal as they come up.

        2. Aerin*

          I tried a bullet journal and found that it didn’t work well for planning purposes. I do still use it to keep a list of everything I accomplished in a day, though. Feeling like I’ve wasted a day can be really discouraging and can make it harder to do better the next day, but there are days where I feel like I didn’t get much done until I actually sit down and list it all out. Giving myself credit for all the stuff I do, even little stuff, helps keep me in a good place mentally.

      5. ResearchEngineer*

        I’ve been using Wunderlist for basic lists recently, it’s great for simple to-dos and you can share lists. My husband and I share the grocery list, a ‘who we need to invite over soon’ list, and birthday present suggestions lists. The shared grocery list has changed our lives.

        For work lists I’ve been using Trello to set up lists of ‘To Do’, ‘Doing’ and ‘Done’. Like My Cabbages!! I only have up to five things in my ‘Doing’ list so I don’t get overwhelmed, but it’s useful to have a place to put to-dos so they don’t get forgotten.

      6. LQ*

        I’m going to throw out Due which I love and hate. I love because it repeatedly bugs me about things I need bugging about over and over.

        I hate it because it repeatedly bugs me and it does so with a watch notification which I have absolutely had a breakdown over more than once. I’ve gotten a lot better at DND and F it. But when it’s good its really really good. It is really absurdly simple and every time I try to leave it for a Better app I always come back to the will bug me until I do it nagging of Due.

    5. JustaCPA*

      Not diagnosed but pretty sure I have it. I use notebooks for my lists but I also use plain old scraps for personal stuff – still working on that system! For work, I do the following:
      each day, take a FULL SHEET of paper, and write down what I need to do that WEEK.
      at the end of the day, mark off whats been done. That one sheet of paper stays on my desk right by my phone all week.
      On Monday, I get a new sheet of paper, carry over what has to be done from the old one and add whatever new tasks need to be done.

      If I do a task not on my list, I write it down and scratch it off. :)

      Oh, also, I will write down a large task but then underneath it, break it down into smaller tasks. For example,
      Process termination of employee XYZ
      remove from security system
      calculate vacation/sick time payout
      process term for 401k
      cancel employee credit card

      and so on….

        1. An Elephant Never Baguettes*

          Substeps are so so so important for me and I only recently noticed! I’m currently doing royalties and the person who was doing this task before me had an excel overview with only the most important steps to check off (ie, received – uploaded to internal system – sent invoice). It worked for them, but I’ve added 5 additional substeps to the chart to check off because otherwise I get LOST.

          1. EA with Anxiety/ADHD*

            Oh, yes, substeps! Helpful in figuring out how to do things, and it feels GREAT because you have more things to check off as you accomplish them!

            1. twig*

              Oh yes! checklists are my friend!

              (and EA with Anxiety/ADHD — I too am an Admin with Anxiety/ADHD supporting an executive (I don’t have the EA title though :) — if you have any Admin-y tips/resources, please feel free to share!)

        2. R.D.*

          sub steps are key because for me, if I did a ton of work for something, and then don’t get to check anything off, I feel like I’ve been unproductive. :(

        3. Anon for Now*

          Day Designer has free downloadable printouts that I find really helpful. You can plot out your top 3 weekly goals, a brief weekly to-do list (by day), and then much more specific daily goals and detailed daily to-do lists.

          As far as I know I’m neurotypical, but I’m getting older and I forget more, and I’ve found this sort of thing very helpful. They also have worksheets to do brain dumps, and other cool things. They sell planners, but the worksheets themselves are a free download.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            Thanks for the rec! (In thread-crossing entertainment, the email I got with my free downloads from Day Designer was closed “Warmly, ” and it cracked me up.)

          2. AnonPi*

            Day Designer planners are awesome! And if you can’t afford the ones they sell on their website, I just discovered some at OfficeMax this week, and BlueSky (a planner brand/company) sells planners designed by the Day Designer people and they’re almost the same. Love the to-do lists incorporated with the planner!

        4. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          Substeps are great. I also find it helpful to either write down where the info I need is, or have it all gathered in one folder. And deadlines too. That way I’m less likely to get stuck at the “find the contact” hurdle.

          For instance:
          -complete llama-herding cooperative agreement by 6/30
          – call chief llama herder at 555-LAMA by 4/1
          – review against Ag llama regs at 3 CFR 430 (link, if online) by 4/5
          – get legal approval by 4/20
          – go through wakeen at x444 to schedule give three weeks

          Anxiety is my biggest issue and for me this helps cut through the brain fog when I’m trying to get past an anxiety block. I don’t have to spend mental energy on logistics, I can save it all to help me just DO the thing. (Or delegate it neatly.)

        5. iglwif*

          Writing down substeps is HUGE for me. Like I cannot overstate its importance.

          Also colour-coding basically everything.

      1. LadyofLasers*

        Writing down sub-steps was SUCH a huge break for me! If I’m stuck, it’s usually because I have to break it down the steps farther.

        1. Anonym*

          Same! I also need to reset and reorganize my lists once a month or so (when I realize things are getting out of control).

      2. Nea*

        Moleskines are expensive, but they make a planner/calendar with days of the week on the left side and just lined paper on the right. I find them invaluable for dividing up lists of what must be done on a specific day vs what needs to be done sometime that week.

        Also, subtask lists rule!

      3. Canarian*

        I learned the substeps tip from a YouTube video on ADHD and it has VASTLY improved my ability to get things done. Just something as simple as writing down “wash, dry, fold, put away” as four items on my to do list instead of just “laundry” has kept my laundry in check in a miraculous way.

      4. GayDHD*

        Writing down subtasks (and often assigning deadlines and time limits ) is super helpful for me (diagnosed ADHD inattentive). But I have this weird fear that I’ll just keep dividing the task into smaller and smaller subtasks and never be able to start. Also, I find moving tasks from list to list ( / list to calendar/ between weeks in the calendar / between formats in some other way etc ) quite cognitively demanding and it takes me much longer than I think it should. However, recently I made myself actually do a planning process for a big project of several weeks – I feel like planning it out took several days but it helped so much!

        How do others decide what level of subtasking is needed? Does anyone else feel like you’ll just keep going until you end up splitting the atom?

    6. RE-ADHD*

      This is the best advice and it took me nearly ten years in the working world to figure out. I have ADHD and I find its really helpful to have a task list and map out my day with breaks (hence surfing the web currently). At the end of each day or the beginning of the next I list out everything that I need and want to accomplish. All tasks have to be short term (for that day only) even if its part of a larger project. I found that I work the best with deadlines (procrastinated a lot in school) so setting short achievable deadlines keeps me productive.

      Another thing I have found is taking a couple true breaks during the day of getting up and leaving my desk. Go for a walk, meet someone for lunch or coffee, just detach from what you are doing and when I come back I am more focused.

      It took me a while to learn that I am not a multitasker in the traditional sense. So breaking things down to individual projects helps me complete a stage and move on.

    7. NonProfit Nancy*

      Yes, diagnosed as an adult, and the “list” technique only works for me within a narrow range. If the list becomes too long, it is now just the disordered contents of my head, on paper, which is … not helpful. I need to keep my lists shorter (like, five items, with substeps written out) that I can reasonably expect to check off today in order for this to be helpful, and yet I see the List suggestion everywhere for ADHD.

      1. Canarian*

        I keep a separate “brain dump” list and then create a to-do task list from the brain dump. The brain dump is just where everything gets put at first, like if someone pops in my office and says “can you write this memo?” or if I’m in a meeting and I remember “Oh yeah, I have to finish that spreadsheet and I don’t remember if it’s on the list” it goes in my brain dump notebook that I always have with me.

        Then when it’s time to make an actual to-do list, I look at the brain dump, prioritize, and choose three or four things I can actually get done in a reasonable amount of time. Anything else I remember while I’m culling the shorter task list (and inevitably a lot comes to the surface!) goes back on the brain dump, not on the task list.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yes, I think the brain dump list is like the bullet journal technique others are discussing. Perhaps I should try two separate lists.

          1. LadyofLasers*

            What I do is make my brain dump, and then I mark the three most important things for me to get done that day. If I get through those things, it’s a win!

            1. Nonprofit Nancy*

              I think my issue is that I start off trying to list discrete tasks (send email) but if I’m not careful it ends up turning into goals (drink more water! create a budget!) – then spirals all over the map (start small business empowering girls!). At the end, I don’t really feel focused and refreshed so much as … manic. I have to create lists of no more than five points if I want it to actually help me be productive and vomiting out all my brain weasels first doesn’t seem to work for me. However, it definitely seems to help others and is common advice for the ADHD brain.

              1. Canarian*

                I have this same problem with spiraling all over! My brain dump will look like:
                – answer email
                – learn how new tax deductions work
                – refill prescription
                – remodel laundry room
                – finish urgent memo due tomorrow
                – clean off desk
                – attend meeting
                – front loading or top loading washer in new laundry room?
                – call friend I haven’t talked to in months
                – Netflix: Schitt’s Creek, Kimmy Schmidt
                – Grocery store: bread, milk, eggs, cat litter
                – adopt another cat?
                – scan notes from last week’s meetings

                Then I relocate things to other lists, separate “goals” from “tasks” and “life” from “work”, and (if I’m focused on work priorities) make sure I’m pulling out and creating a new list with just “answer email, finish memo, scan notes, clean off desk” – if “clean off desk” reminds me of “buy Lysol” or “watch Marie Kondo” that goes back onto the brain dump list.

                The key for me was to do it regularly and in the same place so that I could see things that were persistent or way overdue. It also helped reassure me that I have captured things for when I’ll eventually get around to them.

                It feels manic at first because new things are constantly popping up, but when I go back and do the next brain dump, I can flip to the previous page and see “okay, I already wrote down the laundry room thing like five times. I won’t be able to afford it for at least a year, and I don’t need to write it down again.” and then over time I stop getting distracted in meetings thinking about paint colors and where to fit a drying rack in the laundry room, or looking at Consumer Reports reviews for washer/dryers on my work computer, because my brain has figured out over time that project is in queue and we’ll handle it at a more appropriate time.

                Or, I can flip back and see “I’ve been telling myself I’m due for a dentist appointment for three months, it really needs to get done NOW.” and it helps me focus on what is actually urgent and a priority vs. what’s a long term goal or just an idea.

                Not trying to convince you, since it still may not be right for you, but it was one of those things that definitely became more useful with consistency for me!

                1. GayDHD*

                  @Canarian, your brain dump list is like every to do list I’ve ever tried to make. I’d be really interested to know more about your process – is it daily? Do you keep the brain dump list and the work to-do list in the same notebook, or separate? How far do you flip back – like would you look at the previous week’s worth of brain dump lists? someties making the effort to look at my old notes is executive function hell, was this a problem you had to overcome?

    8. Ella*

      I keep all my to-do lists in google docs these days, which means they’re accessible on my work computer, personal computer, and cell phone. I’m rarely without at least my phone, so I basically always have access to them and I can’t lose a google doc the way I can a physical notebook or piece of paper.

      Plus if I end up with multiple to-do lists I can organize them further into folders and such. Being able to access all my lists wherever I am has been a real life changer for me, especially since I bookmarked the most important ones so I can get to them with one click.

    9. Staja*

      I share an email account with 3 others on my team, making it sometimes harder to sort my tasks out. I now keep a spiral bound, full size notebook on my desk and every day start a new page. I find the best thing for me is to go through all my emails, write down my to-did, and start from there.

      When I am shown new procedures, I ask as many questions as I need to, to ensure I am doing it correctly, and then write down (usually by hand, since it helps things stay better for me) the new procedure for next time. This helps, because I then have my own SOP binder, and I can do my job. I’m in finance, and even have a page of Excel formulae written down, because I am terrible at math.

    10. Ey-not-Cy*

      Have you looked at Bullet Journals? That could be a way to cope with lists. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed when looking at all the “pretties” on the internet, but it is a really good system if you can manage it. Or adapt it to your needs. I don’t/won’t do the full on system but like having a place for all my stuff. (And I like cool notebooks and pens.)

      1. OtterB*

        I was going to suggest this also. Agree, don’t be turned off by all the artistic versions. That’s great for the people it works for, but for me, it made me feel like the journal would be fanfic about my life and not the actual nuts and bolts I needed. I recommend Ryder Carroll’s recent book on “The Bullet Journal Method.”

        1. ella*

          I love my bullet journal, but if I start making it too decorative, I run the risk of doing the thing where you write down your to do list and then feel accomplished, instead of doing anything on the to do list. Simpler is better, for me. I can do my weekly spread layout in less than five minutes these days.

          The book is great, but I think I would have found it overwhelming if I’d read it before I started journaling. I basically watched a couple videos on the internet and then just did it. (Again, for me, simpler is better.)

      2. Bear Rambles On*

        This. include “minimalist” or “minimal” in any search for bullet journal pages and you will find some great stuff that is about being productive, not washi tape and markers.
        I have ADHD and my bullet journal helps me not overwhelmed. That being said, I really only use my bujo for personal stuff. I only use it for work in that I note any not regular appointments on my weekly spread and to jot down things when I am not at my desk.
        When I am at work, I use a yellow legal pad that I section off. The left margin is to note the time when chnaging tasks (basically, it’s my manual time sheet), the rest of the page is split in half with notes of what I did on the left and tasks to be completed on the right. I start a new page each week and just keeping adding pages when I am done with the previous page, that way the task list is sort of a running task list. At the end of the week I (am supposed to) migrate the tasks to my company’s project management software. I am not always successful with this step. At least it is captured and I can always go back to find something.

    11. Octopus*

      Yeah I write to-do lists and then forget to look at them! If there’s something that’s extremely important to remember, at the end of the day I write it on a post-it and stick it to the top of my computer monitor so that it’s impossible to miss. I can’t just sit at my computer and start working if there’s a piece of paper blocking my view!

    12. Matilda Jefferies*

      I also have ADHD, and I do the opposite – I DO put everything on my to-do lists! If I leave something off, it just ends up rattling around in my head all day, and I can’t focus on anything but what isn’t written down. So my work to-do list often includes things like “empty wastepaper basket” and other such trivia, because that way I know for sure I’ll remember it.

      My strategy is to write down everything, literally everything. Then I go back over the list with different colours of highlighters to prioritize what needs to be done today, this week, this month, and later. Then sometimes I refomat the lists so they’re sorted by priority, rather than the order I thought of them. Finally, by this point there’s a good chance that I am hyperfocusing on list-making rather than on actually getting any work done, so sometimes I literally write STOP WRITING LISTS as a to-do item, and do that first. :)

      1. Anonym*

        Getting distracting to-dos out of your head is super helpful! Otherwise they just float there, messing with you.

        1. Chinookwind*

          I too hate distracting t-do’s and end up using Outlook’s Task Manager and colour coding to keep things straight and know that I don’t have to remember to do something because my computer will. I have things I have to accomplish daily set up as daily reminders (plus can see future items at the same time) which means I can feel like I have accomplished a lot very quickly each day as well as be distracted while doing them because I have a list to review when I get back on track.

          I even deal with emails that way – if they are in my inbox, they have to be dealt with now by either dealing with them or assigning them as future tasks. An inbox with more than 10 emails (or conversations since that is how I sort them and I can minimize them to just the subject line until they are dealt with) causes me to start to panic, so this is what I do to get back on track and feel the calm of an empty inbox (but many, many mail folders).

          It has the added bonus of, when my depression starts beating me up, I can see what I have accomplished over the last few months. And, if for some reason I have to take short term leave, I can just forward my tasks to someone else to take care of.

      2. Bear Rambles On*

        I do regular brain dumps and then move the tasks to the appropriate to-do list…and even if I don’t it is still out of my head.

    13. stemprof*

      Not diagnosed, but I suspect I may have ADD. For sure I have trouble settling to a task and prioritizing. I also find lists helpful but have struggled to find an effective way of managing them.
      My current strategy, which seems to be helping: At the beginning of every week, I do a brain dump of all my to-do items. This is usually 1-2 pages, and I add to it as needed during the week. I then do a much shorter daily to-do list every morning, taking a few items from the longer list. I find this helpful because otherwise I lose track of longer-term items/things I don’t have time to work on that week, or sometimes those unlisted things start pinging around my brain, causing anxiety. Getting everything on the page seems to help with anxiety and focus, and keeps me from forgetting things.

      1. stemprof*

        Meant to add: I have a nice notebook that I use mostly for this purpose (also some note-taking, although I take most of my notes on my computer now), so my lists are always to hand and it’s easy to refer back to previous days/weeks if needed

        1. Matilda Jefferies*

          I do the same. I tried to Bullet Journal, but it just got way too overwhelming for me, and I spent hours and hours decorating it with washi tape and stickers – which did nothing to increase my productivity, funnily enough! So I use a planner with the calendar grids all laid out already, and a plain notebook for thoughts that don’t easily fit into the planner.

    14. Zephy*

      Piggybacking on this – are you familiar with the Eisenhower matrix? It’s a way of organizing the tasks on your to-do list, and I find it useful. I often fall into the trap of “procrastinating by planning,” making endless lists without actually starting on any of the tasks, and this is a way to feel like I’m doing that while also actually accomplishing something in the process of figuring out how to prioritize what I need to do. My username is a link to a video that explains it well, but if you can’t watch videos, here’s a summary.

      Divide your to-do list into 4 quadrants. Your vertical axis is Importance, your horizontal axis is Urgency.

      The top-left quadrant is Important And Urgent – this is your A-1 priority list for the day. The video calls this the “Do Now” quadrant. List time-sensitive things that you must do yourself today. Return a phone call, pay a bill, turn in a report, submit your timesheet.

      The top-right quadrant is Important But Not Urgent. These are things you need to put on your calendar for some future time – schedule an appointment, make note of an upcoming meeting or deadline. It’s a good space to keep social and personal commitments on your radar as well.

      The bottom-left quadrant is Not Important, But Urgent. These should be things you can delegate to other people. If you’re not in a position to delegate tasks (e.g., you’re the person everyone else delegates to, at the bottom of the hierarchy), have a conversation with your boss about how they want you to prioritize the tasks you’re given.

      Finally, the bottom-right quadrant is Neither Important Nor Urgent. The original system says this is basically the trash can – anything that could go on this list is something you ought not to do at all, if it can be helped. But I think the system can be adapted to make this a Leisure and Self-Care quadrant. Rather than dispense with such things, use the system to carve out time in your day/week/month for things like date night with your SO (or yourself), calling your parents, getting a manicure, watching a movie, game night with friends. If you leave things like that for “whatever time is left over,” there will be no time left over, and taking time for yourself and your relationships is as important as work.

      1. Zephy*

        Oops, looks like the link didn’t work. If you ask The Google about the “Eisenhower matrix” you can find the video at eisenhower [dot] me [slash] eisenhower-matrix.

      2. Anonym*

        These are great! Especially when you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.

      3. Jessen*

        Note: if you’re like me, this may end up with a giant list of everything in the top-right quadrant that’s far more than you could actually do in a day. If this happens, it may be time to check for anxiety issues. It may also be a sign that there is something going on in your life/job/whatever that means you have more things expected of you than capacity to do them. Which is still useful information!

    15. Cascadian*

      I find I need to have enough on my lists to bounce between so I don’t feel trapped by a few big looming tasks. I used to have multiple-column full page lists that didn’t help & never got done, but have since learned to only add what I think I can complete in a given time period. Otherwise I tend to put something off til the last and have to stop unfinished. I’ve also gotten better at not starting anything complicated like pulling all the clothes out of the closet to move all the shelves around. If I don’t make that the main task of the day & try to tuck it in later I’ll end up with clothes stacked on my bed, shelves on the closet floor, wet spackle & paint and it’s hours past bedtime.
      My main technique is to code tasks by must do/should do/want to do and tackle the must dos first. Then I ‘reward’ myself with a fluff task like dishes or folding laundry which I can do while watching shows.

    16. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I’m neurotypical but I’ve had jobs that are like Inception with stupid interruptions, so I keep a dated to-do list document on my computer. I divide it into two halves- the top half has one-off tasks and the bottom half has repetitive/not time sensitive tasks (far-off deadlines, etc.) I update it every afternoon before I leave as part of my daily wrap up. If I think of anything overnight, I make a note of it in my notebook. Then when I get in in the morning, I update the list with today’s date, anything I thought of overnight/got ambushed about on the way to my desk, and print it out.

      During the day I cross out, scribble, take phone messages on the sheet, and then file it in a to-do-list folder, so I can go back and check it over if there’s a problem down the line.

    17. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I use Trello for my work flow and it works really well for keeping me on track and organized. I have columns for various steps in my process and I can move the cards along as I do the things. It also lets me color coordinate so I can know some key indicators at a glance.

      My work is on a monthly cycle, so I have a template set up and at the beginning of each month, I copy and rename it and choose a different background picture.

    18. twig*

      Adult Diagnosed ADHD here too!

      I’m fortunate that my boss has kids with ADHD — so she “gets” what I’m dealing with to an extent.

      We had an interesting discussion about organization at my annual evaluation last week: I’m always looking for ways to organize my to-dos and responsibilities so that I don’t forget them AND I dont’ get overwhelmed AND I can figure out how to prioritize (I suck at prioritizing). Also I can/and have gotten a bit over-organizy/over-complicated in trying to manage my tasks.

      She mentioned that she just keeps a running list in her notebook and adds to it and crosses off as needed.

      I can’t quite do that — once my list gets over 1 page long, I lose track.

      I have to keep multiple lists (based on urgency/area of work etc) and one short list for the day.

    19. Shoes On My Cat*

      One thing that’s been helping me is packs of index cards all over the house and in my purse. On e a week I gather them in a large index card box that is divided into annual quarters. Then I sort new cards into the box. Then I pull out my planner and anything left from the week before either gets a card or it’s card is in the front of this quarter’s cards. Any tasks I did complete get their cards ripped in half to be recycled or used for kindling (very satisfying!). Then I re-shuffle this quarter’s cards by priority and make my plan for the coming week. If I need to put detail on the project, it goes on the back of the card. If it’s a huge project, the card space forces me to break it down to smaller chunks and write part 1 of 6, part 2 of 6 etc on the card. It makes it easier for me to prioritize then re prioritize without getting bogged down by lesser priorities. I can reshuffle the cards as life happens!

    20. Anoncorporate*

      I have attention problems. I keep all my to do lists on my computer. Microsoft has One Note and Sticky Notes for this purpose. I keep them all in one place and check off the items one by one as I go through them.

      Something I find helpful is to not make systems for doing things overly complex. Keep all your to do lists in one place. Sometimes making a new list everyday is better than a long list for the week you can lose track of.

    21. But you don't have an accent...*

      This is what my husband does! He has ONE notebook, and each day starts a new page, writes the date at the top, and carries JUST that notebook. If he has to take notes, he starts on the next page after the to-do list.

      The next day, if he didn’t finish everything, he transfers the undone items to today’s list so he’s not constantly cross-referencing. It also helps because he doesn’t have a bunch of clutter on his desk and he knows exactly where all his “stuff” is.

      He prefers the nice, leather-looking notebooks so they don’t get mixed up with someone else’s notebook if it accidentally gets left.

    22. TheOtherLiz*

      I use a planner with lots of space for lists, and I carry it to every meeting, and it’s the only place I write my to do list, and in a low-meeting week it’s also the only place I take notes, so I know exactly where to find my notes from last week’s meeting – on the scratch pad last week. I use the Uncalendar.

    23. Iris Eyes*

      To Do lists are awesome…most of the time :)

      I have a sheet of paper with two columns where I put sticky notes, one with “Time Sensitive” and the other side is “Not as Time Sensitive” those are for the mid/long range projects. (TBH I probably need a third column for my supervisee as I help manage their list too)

      Then in a steno book I have more of a daily task list. I make it fun and more functional by using a different color scheme for each month to cross off done objects. One book is roughly one year. If something is undone and I have to flip a page I cross it out and reenter it. Towards the end of the day I start putting new things on tomorrows list. Typically I have 5-8 named tasks/objectives under a date.

      It works most of the time :)

    24. Not So NewReader*

      This is great life advice for everyone.

      At home and at work, I have a short list of things that I WILL get done TODAY. The unspoken here is a bunch of other stuff will fill in between these things on the short list.

      The key for me is the sheer determination that these things written on the list will get done- do or die- today.

      The home list can look like this:
      Return Sue’s book.
      Take out garbage.
      Pay CC bill.

      The at work list can look like this:
      Follow up on two week old problem Y by calling Bob.
      Finish x from yesterday,
      Organize supply drawer in prep for ordering supplies.

      Usually nothing is related to anything else on the list. I try to put things on the list that are very easy to forget yet absolutely must get done. I also take things that seem Huge and break them into daily steps until completed, such as prepping a thorough order of supplies.

      If I do a long list nothing gets done and to add injury on top of injury the to-do list does not ever feel completed, either. It’s a no win situation. Under the heading of trade-offs, I trade off an incomplete list in favor of getting some absolute essentials done.

    25. Editor*

      To-do lists: Levenger, a company that sells expensive pens, stationery, and related stuff like briefcases and standing desks and leather goods, has a form I use for lists. They sell online.

      The form is a folding card with six panels formatted so a week’s worth of lists and appointments can be written down (one panel is split for two days, presumably for Sat. and Sun., but nothing is labeled so you can designate day and date), then be tucked in a shirt pocket or purse. The folded card is a bit smaller than an index card.

      I also buy a lot of blank index cards (3×5) for bookmarks and lists. My writing is fairly neat, so I can make lists without using lines — I like to start the list at the narrow end of the card and use it vertically.

    26. smol bean*

      For the To-Do lists thing, I’ve found a sort of bullet-journal-esque thing works really well for me.
      I have a Moleskin planner, hard cover, that has all the days on the left-hand side, and lines on the right side. Each page is 1 week.

      -Left side has appointments/meetings/events in the appropriate day box. I color code too, but that’s just an extra (green is work, blue is school, black is for deadlines (eg file taxes, order my med refills, call Dentist, send birthday card) and purple is the rest of life (social plans, appointments, etc.)) I also assign colors to every course I’m currently taking (but I graduate so soon! So soon, I won’t need to do this!!)
      -Right side has my running to do lists (one for work, one for school, one for misc life stuff (laundry, groceries, etc.))
      -Things are in the same colors as the events on the left side (so Chem homework, which is in pink on the left, is also in pink on the right side. Capstone course is in orange. Work to-dos are in green. And so on.)
      -Anything that isn’t done at the end of the week gets moved to the next week’s page. (So, purple to-do list is: laundry, clean toilet, meal plan, pick up CSA. I only pick up CSA and do laundry. On Sunday night, I’ll write clean toilet and meal plan on the next week’s page.)
      -I put due dates on things, self-imposed or otherwise. (e.g. Laundry is “due” by Wednesday, TPS report is due Thursday C.o.B., etc)
      -I can stick post-its onto the page if I accidentally make notes there instead of in my planner
      -If I have a lot of to-dos in a week, I’ll sometimes tape an extra sheet of paper into that week

      This way, I don’t lose my lists, because they’re all in one place, always. The planner is thin and small enough (smaller than an iPad) so it fits in even my smallest work bag. It’s hardcover, so I can always write on it, even on the bus (though legibility is a challenge!) I also like being able to see everything I get done in a week (even the worse weeks still end up with a good number of things crossed off, which is very satisfying.)

      I also double-list things. So I have my paper planner, and I also use Google Keep. It works on your phone and computer. You can make a bunch of different lists, pin ones to the top, add photos and drawings and voice recordings, and it’s accessible anywhere you can login to Google. I have a pinned list that is called Grocery, and I just add things to it as I notice I need them, and check them off when I buy them. If I’m taking notes in a meeting, and it involves to-dos, I’ll take a picture as soon as the meeting is over, before I lose the paper I was scribbling on, and then I’ll add my to-dos to my Official Lists. Writing things by hand helps me remember them, but having a digital backup helps in case of accidents (like dropping my planner into a large puddle, in front of a large truck, which then ran over my planner.)

      YMMV, but this is the system that I’ve found works for me. Redundancy, flexibility, and a little bit of creativity (color coding!) is the best for me!

    27. Bettly*

      I use Kanban style Work In Progress, where I only allow myself three things in any state of being done, and it is enormously helpful.

      I just bought an iPad and Notability means my handwritten notes are now searchable, at least. I start a new note each week, so if I ever need to figure out what has happened I can go back through the history.

  3. MuseumChick*

    I have a learning disability that I’ve worked very hard to manage over the years. YMMV, but I think one of the best things you can do is have a discussion with your manager/HR assuming of course that they are reasonable and not one of those terrible bosses we see here. Even if you don’t need any accommodations in that moment it opens that discussion for what/if you do need them.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m interested to see other opinions on this, but I think it depends heavily on what the condition is. Dyslexia? Sure. ADHD? There are real downsides to disclosing (which I actually talked about on yesterday’s podcast) — it can make them see everything you do through that lens, which you don’t want.

      1. MuseumChick*

        Oh that’s a really good point. I think I’ve been very lucky in that, every boss I’ve done this with has been supportive without just seeing everything I do through the lens of “learning disability”. I hope other chime in with their stories.

        1. Cobol*

          I have ADHD and honestly disclosing it has only been a positive. That doesn’t mean it always helps. Most often it doesn’t, as a lot of people just don’t understand how somebody with ADHD is functionally different. In that case you just have to deal, but that would be the same if you didn’t say anything.

          To Allison’s point about it being a potential detriment….. Honestly anything I do wrong should be seem as a result of ADHD. That doesn’t mean it’s an excuse, but working to overcome ADHD is by far the most important thing for me being professionally successful.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            anything I do wrong should be seen as a result of ADHD

            Hmmm. I can’t agree with that. But more importantly — the reason disclosing can be a deteriment is because *anyone* can have moments of lapsed attention or disorganization, and you’re entitled the same amount as anyone else without having your boss think, “aggh, Jane just cannot be relied upon to get it together.”

            1. My Cabbages!!*

              In contrast, I would rather my boss tell me “hey, you have been really disorganized lately, I think you need to revisit your coping strategies” rather than silently think “man, Cabbages just can’t get it together.”

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Right, of course. But neurotypical people get cut some amount of slack on occasional disorganization. My point is that if you have ADHD, you’re entitled to that same occasional slack rather than it being seen as a sign that your ADHD is causing Problems every single time.

                1. My Cabbages!!*

                  Sure, but it’s way more likely to be a serious problem if I’m not giving context for chronic problems. It’s sort of like–everyone has days where they miss work for a bad cold. People with chronic diseases will also have to call in sick for a bad cold sometimes. But they are also likely to have to use sick time to manage their conditions. If they don’t disclose their chronic condition their boss is more likely to wonder if they are abusing sick leave, whereas they are more likely to be cut slack for multiple sick days if they disclose.

                2. Cobol*

                  It’s your site, so I don’t want to argue, but I think it’s a difference between experiencing ADHD and observing. My ADHD is omnipresent.
                  Because it’s less obvious, I think people forget it’s a neural disorder. To me it’s the equivalent of not disclosing dyslexia because neurotypical people get a pass for occasionally missing something that was written in an email.

                3. OhNo*

                  Agreed. As someone with both ADHD (undisclosed) and physical disabilities (disclosed), it’s very apparent to me the difference. Any issues cause by my disclosed physical disabilities are often framed as A Thing, and/or prompt a Do We Need to Revisit Your Accommodations talk.

                  On the flip side, issues cause by my undisclosed ADHD are more often seen as having an “off day”, and I generally get cut more slack on those since they are seen as an occasional thing rather than yet another example of a disability interfering with my work. Such issues aren’t tracked or tallied the same way by others.

                4. BananaPants*

                  I agree with Alison on this one. I have ADHD and have not disclosed it in the workplace for this reason. No one is perfect at work and if I have the occasional slip-up, I don’t want my boss assuming it’s because of my ADHD.

                5. madge*

                  I think there’s also the unfortunate reality that there are many commonly-held stereotypes and misconceptions about ADHD (or any neurodivergence), so disclosing carries the risk that people will interpret you through those lenses, regardless of what you tell them about your individual experience. So it’s not just that they might attribute every mistake to your ADHD, but that they might make other negative assumptions about you.

                6. AnnaBananna*

                  I am also someone who finally, in my current role, disclosed my ADHD to my boss for the first time in my career (I’m in my 12th post-college year of professional work). I think that my strategy worked for me really well which was waiting to disclose until after a year of *rockstar* work results. This did two things for me. One, it showed leadership that when things are excellent, I can be excellent, meaning that I had enough capital with him that I got the benefit of the doubt going forward. Two, it put another layer of much-needed structure/accountability within the scope of my role. Effect: when I state that I need something (hard deadlines, explicit instruction, more time, etc), my boss understands why it’s so important and knows that I will deliver to the best of my abilities. My 1X1s are now geared with status updates (to the Nth degree) including him asking where he can best support me during the process of completing projects. Super beneficial.

                  That said, I didn’t take this to HR for accommodation, mostly because I didn’t really feel I needed it once my boss and I worked out our system.

                7. AnnaBananna*

                  ps. I was also able to use that first year to get to know him better and determine whether he could be empathetic to my status. My previous boss? NO WAY would I have disclosed, because she would have taken it as an excuse to screw around on her dime, not as a ‘hey, I might need a little more structure than your average bear’.

                8. ADHDPerfectionist*

                  I will never, ever disclose my ADHD at work. I’m extremely high performing but I still feel like it would color people’s opinion of me. I don’t want my screw ups to be attributed to ADHD. I feel like people stop seeing you as an equal when they know you have ADHD and start expecting you to screw up even if you don’t give them any reason to.

            2. BRR*

              I have ADHD and that is my take on it. I think Cobol has an interesting take and it could work in a very ideal setting in my opinion. I feel like it makes “doesn’t have an attention to detail” a default quality for me and that I could only be organized with effort.

              1. BRR*

                A different way of saying this is that I don’t want people thinking I have a genetic predisposition for making errors resulting from an inability to focus. That my medical condition would be creating a bad work persona.

                1. Cobol*

                  I get it. In my case at least I do have a genetic predisposition to errors (or really I fall behind which causes me to not spend enough time to catch my errors).

                  Which I think goes to the more important point of even two people with ADHD (or really any problem) may find that completely opposite approaches work best for them.

                2. BRR*

                  @Cobol I think that’s the ultimate takeaway. Different approaches for different people. This thread is so wonderful to see what works for everyone and is giving me a lot of things to try. And this includes disclosing to a manager, peers, HR, etc.

            3. Zillah*

              Alison, I really love that we’re having this thread, but this comment makes me uncomfortable. It’s reasonable to say that everyone deserves to be cut some slack sometimes, but it’s not really on you to disagree with what someone says causes them to screw up. I don’t always disclose, but I agree with Cobol – pretty much everything I have ever done wrong at work has been related to my ADHD.

              1. animaniactoo*

                I think that you’re missing the point that Alison is making – yes, it may in reality be a function of the ADHD.

                But for a manager to see everything an employee does through that lens removes the factor of normal human error that most people have. The allowance and leeway people get for it.

                So – are you screwing up the same amount or slightly more than the average employee? If so, why should a manager perceive those errors to be related to the ADHD rather than normal human error? Will it ultimately create a bias against you as something that can’t be overcome when it is in actuality not significantly different than the rest of your co-workers?

                I have selectively revealed my own bi-polar diagnosis (it’s an odd one and one I’m no longer sure is correct based on a condition that came to light last year) based on whether or not I felt a manager could be sympathetic without holding it against me (consciously or unconsciously) or viewing all my actions through the lens of that diagnosis. If I didn’t think they could, I never brought it up. Even when I was struggling – the thing to do has been to say “I recognize I’m having this issue*. I’m doing XYZ to try to get it together.” Because that allows them to see that I know the symptom is occurring, and I am trying to address it – which is ultimately what they really need to know unless I am officially applying for disability accommodation of some sort.

                *Where issue = symptom of main problem.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Right. Everyone screws up some amount of things. I can’t see the logic of saying that every single mistake made by a person with ADHD stems from the ADHD, since that means that without the ADHD they would be flawless humans? Of course not. Anyway, I think this is more theoretical than practical so I don’t know that we need to resolve it, and perhaps I’m missing what Cobol originally meant.

                2. Teapot marketer*

                  > it’s an odd one and one I’m no longer sure is correct based on a condition that came to light last year

                  I don’t want to get into a discussion on this, because it’s a bit off-topic and I don’t want you to share more details, but I found out from a therapist friend that apparently many people (typically women) are misdiagnosed with bipolar when they actually have anxiety. I have no idea if this helps you, and ignore this if it doesn’t, but maybe one day this information can help someone get the treatment they require and not suffer for decades.

                3. Zillah*

                  I’m not saying I’d be perfect without my ADHD, but my ADHD imposes roadblocks that prevent those other imperfections from showing themselves, esp at work… and I just really don’t love someone telling me or others that that lived experience is incorrect.

                  As an imperfect analogy: if I don’t have a car, that’s why I can’t get to places requiring use of a car. If I had a car, sometimes the car needing maintenance or bumping into traffic would be the impediment, because having a car doesn’t make everything go smoothly… but if I don’t have a car in the first place, it’d be ridiculous to blame traffic for my not being able to get somewhere.

                  That’s not everyone’s experience, but on a post about how we deal with this stuff, the comment just felt minimizing.

                4. Zillah*

                  Also – and apologies if someone else responds to my last comment before I do and it seems like I’m ignoring them – that doesn’t necessarily mean I always disclose, because there is absolutely a stigma. But the ADHD is so, so pervasive and problematic for my everyday functioning that it’s the root cause for most things, regardless of whether I disclose.

                5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I see what you’re saying, and I apologize for coming across insensitively.

                  I’m thinking of stuff like, you wrote something that didn’t have quite the right tone for the audience it’s intended for. Maybe it’s that you didn’t process that info when it was given to you, or maybe it’s that you just have never written for that audience before and didn’t know how to do it, or maybe you’re not a strong writer in general, or maybe you really struggle writing in that particular voice … or so forth. I wouldn’t have thought all of those were connected to ADHD (although I’m open to being told I’m wrong!). But I’ll stop derailing now from a post that’s intended to help people!

                6. Zillah*

                  Thank you so much for the apology – I really, really appreciate your openness here.

                  To clarify – I think that for me, that’s not quite the framing I’d use, in that the examples you’re using are more things I don’t know how to do than mistakes I make. If I write something that didn’t have quite the right tone, for example, I wouldn’t necessarily see that as a mistake – it might just be a skill I didn’t have. I didn’t do anything wrong (which doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not a problem, but it’s a different kind of problem – one analogy I can think of is how someone being incorrect doesn’t necessarily mean they were lying).

                  When I make a mistake or do something wrong, though – something I do or should have the skills to do but messed up on – that’s almost always on the ADHD (especially around executive functioning). They’re often mistakes that neurotypical people make, too, but there’s a different root cause, and that context really makes a difference. (Since I’m going overboard on the analogies – everyone eats something that doesn’t agree with them sometimes, but getting sick from food poisoning once has a very different context from getting sick whenever you eat wheat.)

                7. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Ah! The original comment that I was responding to said “anything I do wrong.” So that might be why we approached it differently.

                8. Zillah*

                  I think it probably is! As I’m thinking about it, my personal experiences as someone who’s ADHD have also actually strongly impacted how I define the word “wrong,” too – for me, “wrong” = “mistake” = “why can’t you just” = “it’s not that hard.” I can’t think of a time “wrong” was used neutrally to just refer to things that could be improved or things I needed to learn. Not everyone with ADHD has that experience, of course, and “wrong” can certainly be used in that neutral context – but it never gets there for me, because I always screw the easy stuff up.

                  (That’s actually a really good example of context things I was trying to get at!)

                9. animaniactoo*

                  @ Teapot Marketer – appreciate the lookout. It’s on an entirely different scale to that… my disorder has always worked in states of energy, and there do seem to be some of the related BP behaviors in play. Mostly for a lot of my life I’ve either had excess energy or not enough energy. But I could be sad/upset while on the high end, and in a happy mood while on the low end, so it’s always been viewed as exclusively states of energy.

                  Last year I was diagnosed with having silent migraines* – which can create pieces of the same cycles of being a fairly energetic person some days and a complete crash and lack of energy the next day. The episodes of dissociation that I have may have been active migraine episodes. The silent migraines don’t explain all of it (like some impulse control behavior), but enough of it to question the original BP diagnosis… things to be explored when I have more time/energy.

                  *basically, it’s a migraine with all of the symptoms EXCEPT the headache that tells you it’s a migraine.

              2. LadyofLasers*

                I think, for me, it would be really hard to say what individual actions are because of my ADHD. It’s definitely a cause of a trend, but not a one to one cause for individual events.

                If I didn’t have ADHD, I would still make mistakes occasionally, and those mistakes aren’t special to my adhd, I just make them more often when I’m not on my medication. I’m also dealing with years of accumulated anxiety that I know can play a role, so it’s really hard to point to one specific root. Is it ADHD, is it anxiety, is it anxiety making my ADHD worse?

              3. JSPA*

                The level of determination someone with ADHD brings to bear on the work process means that “regular carelessness” rarely gets through. Or to put it another way, whether the ADHD causes or merely allows the problem moment– it’s almost always involved. That’s my experience, anyway. Like when golfers talk of “the yips.” Experientially / procedurally / phenomenologically different from garden – variety carelessness.

                1. Susie*

                  “The level of determination someone with ADHD brings to bear on the work process means that “regular carelessness” rarely gets through.”

                  Yes, this! I’m so glad that someone else understands this.

            4. Bettly*

              My experience is that boss’ are more likely to forget that, for example, I probably will not absorb every minute of a two-hour-long phone-only meeting than attribute everything to my ADHD or fail to cut me the same slack they would someone else.

              In my field, I’ve seen a lot more people scared of disclosing and ending up on PIPs than I’ve seen people disclose and see any kind of repercussions. ADHD is *so* common (it’s about as common as being left-handed) and has been diagnosed consistently in boys for almost a generation now, so most people know someone who has it and I personally haven’t encountered any stigma from disclosing.

          2. MuseumChick*

            Cobol, that is a really interesting point. It can be nigh impossible to distinguish between “distracted because ADHD” from “distracted because I am human and humans sometimes get distracted” I guess I see it as someone with a physical disability struggling to do X physical task. Yes, able-bodied people might also struggle to do X task from time to time but when you have a physical disability your struggle do do X has to be understand through that. (Sorry this feels a little rambly to me. I hope I expressed myself well).

            1. Random Obsessions*

              It’s the classic I can ‘see’ what’s wrong versus ‘I’m going to need a scan of your brain to believe you’ conundrum

            2. Cobol*

              I get it. In my case at least I do have a genetic predisposition to errors (or really I fall behind which causes me to not spend enough time to catch my errors)

              1. Cobol*

                This went in the wrong thread. To your point, I’ve noticed a lot of people, especially those who are good at distractions see ADHD as occasionally having trouble paying attention, and that’s really not it.

                1. Zillah*

                  Yeah – the executive functioning issues are far more problematic for me than focusing (which more comes and goes depending on what I’m doing).

          3. My Cabbages!!*

            I’m coming back to this because it’s been itching at my brain:

            I teach college, and I’m pretty open about my ADHD diagnosis, including with my students, for a few reasons:

            – A lot of people with ADHD do really well in high school but don’t have the strategies needed for independent work required for success in college. I think disclosing my own diagnosis helps students who may not recognize that this can be an issue realize that maybe they aren’t just dumb–they might have this issue themselves.

            – My brain will often not grab at the right word and I will have to stop in the middle of lecture to go through all the choices (patrimony? parsimony? acrimony? antimony?) and I prefer to give my students context for that rather than them thinking I’m an idiot who can’t talk.

            – My brain also will sometimes fool me into thinking I’ve explained something that I haven’t, and I want my students to be comfortable interrupting me and saying “hey, we have no idea what that thing you just said is.”

            I do understand that my job is a very different situation from others and lots of places disclosure could be a serious downside, though.

            1. Cobol*

              Everything you said is true for me. Honestly I think the last point is related to a strength of ADHD. I tend to forget that most people don’t think about every single topic as much as I do, and skip over things that I just assume everybody knows

            2. Chalupa Batman*

              Academic advisor here, and I definitely see the gap you mentioned with your first point in students who disclose ADHD to me. I’ve had multiple students only disclose their ADHD to me because nothing they’ve tried has worked and they’re officially Out of Ideas. It’s not that they aren’t capable, it’s more that they worked really hard to learn to play the game in high school, and then college shows up and changes all of the rules. Once we level the playing field, usually with some type of disability accommodation, they have the space they need to start learning the new rules. I’d love to see high schools more closely align with the idea of critical inquiry as the main mechanism for learning, but since that’s not on the table anytime soon, I know I really appreciate people like you who are transparent about your ADHD diagnosis and how it impacts you in the higher ed setting. It shows them that we actually do get it, and that it’s ok if they need their path to look different. Unfortunately, they may someday be in a position where they know disclosing isn’t in their best interests, so having had a safe place to explore what they need to happen for them to learn effectively makes it more likely that they’ll be able to navigate that well.

          4. Working with ADHD*

            I disclosed my ADHD at a previous workplace and really regretted it. I did so with good intent – I’d just been diagnosed, was starting medication, and wanted to advise that I was on top of it but to bear with me. Management had never even noticed a problem and since I wasn’t asking for any particular accommodations on their part, their attitude was a bit puzzled as to why I was telling them. Then my boss, who was a real piece of work who ended up sexually harassing me and bullying me over my sexuality, used my self-identified diagnosis to undermine me – it became another tool in her arsenal. This is obviously an extreme negative outcome that is not typical of disclosure, but is a risk I’m not willing to take.

            I’ve been in two workplaces since then and haven’t disclosed and I’m not sure I would again. As Alison says below, if I’m having moments of disorganisation or lapsed attention I’d rather be given the benefit of the doubt that anyone else would get; if I’m having more serious problems, I’d rather be responsible for self-awareness and self-management around that. I’m not sure what possible benefit I would get from disclosing – maybe the situation would change if I had to ask for a specific accommodation, but even then I would probably try other ways to shift things before seriously considering disclosing.

            Ironically a current coworker complimented me on my organisation skills, which I accidentally, literally then laughed out loud about in her face.

            1. TheOtherLiz*

              I actually get complimented on how organized I am NOT infrequently. I think it’s because I bring my planner everywhere and that fascinates people, and not that many people actually visit me in my crazy looking office!

      2. Less Bread More Taxes*

        I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but as someone with autism, I would never disclose it unless I needed accommodations. That’s only my personal preference. I can ask for accommodations without disclosing my diagnosis (“Could you send me an email with that info? It helps me keep track”). If that’s unreasonable to my employer, then the accommodation discussion happens.

        1. American Ninja Worrier*

          Yep, I do a lot of this. “Can you put the instructions in writing so I have them to reference?” is my go-to.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          Yes – my suggestions are:
          Get it in writing!!!!!
          Carve out time to write down your plans / to do list, and use it.
          Harness hyperfocus if you can – schedule your day to have a block free for it, and develop a routine that leads you into it.
          Do what you can outside of work to manage emotional states like anxiety. Be realistic – if anxiety or depression are interfering with work, consider professional health care and support. I am currently seeking a psych to manage my OCD, because it’s hit the level where it’s interfering with my life again.

          1. TheOtherLiz*

            ADD here and Oh man, these are helpful. I love the idea of harnessing the power of the hyperfocus…….. I will be sitting down to think about what leads me there! Thanks!

          2. Zillah*

            Harness hyperfocus if you can – schedule your day to have a block free for it, and develop a routine that leads you into it.

            I really agree with this. Trying to fight the ADHD is draining and exhausting and robs me of resources I need elsewhere. Sometimes you do have to do that, but where you can find ways to work with it, that’s a really positive thing.

          3. mizundasloane*

            I have ADHD and OCD (comorbidities are interesting) but I’m just here to commiserate on the OCD. I found a therapist in town that specializes in helping people with OCD because it’s getting to the point where I just want to hold up in my closet and never come out. Do I have to go outside? Do I HAVE TO TRAVEL FOR WORK? Insert violent, upsetting day-long intrusive thoughts here. I’m also scared to not rely upon my OCD because my brain is telling me if I don’t do XYZ how can I stay safe? More than anything, I’m just so tired. That’s the thing with OCD, all of the regular stuff drains you, but then you’re also simultaneously trying to regulate your emotional wellbeing all day, every day. There’s never a break. So like, solidarity. one day at a time.

            1. Story Nurse*

              Fellow OCDer here and I really hear you on the “but my OCD keeps me safe!” part. I have chronic anxiety in general, and that’s a very common anxiety narrative. Remember that OCD can be seen as a subtype of anxiety helps me identify things like that as lies my brain is telling me.

              Then I turn my OCD on the task of collating and analyzing all the data supporting me doing what I want to do, whether the anxiety thinks it’s “safe” or not. :D

        3. Junior Dev*

          Note that you don’t necessarily need to disclose what your diagnosis is to get disability accommodations–at least I didn’t. I have formal accommodations for both physical issues (back pain, it entitles me to some extra ergonomic equipment without having an evaluation by the company) and mental health issues (PTSD mostly). I did not disclose specific diagnoses to either my boss or HR in getting them; I did get my healthcare providers to write notes saying I needed them.

          My mental health accommodations include:

          * Assignments must be written down (my boss was being inconsistent with what was expected of me and it had me in a constant state of stress)
          * Quiet working space relatively free from visual and audio distraction (I work in an open office and this got me moved away from what was basically a hallway with constant traffic! Not great when you are hypervigilant/your brain thinks everyone who walks behind you is a threat)

          All this is in the US at a large company with functioning HR, so YMMV, but if anyone is struggling with whether to disclose, keep in mind that you may not have to disclose a specific diagnosis to get what you need.

          1. Non Nonprofit*

            Open office is so hard with my distraction-prone brain. It really invites my coworkers to bug me all day long and it makes me want to cry, because it is SO HARD for me to focus on something and SO HARD to regain that focus every time I’m interrupted. However, every single person in my company (at my level, eg the people in the open office) detests the set up, want a window, and desperately want the chance to work from home – so I doubt I’d ever be able to get this as an accommodation. I’m really just job searching.

            1. Julie Hall*

              It couldn’t hurt to ask for an accomodation. Also, a lot of workplaces are required to provide accomodations that don’t cause a lot of effort on their part. I’ve gotten my desk moved when requesting to be in a quieter, less busy place. I don’t remember the exact working, but google the ADA (American Disabilities Act) for more accurate information.

              1. Princess Consuela's sister*

                I disclosed ADHD at one workplace just to get the okay to wear headphones and HR got all weird, like I was trying to get them in trouble. No, I just had one coworker who just wouldn’t stop talking to me if I was in the office when she was. (We were in outside sales.)
                In my current workplace I disclosed ADHD & Asperger’s without requesting accommodations and have had it used against me by a bad boss as the reason to socially isolate me and exclude me from consideration for promotion. I wouldn’t do it again. If there is anyone there with tendencies toward bullying, you’re just handing them a way to target you.

        4. Luna Lovegood*

          I’m quite open about it at uni, and think I would likely disclose to employers, but I think also it’s a bit dependent on the field. I’m studying Biomed and want to be a geneticist working either in a hospital or in research. Autism is not only disproportionately common in scientists (which means that managers might be more aware and used to providing accomodations) it can be a really significant advantage for some aspects of the work. My obsessive need to be detailed in my work might be considered pedantry in other jobs, but it’s a requirement in science if you want the test you’re running to be accurate. My need to follow the rules exactly means that I can be trusted to act safely. My ability to notice patterns mean that I might pick up something about certain results faster, or find it easier to learn a skill such as karyotyping (using a digital picture of chromosomes from cells on a prepared slide to arrange chromosomes in a particular order – this makes it easier to find abnormalities and takes a long time to become good at).

          1. Luna Lovegood*

            Also, my apologies if someone regular has already claimed this handle! I couldn’t remember if I’d seen it before here or not :)

      3. FeistyFem*

        Oh no – I disclosed this in an interview yesterday when I was explaining my process of getting things done.

        1. Tigger*

          Don’t worry about it. If they use that against you do you really want to work for them anyway?

            1. Tigger*

              You’re welcome! I have noticed that if managers don’t understand/ accept different work styles it is a sign that they are unable to manage people that are different from them

              1. Cobol*

                Oh my, this so much. They end up with teams comprised of people exactly like them. If that’s not me, it’s not me, and I’d rather it keep me from getting that job than it be a problem that causes me to lose my job 8-months in.

        2. Zillah*

          I disclosed shortly after I started my last job (mentioned my medication) and later disclosed my bipolar disorder to my boss. Both were fine, and I never felt like they were judging me for it. Everyone is different, but don’t get too worried about it – like Tigger said, this is a useful way to do your own screening, and in a lot of cases, it’d be okay!

        3. Karen from Finance*

          I know it’s not the same, but once in an interview they asked me about my biggest flaw and I said “anxiety, but… For real”. Because I know people will sometimes answer anxiety to that question because it makes them look hard-working, but I really do have anxiety. They asked me to give an example and I said “I only had 3 hours of sleep last night because of this interview”.

          I still got the job, because I guess they figured I manage fine in spite of my anxiety.

          I agree with the other commenters that you don’t want to work somewhere where that would be a problem.

      4. Jane Finch*

        I think you need to be clear with your manager that ADHD is a medial condition, and you treat it as such. It is one of those conditions people casually mention they have without a proper diagnosis (OCD is like that too), so people don’t take it seriously. So don’t treat it casually or like a silly problem when discussing it. Be prepared to provide medical documentation and an actual plan for coping with it (ie, that you have strategies and take medication). It isn’t fair that we have to do this when such things should be private, but we live in a world where ADHD and OCD are talked about like a joke. For conditions that aren’t talked about so flippantly (like autism), it should be enough to say that you have it – people are generally more sympathetic to something if there is a proper medical diagnosis and not something they can dismiss as an annoying personality.

        1. Schuyler Seestra*

          As someone with both ADHD and OCD I appreciate this post. OCD is incredibly debilitating. It’s not about being obsessed with organization and it drives me up the wall when people talk about being “OCD” about something. There are times when I feel like my brain is on lockdown when o have ideations.

          Once I received my diagnosis ADHD was much easier to control. I take meds and have systems in place to stay on track. The OCD is much harder and I don’t really have a way to manage it just yet.

        2. UpMyTree*

          So true. My son has OCD, and I’ve encouraged him that whenever he needs to explain that to someone, that he say “I’m diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder.” It’s sad, but you can’t say “I have OCD” and be taken seriously, since everyone says that, and they have absolutely no idea how destructive and life-altering real OCD can be.

        3. caryatis*

          You’re assuming that people who talk casually about having OCD don’t actually have it–and you don’t know that! Also, obsessive-compulsiveness, like any personality trait, exists on a spectrum. Even if my compulsiveness isn’t quite extreme enough to warrant a diagnosis, it is a real thing.

          1. Schuyler Seestra*

            True, but most of time it’s used flippantly around organization. Anyone who actually is OCD knows that’s not always the case. I have a few other friends who are OCD and they frame convos around how much of an issue thier disorder is rather than a positive staying on track.

            1. anxiousturtle*

              This is how it is with me. I have very severe OCD (treated to a point with medication but there’s only so much it can do) and it does irritate me a bit when people use it flippantly when they really just mean they like to be neat/organized.

              If anything, my OCD makes it harder for me to stay on track because I am constantly washing my hands and obsessing over patterns and numbers. I don’t see it as a positive, personally.

          2. Parenthetically*

            I dunno, I feel pretty ok about rolling my eyes at Becky gaily trilling, “I just love putting things in color order, it’s so cute and plus I’m like SO OCD about it hee hee!” ;)

            1. Schuyler Seestra*

              Yup. I’m a recruiter and this is a common response when I ask the candidates about Org skills. I bite my tongue but judge them mentally. I actually haven’t anybody say this to me in the wild, but I’m at the point where I’m fine with giving someone a stern talking to about how dangerous that kind of phrasing can be.

                1. Keyboard Cowboy*

                  Wow, I hate this. If they don’t have a diagnosis, they’re being discriminatory (or smelling that way) and if they do have a diagnosis, you can’t ask them to confirm. Dear AAM readers PLEASE don’t do this???

          3. Jules the 3rd*

            You can usually tell from the joke context if there’s a chance if someone has OCD. I have OCD (diagnosed, treated when it gets to a certain level) and I pay attention to how people discuss it.

            Most jokes I hear are not about the joker having it, it’s about someone else having it. Usually someone who is doing something the joker doesn’t like.

            I’d cut slack to someone saying ‘I am so OCD because I like my files color coded’, that could easily be someone with OCD just not diagnosed as you say, but the jokes about *other* people are far more common and are, I think, what Jane Finch is addressing. You need the documentation and serious conversation in order to fight the stereotype.

          4. UpMyTree*

            Caryatis: Your compulsiveness is a real thing. Whether that compulsiveness rises to the level of a disorder is the question. What people don’t understand about throwing around OCD as a shorthand for obsessiveness or compulsiveness is that some level of obsessiveness or compulsiveness exist in almost all humans. That’s not the same thing at all as OCD. It’s a disorder if and when it interferes with your ability to function or your quality of life in an extreme way.

            I’m sitting here at a desk with all my pens in order by shade. I can only write in certain colors for certain tasks. It feels wrong if I use the wrong color. Sometimes, I obsess over things that happened, and cannot rest until I resolve them. These are obsessive and compulsive behaviors. They’re annoying. They are NOT OCD.

            My son, on the other hand, washes his hands til they bleed and knows it’s irrational, but can’t stop himself. He has become obsessed with the belief that his brain cells are dying and lives in constant terror of being exposed to chemicals, which he believes are responsible. He tries hard to fight these thoughts 24/7, and despite treatment and medication, is losing the battle. That’s what OCD looks like. It interferes with your life in a big, fat, unmistakable way.

            So, no. OCD doesn’t exist on a spectrum. Certainly the way it expresses and the severity of it are different for each person, but the simple fact that it’s a disorder means it’s not “like any personality trait” and that it must be of a severity that interferes with one’s life.

            1. Story Nurse*

              It sounds to me like you have classified yourself as “not OCD” and your son as “OCD” and decided based on that classification that there is only one form of OCD and it looks like your son.

              I have real-deal diagnosed OCD, but it manifests much more as intrusive thoughts and that feeling of wrongness when certain things are out of place or not done the way that I think of as correct. I manage it with therapy, am not currently on medication, and have a happy and comfortable life. I have never self-harmed because of OCD. That doesn’t mean it’s not a disorder for me; it just means it’s a disorder that’s well managed.

              OCD is maybe not a spectrum in the sense of having defined end points, but there are a lot of different large or subtle ways it can manifest, and different people will find different aspects of it more or less tolerable. Please make space in your world for those differences.

              1. UpMyTree*

                Story Nurse,
                I pretty explicitly said “Certainly the way it expresses and the severity of it are different for each person, but the simple fact that it’s a disorder means it’s not ‘like any personality trait’ and that it must be of a severity that interferes with one’s life.” I suppose I should have said “interferes with one’s life when not well managed,” but I thought that was implied. I imagine you didn’t seek out professional health because it *didn’t* interfere and you were doing okay at managing it on your own? So thank you, but I have plenty of space in my world for everyone except people who say “OCD” when they don’t mean “OCD.”

          5. Someone Else*

            What’s interesting is when someone uses it casually like described above, I usually respond with something like “wait, diagnosed?” (because I have severe OCD and it’s nice to know I’m not alone) and all but once, the person responded that no, they were just using it as shorthand. Based on my experience I can generally tell when someone means it literally. So I want to push back a bit here that if yours doesn’t warrant a diagnosis, then no, please do not use the term as a shorthand. Your compulsiveness is real and I’m not discounting that, but if it’s not worthy of the diagnostic criteria then you do not have OCD and it’s unhelpful to the rest of us that do to say otherwise. OCD does indeed exist on a spectrum, and can being diagnosed as fairly mild to severe, and if you don’t even hit the mild marker, use a different term. Please.

        4. Charamei*

          I understand what you’re getting at, but as an autistic person, wow are you off base with that last sentence! For a lot of people ‘autistic’ is practically synonymous with ‘annoying personality’, to the point where people just flat out don’t expect you to have social skills.

          I started a new job last week, disclosed qithout really thinking about it because my trainer was making some comment about how she ‘knows all the signs of autism’ and yet clearly hadn’t registered me as being autistic… and now she’s all but telling me I can never hope to learn the job because I’m too rigid in my thinking. It’s a complete career switch (think banking to bricklaying) and I’ve only been doing it two weeks! I’m pretty sure a neurotypical person would be struggling too.

          1. Else*

            Ugh, I can’t offer any useful suggestions about this, but I want to express sympathy. That sounds like a very hard way to start a new job.

      5. Willow*

        I appreciate that my employee told me about her ADHD early on. She has never asked for accommodations, but we’ve had several conversations about how we can alter procedures to help her out. For instance, I now know that it’s better to give her written instructions rather than verbal ones. And she knows to come to me when she’s having trouble prioritizing. It has been a bit rocky at times, but I’m not sure she’d have lasted as long in her job if I hadn’t known about the ADHD.

      6. Chocoholic*

        My son has ADHD, and for a long time I didn’t tell the school since he did not have or need an IEP or 504 plan for this exact reason – I did not want his teachers seeing everything he did through the lens of ADHD. We did have to disclose it to the school when I needed to keep backup emergency medication there in case he ever didn’t take his med at home, so there you go. Now that he is older, his school behavior is less of an issue than it used to be but I still don’t like it on his school records.

        1. Cobol*

          I’d caution to not look at it like this. I was diagnosed before it was common, and only because I transferred to a private school where my behavior was more noticable.
          Just because he doesn’t need accommodations from others (I didn’t either) doesn’t mean there aren’t little things for him to learn that will help him function. School’s about learning, and working with his ADHD is an important thing for him to learn. You wouldn’t expect him to learn math workout teachers’ help. ADHD is similar.

          1. Oh Snap*

            Yes. If you don’t explain why, people will assign their own reasons, and they are not usually positive.

          2. Reject187*

            Agreed. When I have kids with IEPs and 504s, it only helps me see him or her more accurately, and help them succeed. As a teacher, I don’t look at these as crutches – just explanations. And it usually helps me treat the student more fairly, and it’s never a “Little Johnny has ADHD, so I’m going to treat him differently” in such a way that everyone in the class knows. It just means that giving that student license to pace at the back of the room, or send them for a lap around the school, or not looking twice at doodling during class is what helps them focus and helps me help them. Those things aren’t usually in official documents, but it makes their and my life easier in school if we’re all on the same page.

            1. caryatis*

              Why do you need a diagnosis to treat students reasonably? If it’s okay for the kid with Official ADHD to pace at the back of the room or doodle or go for a lap around the school, you should be allowing all kids to do that too. Otherwise, you’re just privileging the kids who’ve gotten more medical attention over others.

              1. MuseumChick*

                No. Having something nerodivergent is basically the same thing has having a physical disability. Just because one kid is allowed to use a wheel chair for example, doesn’t mean every kid gets to use one.

                It’s like that classic image of three people of three different heights trying to look over a fence and there a pile of boxes to dived among them. The shortest person gets more boxes to be able to look over the fence. The tallest person does need the any boxes to see over the fence.

                1. GradNow LawyerLater*

                  I think caryatis’s point is not that everyone should get a box, too– it’s about diagnoses. Being neurodivergent is in practice often different from having a physical disability, in that it’s more likely than a physical disability to go undiagnosed. So how do you address the differences in your class with that knowledge?

                2. Jessen*

                  I think the worry is more there are people (like I was as a kid) who get called “subclinical”. Meaning it’s not bad enough to be considered a diagnosable disability, but it’s still a lot harder than a lot of other people and has effects on our abilities. In the boxes example, it’s like, well, maybe the fence is right at eye level, so if I stretch I can see over. I don’t strictly speaking need the boxes to see, but stretching to see is tiring and makes it harder to focus on what I’m watching.

                  The academic system tends to be very black and white about these things. Either you’re disabled or you’re not, and if it’s not “bad enough” to count as a disability you don’t get any accommodations at all. When sometimes all it means is you didn’t check the right boxes on the medical form, or you’re good enough at compensating that you can muddle through.

                3. OhNo*

                  Thank you for making this point. As someone with both physical disabilities and ADHD, I wish more people would treat them both with the same amount of respect and accommodation.

              2. knitter*

                For me, the diagnosis just helps me figure it out faster that the kiddo needs to take a lap. As a teacher, you’re constantly balancing when to push a student and when to make adjustments. Sometimes a kid needs a walk and sometimes a kid needs to be pushed to practice implementing self-regulation strategies. If I know a student has AD/HD documented with an IEP or 504, I have a better sense of what their baseline is and when to push and when to let the break happen.

                I heartily endorse Universal Design for Learning and actively look for ways that a “proactive” parent is getting advantages for their child that all students should be getting. And I also know there is a lot more to treating a student “reasonably” than to give them all the same things.

              3. Reject187*

                I do allow them all to do it. But there’s that bit more of grace for those kids who I know NEED it.

              4. Zillah*

                Because what’s “reasonable” differs based on what conditions someone is trying to manage.

              5. Sarabeth*

                In practice, I see it working out like this a lot. One kid gets a diagnosis and an IEP, which includes access to fidget toys, regular movement breaks, etc. Teacher puts the IEP into practice, realizes it’s not as big a deal as they might have thought, and ends up implementing at least some of the tools with all the kids in the class.

                However, not all accommodations scale like that. Some kids need a paraprofessional aide (maybe not 1-to-1 for ADHD, but 1-3, etc). Or kids need breaks that can’t be scheduled, which requires calling in staff from elsewhere in the building. Providing the same accommodations to all students would require tripling the school’s annual budget. And the ADHD kids *need* them in a way that the rest of the kids do not.

            2. Shoes On My Cat*

              I remember my middle school math teacher used to let me do this mini weaving thing that let my hands move. I could still hear her and stayed with the class. Since my hands were busy my mouth was not and not only was I significantly less disruptive to the class, but I paid attention to what she was teaching, participated appropriately and understood the subject matter better. I remember her as not the best teacher but a realistic one willing to try out of the box solutions. But the reading/grammar teacher was absolutely emphatic with the NO when I asked her about trying this (I had asked her to allow me to try this as my solution as an alternative to getting in trouble for being disruptive). SOOO I remember her as being hidebound and inflexible and I couldn’t not be disruptive. They eventually created a separate class for four of us with the librarian since we were unruly. I got to self select & read the book Shogun and learned how to deep research the author. Librarians!xoxoxo

              1. Shoes On My Cat*

                Ohhh! Forgot to mention that I never was tested as a child -it wasn’t in the public awareness yet.

              2. Jules the 3rd*

                Yeah, I used to get in trouble for doing crosswords / drawing in class, but it really helped me focus on the tracher’s words.

          3. TheOtherLiz*

            Additionally, you’re building a body of proof for your son that he has and needs accommodations for this condition, which will help him if he goes to college. Even in grad school they wouldn’t give me accommodations without academic records proving I had them before and also an up to date diagnosis.

            1. Zillah*

              YES. I didn’t really use accommodations in high school even after I was diagnosed, but the documentation helped me get them in college, where they turned out to be very necessary. (Keyboard on essays/long answers on tests rather than handwriting things, in my case.)

          4. Bettly*

            My mom refused to get me diagnosed because she thought medication was overprescribed and the label would follow me forever, and it was terrible. I regret the life I could have had if I had gotten support, appropriate medication and someone to teach me how to organize rather than just yelling at me for not being able to.

      7. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        I have never had any problems when I have disclosed it but it has been after I had been working with them for a while and already established my reputation.

      8. hellohi*

        Personally, I have found that disclosing my ADHD to my coworkers was positive, because it explained to them why I sometimes forgot something or needed extra instructions. We all help each other regardless by reminding each other of deadlines and checking over each other’s work, so YMMV- it depends on the work environment and the coworkers. We are also in our early twenties and from the same area, so there is already camaraderie between us. It may not be the same if I worked with men in their forties or with only one other coworkers

      9. Bun*

        I told my last two managers that I have ADHD (manager number 1 was a good work friend and knew about the diagnosis before she became my manager – she unfortunately had to move out of state, and I ended up working under manager number 2) – and they’ve both been incredibly supportive. They both said to let them know if there’s anything I need to help me work more efficiently, which made me feel a lot better about the whole situation. I think you just have to be aware of what type of manager you’ve got, and if they seem like the type who would be understanding, then it’s likely safe to tell them. For example, I would not have been comfortable at all telling the first manager I worked under (who came before manager 1 listed above) about my ADHD diagnosis – they would have handled that rather awkwardly, I’m sure.

      10. Like a chicken but bigger*

        Yeah, I’m usually unsure of disclosing my asperger’s and social anxiety because there’s still a bit of a stigma. I also don’t present as stereotypical asperger’s either, though would be good to explain that if I do disclose it.

      11. AJK*

        Different workplaces can have different reactions to disclosure, I’ve discovered. My current employer has been just wonderful in working with me regarding whatever accommodations I need, and it’s made such a difference. It probably is a big help that our organization does a lot of work with people with disabilities of all sorts, so my boss is more informed than some managers may be.
        However, I was let go from one job not long after I disclosed that I had ADHD – suddenly I had all these “performance” problems that I hadn’t had before. I can’t prove it, but I have a strong suspicion was the reason, so I tend to be on the side of don’t disclose unless absolutely necessary.

        1. Cobol*

          It’s been the same for me. My ADHD disclosure hasn’t always been taken well, but I know in those instances my actions based on my ADHD problems wouldn’t have been received will anyways, so it wasn’t good, but want a loss.

      12. Mr. Tyzik*

        Disclosing ADHD at work was easy and positive for me. I must mention that I work in STEM where there seems to be a higher presence of people who are not neurotypical. I found that disclosing my anxiety was a little less easy but I was fortunate to have managers who helped me view my work through a positive lens.

        Disclosing my bipolar 2 has been a big fat no. I didn’t disclose when I needed inpatient treatment, so I certainly won’t disclose willingly. It kind of sucks because I would love to address the stigma around bipolar 2, but the stigma is so strong I’d take a hit to my career.

      13. catwoman2965*

        I agree, and then there may be many like myself, who SUSPECT they may have ADHD or whatever, but have never been tested, or officially diagnosed. Looking back at my childhood, in school, and previous jobs, I’m pretty sure I have some mild ADHD. So since i only suspect, I really can’t use that as an excuse either, even though it does sometimes hinder me (very mildly) in my job.

        1. TheOtherLiz*

          If you suspect you have it and it’s interfering with your life, I encourage you to get tested! Knowing yourself better is a beautiful thing. It can only help – if you’ve got ADHD then you have new info and a new way of looking at your brain and your life and adapting and coping. If not, then you know more info too.

          1. Zillah*

            Agreed. I also think that we can sometimes estimate how significantly it’s impacting us because we’ve gotten so accustomed to a lot of the problems that they don’t consciously register, even if they’re still slowing us down in ways we’re not aware of.

          2. Where'd That Hour Go?*

            How does one “get tested”?

            I got a few therapy sessions though EAP and asked about it and just got told “you’re smart and you’re fine, you just need to get out of your own way.” …. O_o Uhhhhhh, k? Soooo now what?

            1. Zillah*

              Ughhhh, that’s awful. I’m sorry, that sounds frustrating and really unhelpful.

              A psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a neurologist can diagnose ADHD. A lot of therapists aren’t actually psychologists – that doesn’t mean that many aren’t great, but they can’t diagnose and may be less likely to have experience in that, depending on what they usually specialize in. I’d look into psychiatrists or psychologists in your area and contact them to specifically ask if they have experience with adult ADHD.

              1. Where'd That Hour Go?*

                Yeah, the response of “well your career is going well, so it must not really be a problem! You just have imposter syndrome!” was not helpful. I am still unhappy and struggling and feeling guilty because I leave exhausted from wrestling with my brain to do the bare minimum I need to get done each day to the point where I’m not enjoying things I love doing, even if I can by all external measures succeed at my job. I am not merely an economic unit!

                We have a great women’s support group on FB in my town, maybe I’ll ask around there for providers. Thank you for your response!

            2. Prints of Darkness*

              I paid $100 for a psych evaluation. They go through the book with you and ask you questions about your past and present behavior. Your level of dysfunction.

              I had to do this three times because no one could believe a 27-year-old had RESISTED taking fun party drugs for years, despite suggestions by doctors in childhood, and was now reluctantly biting the orange bullet

          3. Anon for this*

            In my case, I’m not tested because I’m in a profession where then every year my treating physician would have to attest to the licensing board that I am fit to do my job. I’ve come close a couple of times, but the problems don’t seem as bad as the solution.

        2. mizundasloane*

          Women are statistically diagnosed with ADD/ADHD later in life because experts/society expect it to look like it does for young (predominantly white) boys. That’s just not the case. So you have a LOT ( A LOTTT) of women in their 20s/30s/40s+ finding out that they had ADHD this whole time when they thought they were just dumb, or losers, or terrible people who couldn’t do anything right. It’s definitely one of those unconscious biases in the system that are starting to be addressed but haven’t been fully addressed. Definitely, do yourself a favor and get an eval to see if you have it. I was in my early/mid 20’s when I found out I had ADHD and it explained so much. If you do have it, you owe it to yourself to know and receive the care/accommodations you deserve. If not for your professional life, then just for your own peace of mind.

          1. TheOtherLiz*

            ADHD inattentive here and Yes! And when I was diagnosed, it was because my parents advocated for me. The school district refused to test me because I didn’t fit the stereotype – I had excellent grades, was participatory in classes, didn’t act out. They had to take me to a private psychologist, and then they had to fight EVERY SINGLE YEAR for me to keep the accommodations in my 504. And some of my teachers still wouldn’t comply with simple things because they either didn’t believe ADD was real, or didn’t believe I had it.

          2. CanadaTag*

            It’s much the same for autism that way – over the last couple of decades there have been a lot of women getting diagnosed as adults, because it: A) doesn’t look the same in females; B) the vast majority of the research was done on white male children.

      14. Data Maven*

        I literally work in research on neurotypicality and I still don’t feel at all confident disclosing my diagnosis with my employer. I don’t want any ‘failure’ or ‘perceived failure’ to be interpreted as being a result of my diagnosis. Partly because there is still a lot of stigma with these diagnoses.

        Additionally, I’m always afraid that if someone knows my diagnosis, and I’m preforming very highly at some task, they won’t attribute it to my strengths but rather to my use of medication. It’s happened before where people only think I’m good at something because I’m ‘cheating’ by taking medication. This of course isn’t true, but I want people to believe I’m successful because of who I am, not because of the these other factors.

        I do have a couple of close colleagues who I work with who I have disclosed to which has been helpful,- but I don’t think I will ever disclose to my boss. It’s too risky.

      15. Jessen*

        Another issue I’ve seen is too many people think they know how to treat certain issues. In addition to an entertaining and somewhat complicated mental health history (seriously, you can give 3 different professionals the same symptom list and come out with 3 different diagnoses), I have some sort of weird biochemistry that means a lot of meds don’t act on me the way they do on most other people. And I’ve definitely run into people who have an issue with that – in their minds “not medicated” means “not trying to do anything about their problems at all.”

      16. bikes*

        I feel the same way about Myers Briggs at work; who wants that to be the lens through which people view my behavior? I’m a perceiver but don’t want to be viewed as disorganized/scattered. I’m generally not.

        1. Close Bracket*

          There’s a big difference here, which is that MB is pop psychology while neurodiversity is evidence based. I see the point you are trying to make, but it’s a very different conversation.

      17. Miranda*

        I really encourage being open about disabilities to reduce stigma. But I also know discretion is needed in certain situations.

      18. Tinker*

        I’ve recently been having a lot of autism-related conversations at work because of a ongoing saga centered around that I got reorged into a position that, at least at first, was hilariously misaligned with my pattern of skills and deficits.

        What I’ve found so far is that I get a lot of mileage out of making statements like “I have auditory processing issues, so I need to often wear noise cancelling headphones when people are having a coffee grinding party in the open office space” or “I need to have tasks in a reasonably central location and detailed in writing, so I’m going to create tickets for each of these tasks and assign them to me” — speaking in a confident, matter-of-fact, problem-solving tone about things that are manifestations of autism, but not necessarily using that label.

        I’ve also disclosed the label to most of the people I work with, partly as a way to make it clear that I was speaking about accommodations more so than preferences and partly because I thought (not entirely accurately, as it turns out) that if I named the underlying principle behind these things then it would help them understand what I was saying.

        What I found, though, was that it didn’t seem to add all that much to the conversation over the previous pragmatic effect-oriented statement, and mostly served to mildly confuse people — they’d make statements that reflected something like an understanding that I’d primarily said that I think of myself as being a socially hapless turbo mega introvert, and that I hadn’t said anything in particular about the way I process information.

        Basically I think in my case the result was harmless but was not particularly effective communication — however clearly the “socially inept” component could be a problem in some contexts and I’ve definitely heard of folks having problems with the “everything you do now being viewed through that lens” thing.

        1. TheOtherLiz*

          I like your advice about confident, problem-solving oriented solutions. People state confidently that they’re “visual learners” to explain drawing a big chart in a meeting; it’s really not any different from that!

        2. ChimericalOne*

          I like the idea of talking about the specific issue rather than the label. I didn’t disclose my ADD or Asperger’s to any of my previous bosses, but when I decided that I really needed to ask for an accommodation at my current job, I chose to say, “I have a condition that sometime makes it difficult to concentrate, and so it would be helpful to me if I could have X” rather than “I have ADD,” and I felt a lot more comfortable with that.

        3. Corporate Goth*

          Yes – this. Making it about the process really helps others understand, and gets it away from information that is none of their business and potentially confusing.

          For me, what helped was reading a lot of information on social niceties and body language that allowed me to develop processes. I often don’t understand either of these, and had trouble convincing myself it was worth bothering to learn (Mom tried, she really did). But I do care about being more efficient and effective, which is enough to remember these-are-the-things-one-does.

          For instance, training myself into not treating every “How are you?” as a literal question that required a detailed answer/conversation (which wasted time) and remembering to ask it back (acknowledges presence & demonstrates caring).

          Or for body language, it at least allows me to recognize signs and ask for more information. Example: Sara has a red face, shaking hands, and is flailing her arms around. Cue queries: “Are you ok? What happened? How can I help?”

          The first example helped me build a more effective network; the second allows me to get to the root of the problem faster. It’s about efficiency.

        4. Tau*

          This is very much how I approach it. Generally, when talking with anyone but close friends about something caused by autism, the questions I ask are:
          – what is the concrete thing I want to get from this conversation? (ex: subtitles on video)
          – will mentioning the label “autism” help get this concrete thing?

          Almost invariably, the answer to question 2 is “no, it’ll just confuse things”. Because it means that my request will make a detour through whatever vague off-base understanding of autism the person has, which is probably based heavily on stereotypes and almost certainly light-years away from what autism is for me. At best, it’s not adding anything to the conversation, at worst, the stereotypes take precedence over what I’ve actually said and you end up with the “oh, so you’re a socially hapless turbo mega introvert? Cool, you can watch the video alone in a small dark room, without subtitles because you don’t need them.” situation.

          Close friends get to hear about the autism DX because it’s a really important part of my identity… but I figured out that just because something like that is super-important to me doesn’t mean everyone I interact with has to know about it.

        5. Jasnah*

          As someone who isn’t very familiar with how neurodivergence would impact an adult in the workplace (and reading this thread to learn), I think your focus on “my problem is x and I need y” is very helpful, whether or not you use the label as shorthand.

        6. themomwhogoesbackforheadphones*

          Thank you! I have two daughters with autism, and I think that your focus on effects/solutions/problem-solving could be a major tool their dad and I can use to help them navigate the post-school world.

          And it’s really good to know that headphones will be accepted beyond high school!

      19. Cathy Gale*

        I would be cautious about identifying. My husband’s crappy ex boss, when he said he had ADHD, said only, “That explains a lot.”

        1. TheOtherLiz*

          Oh MAN, I’m sorry that happened to your husband. That would lead to a huge shame spiral for me.

      20. SarahTheEntwife*

        For me, disclosing was very positive because I’d been having a lot of trouble at work and then got diagnosed and medicated, and I was able to say “Hey, I think I’ve figured out something that’s keeping me from doing my best here, and hopefully this will help” and luckily my focus improved pretty dramatically within a week or two of starting meds.

    2. Competent Commenter*

      For me, telling my supervisor that I have ADHD is too risky. I’m in a job that’s a setup for failure in many ways, and no one could manage my workload successfully/completely. It’s a workload for multiple people, not one. It’s hard for higher-ups to see this—they don’t get how long it takes to do things, all the invisible work you do, etc. When making my case about my workload, I absolutely did not want them saying, “Well, she has ADHD, no wonder. Someone else could probably do it okay.”

      However, I am out to my coworkers and the person I supervise and it’s been fine and helpful.

      Not saying no one should come out as having ADHD. I have coworkers under different managers and with higher levels of seniority than me do it and it’s been fine. But it’s not for me at this place and stage of my career.

    3. She's One Crazy Diamond*

      I have two mental health diagnoses that affect my moods. Taking care of my physical health in ways such as eating healthy, taking medication as needed, and getting enough sleep helps. I probably should be exercising more as well.

      This is also more specific to me personally, but I make handcrafted jewelry in my free time, and that helps soothe my mind and keep it less stressed overall. Any activity that is somewhat creative and repetitive that you enjoy would probably work well.

      If I am having a mood swing at work, if possible I try to focus more on independent than collaborative tasks so that my moods aren’t negatively affecting other people and I don’t have to worry about being embarrassed if I act in a way that they can tell I’m having an episode. Sometimes taking a break and going for a walk helps to clear my mind.

      If you are concerned about your privacy but want to communicate something to your colleagues, you can always tell them that you have a chronic condition. It’s the truth and it’s not really any of their business whether it’s physical or mental. That way if you act a little off one day or use more sick time than most people they’ll be more understanding.

  4. DC Cliche*

    It sounds cliche, but I think one of the first steps is to find a role that fits the strengths — and many of those might be related to your ADHD, dyslexia, etc. My close friend, for instance, is dyslexic, which meant she developed a lot of focus on process and detail, as well as a fearlessness about asking questions/finding ways to tamp down uncertainties and extranalities. That, plus her empathy for the role, has made her a great IEP coordinator/SPED teacher at a high school.

    She relies on some adaptive tech — an email reader and a scanner that helps her with words that are unfamiliar, and a dictation device for writing notes and emails. She’s comfortable with quickly explaining the situation with others, which isn’t always the case — a quick, please send this pre-read early; I might send something with a lot of misspellings; just an FYI but I have dyslexia, which means I need X, Y, Z — after years of having to advocate in her education settings. But finding the right role and environment I think was the thing that allowed her to thrive.

    1. Megan*

      It’s not cliche when most people forget to prioritize that!

      I work in marketing and with inattentive-type ADHD, keeping track of regular reporting of detail-oriented spreadsheets is miserable. I’ve now started to speak up to managers to say, “Look, here are my strengths related to this job, and I’ve been alive long enough to know that I can set up XYZ system for data, but I will fail at keeping it current and accurate if it isn’t automated. I’ve tried so, so many times and I’m good at it in the beginning, but my brain operates in a way that isn’t compatible with detail-oriented, consistent tasks like this. Let’s find someone else to own that for both of our sanities, and maybe there’s something on their plate I can switch it for.”

      (Granted, I’m in my 30s, and it took some miserable years in my 20s to get to a position in my career where I can say that!)

      1. Nonprofit Nancy*

        “my brain operates in a way that isn’t compatible with detail-oriented, consistent tasks like this” – I am *living* for the point in my career where I can hire other people to handle this type of task instead of failing at it all the time. Sadly I’m still not there yet – maybe I never will be.

        1. Megan*

          I’ve found it helpful at least for setting expectations when these things come up. I’m big on the whole frustration-stems-from-unmet-expectations philosophy, so letting your manager know that while you’re obviously going to give it your best shot, nobody’s good at everything, and this is one of those things you might need some help with… well, it might keep your manager’s frustration to a minimum. Or they might have a good solution, like daily/weekly check-ins on that particular annoying thing so that it doesn’t get out of hand.

        2. seller of teapots*

          Yeah, I’ve found a lot of freedom in just owning “this is not my strength!” I’ll still give it a stab, but I will announce (without shame) that microscopic attention to detail (for example) is not my strength to those involved in the project. Sometimes, if it’s very important that this piece be totally accurate, someone else will step up and take it over. Or, if it doesnt need to be perfect, I have the peace of mind of knowing that.

          It took me a long time to get to this point, and a lot of work to recognize and be proud of what my strengths are (vs focusing on the places I think I am lacking).

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            Yeah I’m pretty sure I’d be fired if I tried this :( Also my bosses tend to be of the “big picture / all over the place” types, and they are hoping I will take over all the tedious / detail stuff. I am just praying someday I get to be them and hire a new me …

        3. LQ*

          I don’t know if this will be useful to anyone else but I became boldly unafraid of first drafts. Whatever I’ll put the stupid thing down on paper and I’m entirely ok with the fact that it will stink! But everyone else prefers to edit a draft rather than writing it, so they go back through and that ends up having a lot of the details stuff in it.

          You have to really take your ego out of that first draft work though (at least around here people tear them to shreds). But at every meeting I’m like “Sure I’ll take a shot at drafting that!” or when I’m doing something and it needs text eventually I just throw in place holder text that’s something close enough that someone’s going to edit not write from scratch. Eventually it just became a thing. LQ does first drafts (which means she can’t be the one doing the next draft or the final with all the details because she’s onto the next project’s first draft).

      2. NYC Girl of all trades*

        Whoa. This literally stopped me in my tracks because it sounds so familiar—except for I haven’t often had the sense to say that keeping something current and accurate isn’t my forte, especially if there isn’t an external motivation (ie, due to the client on X day) associated with it.

        1. Megan*

          Yes! I need external motivators as well. The conversation tends to go well with a little humor and to emphasize a strength. I usually use something along the line of “I know you think I’m perfect, and you’re pretty much correct with that assumption, OBVIOUSLY, you have great taste in hiring… but just as a heads up, I’ve really struggled with this type of assignment/task/etc. in the past. It’s just the way my brain is wired. The same brain that gives you good, fast copywriting struggles when it comes to routine spreadsheets. I’m going to give it my best shot because I know it has to be done, but didn’t want you to think I was just slacking or something else was going on.”

      3. twig*

        You’ve kind of blown my mind with this. I love/and am great at setting up systems and procedures.

        BUT once that’s done — I suck at keeping them up.

        I’ve always thought of it as something akin to a moral failing or laziness — but then, that’s how I percieved my ADHD self before diagnosis….

      4. wafflesfriendswork*

        This is so me–right now I’m in admin hell and the only jobs I qualify for usually include “attention to detail” as one of their bullet points in a job description, and it feels like I’m just doomed to fail. It feels like I can’t get out of that hole!

      1. Nonprofit Nancy*

        Yes this is my struggle at my current job – all the tasks are like, big vague far away deadlines, and I would be so much better at a job where everything was due TODAY and I could move on after about 12 hours to new things. I really do think I need to ultimately find a job that’s a better fit for my style.

        1. gmg22*

          Fellow nonprofiteer here, and I’ve been thinking this same thing. We have a lot of reeeeeeally big projects with a TON of moving parts and deadlines very far in the future, and I struggle. Give me a “I need to hit send on this paper by tomorrow at noon,” though, and I’m off and running. In my previous work life I was on newspaper copy desks, and I think that environment worked much better with my ADHD.

          1. smol bean*

            this is a reply for you and Nancy.
            I give myself deadlines all. the. time. Otherwise, I’d starve and go to work in my birthday suit.
            My to-do list has deadlines always. Email x by COB Tuesday. File TPS report by noon Friday. Etc. I break down every large, abstract project into steps that I can put deadlines on, otherwise I get nothing done.

    2. ArtsNerd*

      Agreed! I’m sure I would struggle immensely in a large or more formal organization. Where I am now I get to jump from one task to another because I’m part of a small department and therefore MUST be a generalist vs a super-specialist.

      I also finally got to a stage where I have an employee (huzzah!) and something I screen for — hard — is hiring someone who is really detail oriented. Of course AAM’s resources have helped me do so really successfully so far. My boss also has an eagle eye for typos and small errors, and that is a massive help.

      I’m also in a role where there’s an ebb and flow to the kind of projects I need to do, but one that’s steady from year to year. I don’t have to sit down and figure out what to start with and how to do them, so I can focus on developing the creative materials to go with them. At the same time, there’s a quieter period in the summer where our initiatives change from year to year — and in which I have a lot of say in how I priorities our list of pending initiatives — which helps me stay intellectually engaged on that side.

    3. Anax*

      Yup, that’s what’s also worked for me with autism.

      I’m a computer programmer, which is really stereotypical – but it’s a stereotype for a reason, because it’s a job which values written interaction and documentation, independent problem-solving with a lot of alone-time, and tends to have a relaxed dress code and very few phone calls. And headphones. I love headphones.

      The dress code is actually really important for me; if I need to wear a new sort of clothes, like slacks vs. jeans, it takes a lot of my energy and attention for weeks or months. Seriously. It’s extremely inconvenient, especially as I work to update my wardrobe from ‘college kid’ to ‘late-twenties professional’, and especially because I’m transgender and have trouble finding men’s clothing which fits my body.

      Likewise, phone calls – I actually did spreadsheets when I was in a data entry job in college, and if I needed to field more than three phone calls in a day, it dropped my productivity for the day by 50%.

      It’s easy for a loud noise or unexpected interruption to rapidly drain my energy, and that’s really tough, especially when it’s something most people wouldn’t notice! If I hear a loud vacuum or a blender running, even for just a few minutes, I might be unable to form words until I’ve slept for five or six hours. And if I can’t read, write, or speak… that’s not great for work!

      One of the ways I cope is by being really dedicated and professional in my work. I’ve found that people are more willing to accommodate ‘quirks’ and read accommodations like sick days in good faith if I work really hard at what I’m GOOD at. They’re disability accommodations, but the things I need also often sound childish or silly, so it helps if I make a point of building up capital and goodwill before I need them.

      As a sidenote, Alison, a lot of folks still use Asperger’s as a term, but it’s actually being phased out by the medical community in the US (though not internationally). The use of ‘high-functioning’/’low-functioning’ and ‘Asperger’s’ can be really misleading, because in autism, so much depends on outside conditions. I’m a smart, competent professional, and I usually ‘pass’ for neurotypical with people who aren’t very familiar with autism – but five minutes near a blender, and I’ll be rocking and hand-wringing in a corner, unable to communicate, and looking very visibly disabled. Obviously, people’s individual capabilities vary, but I think autism is unusual because capabilities and necessary accommodations vary so much between ‘good days’ and ‘bad days.’

      1. caitlyn*

        The computer program comment is making me think. I’m neurotypical, so maybe I’m speaking out of turn, but this is making me lean towards telling your coworkers. I’ve met and worked with many fellow students/coworkers/managers/professors who the first time I met them I thought they were extremely rude and unhelpful, but eventually realized that there was something else going on that was causing certain behaviors. If I had known from the beginning there still would have been communication issues, but at least I would understand why.

        1. Anax*

          While there’s certainly something to be said for disclosing, most people don’t understand what autism entails well enough to make it very useful in my experience. The media stereotypes are very unhelpful that way. The things I need are either expected as a matter of course in my industry, which is very neurodiverse, or they’re very specific and usually not associated with autism.

          (Also, honestly, the stigma makes me a little nervous. I know someone who was declared legally incompetent by a court based on an autism diagnosis and ‘not liking his abusive parents much.’ This was an eighteen-year-old with a high GPA, multiple AP classes, and a work history – but the word autism was so stigmatizing that the court assumed he was nonverbal and profoundly intellectually disabled. Things are resolved for the best now, but it was scary.)

          I’m AFAB – ‘assigned female at birth’ – and like many AFAB autistics, I don’t actually come off as rude and unhelpful. People see me as shy, sweet, clumsy, and very young – a young girl in need of protection and guidance. I can’t read facial expressions or tone well, but my upbringing taught me that it’s better to be excessively deferential and quiet, rather than potentially cause offense.

          This has its own problems – creepy guys latch onto me, and people don’t always take me seriously – but it’s actually incredibly common and not well-known.

          1. Tau*

            +1ing this as another AFAB autistic. I don’t come off as rude or unhelpful, and I do not think disclosing at work would be helpful in any way at all – quite the reverse.

            In fact, the jump caitlyn made that “autistic = rude and unhelpful” is precisely the sort of stereotype that’s the reason I avoid disclosing to people. It’s not an accurate description of how I act or the challenges I face, and people viewing my behaviour through that lens causes real problems for me.

            1. Anax*

              Solidarity, it can be a real pain. Even when you see AFAB autistics in media – Bones, Big Bang Theory – they’re always rude and blunt, and that’s just not how a lot of us were socialized!

      2. Tau*

        Another autistic software developer here, and I’m totally with you – the job is a great fit. Also, there’s the stereotype of the socially-unskilled dev and that can sort of act as protective camouflage – people expect the techies to be a little off, socially. I don’t think I’d do nearly as well passing as NT in, say, sales.

        Also agreed on high-functioning vs low-functioning. It sets my teeth on edge when people talk about that or go “oh, but your autism is really mild!” – sure, my life is pretty on track now, but I still remember that time in college I ate nothing but an increasingly stale box of dry cereal for five days because my executive dysfunction was on rampage and I couldn’t leave my room. I’m very, achingly aware of the fact that my skills and abilities (all the way to, you know, eating) are extremely dependent on external factors, and depending on the environment I can be anywhere from the best employee in the company to nonverbal and nonfunctional. The main skill I’ve learned with the years is how to avoid situations that are bad for me, but I cannot stop things from going downhill once I’m in them.

        1. Anax*

          Ditto – being in IT lets us “get away” with so much.

          God, yes, college was hard. It was condiments and Easter candy for me.

          This also reminds me – it’s very, very common for some conditions to overlap. I know TONS of autistics who have anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD, because being autistic can be really difficult and traumatic. It can seem silly or “special snowflakey” to claim a whole alphabet-soup of disorders, especially if one also has physical needs in the mix, and that’s another reason disclosing can be problematic.

          If I just went to a manager and said, ‘hey, I have autism, depression, anxiety, PTSD, asthma, heat sensitivities, chronic joint problems, and I’m transgender’… goodness, I can’t imagine anyone could process all that at once, even if they’re great managers.

          1. CanadaTag*

            Just had to reply to this because you mentioned heat sensitivities! (Also #ActuallyAutistic, with heat allergies.) I have a few months of the year in which I can function best – spring and fall – except the barometric pressure changes lead to pain from arthritis and…. gah! Do you also find dressing for winter triggers those heat sensitivities when you’re inside, or doing activities outside like snow-shovelling or, you know, walking? (Somewhat off-topic, I know, but there are so few people I know who have heat sensitivities that I’m jumping at the possibility of alternate coping mechanisms.)

        2. Anax*

          Agreed, the social conventions of being in IT are really helpful.

          It was condiments and easter candy for me.

          I’m also reminded that that’s another problem with disclosing – often, we have overlapping disorders, like autism + PTSD + depression + anxiety. Say, teachers treated an autistic child very badly because of their condition, and they developed anxiety or became depressed as a consequence.

          Disclosing that alphabet soup can be overwhelming or confusing to people, especially if you throw in other protected statuses or physical disabilities. Some even see us as “special snowflakes” who must be exaggerating their disabilities, because no one can have so many problems at once.

    4. ChachkisGalore*

      Oh man. This is such a good point. I spent the first 8 or so years of my career repeating the same pattern – get into a role, wow my manager at first and get a ton of good feedback, but then somewhere around the 6 month mark it all falls apart and I seem to struggle to stay afloat. Finally realized it was because I find it much easier to stay focused and not procrastinate when something is new and shiny and I’m in the figuring everything out phase. As soon as I get the more “maintenance” oriented phase my ability to remain focused plummeted. That’s also when I got my ADHD diagnosis.

      Realized I need to look for more project based work – where I’m not responsible for doing the same thing regularly and consistently. I’m really good at diving in and figuring out how the current system works and then maybe making some improvements or changes I just can’t be the one responsible for actually following those procedures/processes for the rest of time.

      It’s still a struggle, but medicine has helped a lot and I’ve gotten myself into a role that is 50% projects 50% regular, but then the regular stuff is mostly quarterly or annual so at least I don’t get into too much of a rut. I’m focusing on positioning myself really well to move into a consultant/advisor role – basically I want to go from company to company reviewing their current processes/procedures/policies, make recommendations for improvements and then peace out (this is actually a thing in my industry).

      1. Anonym*

        Seconding project-based work, especially medium to shorter term ones (more new stuff!), and any role with a wide variety of responsibilities that allow you to switch tasks when you can’t focus on one type of thing. ADHD inattentive type.

        Not sure if it’s related to ADHD or we just share another personality trait, but I’m also a systems and solutions person. Most excited when I get to figure out how things work and identify problems and solutions.

      2. Real_Ale*

        Oh yes, to this. Very much! I am fortunate to have landed in consulting and the only reason I’ve been doing it for 12 years is that it keeps changing. Later today I have an interview (internal job transfer) that could give me my dream of jumping into a client, focusing on writing policies and procedures or fixing existing ones, then walking away to let them have at it being compliant to them. I do some of that already, but if I get this new position that’ll be my main focus and will have even shorter project durations. *dances*

    5. seller of teapots*

      I came here to say just this! I also have an adult diagnosis of ADHD, and once I learned that I could see so clearly why some jobs (lots of attention to detail, keeping things organized) were very hard for me and others were a great fit (sales, which is always changing, has a flexible schedule, etc).

      I think it is so, so important to find something that calls upon your strengths, rather than forcing yourself into an ill-fitting box and then being upset with yourself for the poor fit.

      These days I manage a large team of sales people (a role notoriously filled by people with ADHD) and I’m constantly pointing out to the rest of the leadership team that we’re dealing with a bunch of energic people with limited attention span. Present your information accordingly. It’s fun to be able to be an advocate of sorts, now!

    6. ScienceTeacher*

      I have a friend with ADHD-Inattentive type who modeled this perfectly. She runs her own pet care business, and the app through which customers book her services acts as a to-do list. She has a regimented list of what to do for each visit, but she’s constantly changing activities, from driving to talking with a client to jumping on a new appointment.
      I prefer to have a longer period to work on something and distractions annoy me and reduce my productivity, but she loves doing something different every 5 minutes and thrives on interruptions and constant movement.

  5. Temporarily Anonymous*

    Not ADHD, but I’m on the autism spectrum. Some random tips.

    The working world tends to look favorably on organizational systems, and I’ve managed to keep afloat by trying to be hyper-organized when it comes to planning my work tasks.
    I sometimes do have difficulty with taking verbal direction, I try to take notes as much as possible and try to create process documents if they don’t already exist.
    Pomodoro really helps me as far as staying focused.
    I also try really hard to have a professional work persona. It may mean I’m more reserved at work than other people, but it also means I’m less likely to fall back on unhelpful behaviors [yelling, rudeness, etc.] when frustrated. I try to view work as a a role I’m playing, like a movie or TV show.

    1. LQ*

      Strong Second to the Professional Work Persona! I use work wardrobe (which never gets worn elsewhere) along with other queues to myself for this. It’s also why I think I’ve struggled when I’ve had the ability to work from home. They start to bleed into each other in a way that’s not useful either direction.

      1. Tau*

        I adore Professional Tau. Professional Tau has their shit together. Professional Tau has awed many a coworker. Professional Tau has had compliments on how organized they are (which Regular Tau told their mother about on the phone later, completely bewildered.) Alas, Professional Tau’s traits don’t seem to transfer particularly well and Regular Tau’s life remains close to disaster in many respects.

        Agree on WFH, too. I do it every now and then but I’m aware I’m less productive and the setup is actually dangerous for me – Professional Tau is built out of a lot of mental constructs, sleight-of-hand and pretending very hard, and I’m a little worried that if I blur things too much the whole house of cards will come crashing down on me.

        1. LQ*

          I’ve had my house of cards come down so I have some tools for that. Before or after any intense holiday/family/etc time that makes me all feelings and very far away from Professional LQ I always try to block a day to re-meify myself. I also have decided that I can work late as much as I need to, but I absolutely need to keep the weekends sacred. I might not get home until 8pm on Friday. But I will not work on Saturday. Saturday and Sunday is re-meifying myself time. My house of cards comes down when I work from home at 3 am until it’s all a mess. Or when I try to roll right from Intense Family Christmas to Normal Work. Nope. That post Easter day, post Christmas, post family reunion day is not negotiable. (And I mostly don’t tell people about it. My sisters are good about it but other people get a little pushy and want to intrude on it. NOPE! Just me. Doing me stuff.)

    2. Sleepy Librarian*

      ADHD here, and I really love this idea. One of my biggest problems with ADHD is controlling my emotions (and, erm, my temper) and I like the idea of separating work out into a separate self. I already have moved toward having much stronger boundaries with colleagues than I used to (I don’t socialize with anyone in my unit) and that’s helped.

  6. Marty*

    Interesting topic.

    I have ADHD and I am a successful college instructor. I am also the parent of an autistic child (9 years old) who is successful in school. Autism is a way of life in our home.

    I am a big believer in promoting the concept of universal design to human resources, workforce consultants, and anyone who produces learning/training materials for non-neurotypical people. Universal design is essentially the creation of an environment that is accessible to everyone, regardless of age, intelligence, neurotype, size, *whatever*. I can’t stress this enough at the management and training levels of staff – use these principles to so that your diverse workforce can learn, adapt, improve, and work successfully.

    For *me*, as someone with ADHD squirrel-brain, I bring fidgets into staff meetings, I take movement breaks, I am constantly writing reminder post-its everywhere. Instead of thinking I’m a loon who can’t sit still, my co-workers understand that this environment helps me work better. Of course, I work with instructors, so we are all well-versed on this subject but I feel it is something that can explicitly be taught in other work environments.

    Our lead software engineer is autistic, he is not just “quirky” autistic as some would think, but can appear robotic in conversations due to his struggles with social skills. We *know* he has this issue. So what do we do? We give him the opportunity to choose meeting places (comfortable, familiar offices), we give him extra time to speak his mind when the topic is rigid, and we might explicitly state how we feel. I might say “John, I think we have discussed this topic too long, can we move on to Y?” instead of humming and hawing and expecting him to pick up on boredom cues.

    In the end, I think it comes down to education of *everyone* and not just strategies that you need to implement for yourself. Of course, you must take ownership of your own agency here (and you are!) but I think a bit of professional development for everyone goes a long way. This is a highly personal choice but I am a big fan of disclosure. Everyone knows I have ADHD and everyone knows John is autistic. We are a large department (500+).

    1. CyborgScholar*

      Do you think academia in general is more open to accommodating issues? I am going on the job market next year and have only recently gotten my diagnosis of ADHD though I also deal with anxiety and ocd symptoms, and have wondered if I might be on the autism spectrum and just have learned to hide my quirks/work around them in neurotypical spaces… Basically, I don’t think this is something I’d be disclosing as I interviewed, or maybe even unless I got to tenure, but I’d be interested in your thoughts on the subject of people starting out in academia.

      1. Marty*

        Yes, I think educational environments are more accommodating. We were initially “forced” to create accommodating environments through disabilities rights and laws *but* once you become familiar and “normalize” the non-neurotypical way of viewing the world, it becomes intuitive. Basically, disability is no longer the boogeyman once you realize how common and normal it truly is. The concept of creating universally-accessible environments becomes natural and intuitive. This is just my opinion but academia is full of autistic/non-neurotypical people. The reality is that so many people stay in academics/research because it is safe, comfortable, and they excel in rote memory/research – it’s no surprising that I have several autistic coworkers! :) As for disclosure, that’s a tricky one – I think the interviews are still the stage to put your best foot forward and not give them anything that distracts from your qualifications. It’s like saying you have diabetes – okay, you can stil do the job, but now I remember you as the diabetes CyborgScholar LOL.

        At my college, we primarily teach trades and skilled professional programs (nursing, ESL, social workers) rather than academia. It’s workforce-oriented. I find that workforce-oriented training for college *and* in the regular 9-5 office could greatly benefit from creating environments that have universal design in mind. Most of all, explicit training that normalizes disabilities and neurotypes could be greatly beneficial. So many people still think “Autism = Rainman or self-injury and non-verbal and wearing adult diapers”. They don’t think of Jim in Accounting who might just need more explicit instruction rather than being expecting to automatically know social cues. I know it gets repeated over and over but education goes a long way.

      2. My Cabbages!!*

        As another college professor, I find that one of the most helpful (and, in many ways) aspects of academia is the independence. I am basically trusted to figure out how, when, and in what order I want to teach my students–for some classes (like the 101 series) there is basic stuff that is expected to be covered but I can emphasize the aspects I choose.

        I don’t even know how I would handle a job where I had to do specific tasks at a specific time–I don’t think I would last long. On the other hand, not having more structure does also make it easier to get lost in a sea of “what the hell am I supposed to be doing right now”.

        1. Cassandra Mortmain*

          This is so interesting and just goes to show that what works can vary so much! I have ADHD and the idea of working full-time in an academic environment is hell for me precisely because of that lack of accountability and structure. Give me a tight deadline and a clear series of steps to follow and I’m good.

          1. Tau*

            Yep – I (autistic) left academia in large part because I could not deal with the complete lack of structure. I was unproductive and absolutely miserable.

      3. Schizofriendia*

        I have found that it largely depends on institutional culture when it comes to staff accommodations. I’ve worked for several institutions (public and private) and while all have been generally pretty good at handling accommodations for students, they are often less equipped to handle things when someone on staff comes in with an accommodation request. You can tell by my display name what I have – which I am always careful about disclosing because of cultural misconceptions about my diagnosis – and it has been a real struggle at my current institution to secure a set of accommodations that make it easier for me to do my job. I have also never disclosed at any phase of the application or interview process and never would because of my diagnosis. Higher ed is getting there, but I feel like it’s not quite there yet!

      4. Dr. Cubicle Farm*

        In academia, it really depends on your department and HR system. I highly recommend reading Margaret Price’s book Mad at School (she’s a disability studies/rhetoric & composition scholar), which breaks down academia’s assumptions about minds, learning, and working in clear and helpful ways.

        1. Anonymous for this one*

          Academic HR departments are useless. Professors get away with stuff that would never fly in any office environment, like verbal abuse and sexual harassment of grad students.

    2. raktajino*

      Your workplace sounds wonderfully accommodating.

      I’m in edtech, so I work with a lot of retired/burnt out teachers. Our hearts are in the right place with regard to universal design and accommodating people’s needs but we still needed to be explicitly taught a lot, even just as a refresher.

    3. Anax*

      As an autistic software engineer myself, that kind of accommodation is INCREDIBLY helpful, and I’m so glad you do it. It doesn’t just help with communication – it really helps me to feel comfortable when I can trust that people aren’t speaking in a ‘language’ I can’t understand or recognize.

      I think most autistic adults have had at least one case where they thought things were going well – until someone got frustrated enough to stop subtly signalling and verbalize their feelings, by which point those feelings were at a boiling point. It’s hard not to be nervous that every relationship has hidden tension or resentment, when you’re unable to catch those subtle cues.

      1. Marty*

        Exactly. This is exactly why education on neurodiversity matters SO MUCH.

        We blah blah blah about “soft skills” in workforce development but that always translates to “make autistic people understand that they need to learn social skills”, instead of “promote an environment where neurodiverse communication can be used without stigma and not expecting people to become neurotypical”.

        I feel we are probably still a few decades off of this, but I do think it is coming. Children these days are being raised in inclusive, neurodiverse educational environments and the tide is changing as it becomes normalized.

        1. Anax*

          I sure hope so. I’ve seen some bad situations myself, so hearing a hopeful broader perspective is pretty rad. :)

          Honestly, I think that it’s valid to expect autistic people to learn social skills – but the focus is all wrong. It’s not about teaching autistics to read facial expressions or to pass for neurotypical. It’s about not being a jerk.

          I think we’ve all heard of “Sheldons” – the stereotypical aspies, usually men, who use their neurodiversity as a bludgeon and refuse to consider other people’s feelings or needs at all. Problem is, that’s the reputation aspies often have in the media – when really, those particular people are subscribing to a model of toxic masculinity and entitlement totally unrelated to autism, just like so many other men.

          It’s okay to expect people to not be jerks, whether they’re neurodiverse or not. If you mess up, you apologize and try to do better. You try to balance your own needs with the needs of those around you. You consider the effects of your actions. Basic kindergarten social responsibility.

          (For instance, say… don’t call people at 3am unless it’s an emergency. Don’t tell people they’re ugly. Don’t give shoulder massages without permission. All things that presumably-allistic employees have done to letterwriters here, and all things that it’s reasonable to expect anyone to avoid.)

          What’s not okay is demanding that people be “normal” – e.g., not disabled. That’s a very different thing, and a lot of folks lump these things in together, regarding neurodiverse behaviors that don’t hurt or inconvenience anyone as something that personally hurts them. I hope that’s something we’re changing as a society.

        2. Anonymous Aspie*

          > “…make autistic people understand that they need to learn social skills”, instead of “promote an environment where neurodiverse communication can be used without stigma and not expecting people to become neurotypical”

          I love how you’ve phrased that! It sums up pretty much exactly how I fell out with one manager a few years ago. There was actually another autistic person on the team, and we got on well together so I didn’t try so hard to mask in front of him. (I mean, what could be more ridiculous than two aspies communicating in neurotypical fashion, having to “translate” both ways with each other, just because some NTs might overhear?!) But she actually took him aside and asked if I was bullying him! Having to “perform” in front of her, even when communicating with people who were more than happy to meet me where I was, was terrible and terrifying and ridiculous all at the same time. Yet she was not seen as the problem.

          1. Tau*

            Oh god, I would lose my mind if someone did that to me. Like, it can be so utterly relaxing to talk to another autistic person for a bit. I often don’t even realise how much work I’m putting into the NT mask until I get the chance to put it down for a bit. To not be able to do that because someone who isn’t even in the conversation objects to it? Eesh.

            Also, this reminds me of something that occurred to me a few years back:

            If an autistic person misunderstands an NT person, it’s considered the fault of the autistic.
            If an NT person misunderstands an autistic person, it’s considered the fault of the autistic.

            Maybe I’m just being overly autistic here (/s), but I’ve always felt this should be symmetric.

            1. Anax*

              Jeeez, Tau, don’t you know that autistics can’t understand sarcasm? (/s)

              … is one of those problematic things I would say to a fellow autistic, but which an outside observer might well object to, lol.

              1. CanadaTag*


                And re the element of how relaxing (and spoon-increasing – check out The Spoons Theory if you’re not sure what I’m talking about) being around other autistics – especially if the autistic neurotype is the majority in the room – is what a friend of mine has coined as #AutisticOxygen.

                Also, one thing I try to get across to people is that yes, we can learn social skills – but something a number of other autistics I’ve known have said, and I keep running into myself, is that one element of autism appears to be processing speed/issues. Given the amount of sensory information we’re often taking in, plus things like our executive function issues, expecting us to be able to even notice things like microexpressions, let alone be able to think of what meaning they have right that second, is setting us up to fail. (I go on a rant about this on my autism blog about a robot that was built in the UK supposedly for teaching autistics how to read facial expressions last year.)

                Anyway, point of the last paragraph is: Yes, by all means teach us to use social skills. But don’t expect us to master them by any means – and definitely not if we’re having a bad day!

                (And yes, jerks are jerks. I’ve known a couple of autistics who are actually jerks – and a hell of a lot more who are lovely people. Hopefully including myself in that last! ;) )

        3. Close Bracket*

          > “make autistic people understand that they need to learn social skills”, instead of “promote an environment where neurodiverse communication can be used without stigma and not expecting people to become neurotypical”.

          Yes, this! We wouldn’t tell someone with cerebral palsy that they need to get enough physical therapy to be able to take the stairs with the able-bodied people, why do we expect people who are not neurotypical to learn to interact as though they are?

    4. FuzzFrogs*

      Your communication strategy with John is similar to something I do. I mentally call it “radical honesty,” and it has a few components:

      –Be honest about your emotions, even if it’s an uncomfortable (ex. “Please don’t call me by that nickname, it’s a traumatic trigger for me!” Which is a real conversation I had to have…)
      –Be honest about your perception of a situation, because you know you perceive things differently (ex. “So you want me to do X project. Did you have any particular wants or needs from this project or can I just run wild with it?”)
      –Be honest about your needs to succeed
      –Do all of these INSIDE your head as well as with other people

      I’m so bad at internalizing all of my emotions and needs! At some point in my childhood I decided that every bad emotion, mistake, misunderstanding, etc. was ALL ON ME to fix, or to make go away, which is…a bad coping strategy. Radical honesty is how I get over that, and it’s genuinely improved a lot of my social situations because it alleviates misunderstandings.

      (I have diagnoses of ADD and narcolepsy, on top of a messy mental soup of trauma, anxiety, depression, and a junk drawer of weirdness. I call myself “neurodivergent” and leave it at that.)

    5. Kimmybear*

      Universal design is critical and I’ve found that promoting it is often a matter of pointing out that in doesn’t only benefit those that have accessibility requirements but larger audiences as well. Example, providing a transcript of your training or marketing video makes the text accessible to those using a screen reader but also allows me to search for keywords to hone in on the content I need and my non-English speaking coworker can pop the text into translation software. Win win win.

  7. My Cabbages!!*

    One other topic I actually need advice on has been something that has come up here a lot recently, and that is note-taking. Alison and the commenters have talked a lot about how important and expected it is to take detailed notes during training and meetings.

    However, I find that when I take notes, I end up (1) totally missing important information because I can’t listen and write at the same time, which also means I end up with notes that (2) only capture half the necessary information and (3) are completely incomprehensible to me when I go back and look at them again. (What does “make SURE to double twist the cap” mean?? There is no cap on this machine? Did I mean the dial? Which dial? What does double-twisting mean anyway??)

    1. Laura (Needs to Change Her Name)*

      If your work will permit you to use a recording device (this may require actually going through an accommodations process, depending on how they feel about recording), something like a LiveScribe pen may be a good option. You can go back to the recording of what was actually being said, and it will be linked to the notes you took at the time. It can free you up to pay more attention in the moment and take fewer notes.

    2. Missy*

      Note taking can be very helpful for some people and not at all helpful for others. Note taking is terrible for me, personally (I have sensory integration disorder and so I already have too many inputs going on when I’m just listening to one person, much less also doing something else). What I do instead is to listen carefully and then at the break or immediately after class write down everything as I understand it and then talk to someone else in the meeting to compare “notes”. It can also be helpful for that other person because often their notes are very focused on each step but might miss a big picture factor. Like, maybe they don’t tell you until step 5 that the reason why you needed to turn the cap in step 2 was because at step 5 it would determine the paper size, and so you have noticed that since you are focusing more on the big picture. It’s about figuring out what works for you. For many people that is notes during the meeting, but for some it is no notes at all. Or some middle ground.

    3. Christine*

      You’d have to get permission, but recording the meetings might be a good option. There’s a really cool recording pen called Livescribe–it’s not cheap, but it’s a pen + special paper that you can take notes on. The pen and paper work together so that if you go back and tap on your notes, it’ll start playing the recording from the time when you wrote things down. So in your example, you could go back and listen to what was actually said when you wrote stuff down about double twisting the cap.

      There might be other, cheaper solutions out there if you have to pay out of pocket. If you have a documented disability, though, you might be able to see if your job can pay for this setup as an accommodation.

      1. Creed Bratton*

        I used to use the Livescribe system to ‘flip’ my lecture notes for students. FYI: if you have an Ipad the Notability app (~$10) and others will do the same. You don’t even need the Apple Pencil – just open the app, tap to record and write with your finger. You can tap the part of your notes to go back to the recording at that time, and as you play the audio, you see your handwriting become animated which is weirdly neat.

    4. ADHD*

      I’m the same way. I try to take short hand notes about what’s only very important and focus on listening, then fill in my notes after the meeting. If I can, I’ll try to assign someone the responsibility of taking notes and sending them out along with action items after a meeting. (plus, for many meetings it’s really helpful for everyone to clarify any action items before ending the meeting).

    5. sb51*

      I am similar, and I am in a role where I often end up as the logical note-taker in group meetings (due to having less investment in the decisions made than other people in the group). I haven’t disclosed anything specific, but I have said things like “I have trouble writing and hearing people clearly at the same time; please say your name before speaking (in meetings where I have to record the speaker) even we’ve worked together forever; I can’t tell voices apart when transcribing quickly.” And I have halted very senior people in order to catch up; they value the notes enough that this is OK.

      Taking notes visibly for the group can help — crowdsource your notes. It may make you into The Notetaker, which is a pain, but once it’s a practice the group is doing, you might be able to rotate it. If it’s one-on-one, just repeat stuff back until you have it.

      Another helpful meeting practice is to do a more structured discussion section. This means The Notetaker gets their own time to speak, so you don’t have to try to listen, write AND formulate your spoken bit simultaneously.

      These are all things that help everyone — whether it’s for actually remembering the stuff (you and me and many neurotypical people) or for a record of accountability (managers, project leads), or for the benefit of people who missed the meeting and need a summary.

    6. Mr. Tyzik*

      I highly recommend the Cornell Method (Wikipedia has a great article on it). You divide the paper into sections to take notes, summarize the conversation, and note items that require action or recall. One of my teachers taught how to take notes this way and I’ve found it very helpful.

      I also use paper notebooks with notes in chronological order, with sticky tabs for important reference. I failed at bullet journaling – too regimented for my brain.

    7. elemenohp*

      It can be helpful to type up your notes immediately after your meeting (if possible). That way, you can write them in more full detail than handwritten notes, and do so while the information is still “fresh” in your mind.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Agree with this.

        When I started my job last year, there weren’t any sort of training documents, so I typed up my own from my notes and as I was typing them up, I’d occasionally run across something that didn’t make a lot of sense and be able to ask my trainer for clarification.

        1. Auddish*

          This is how I take notes in my current position, too. I write them up during training, then during downtime later that day I’ll type them up (and add screencaps from whatever website/software the project involves) and see if there are any gaps in my knowledge that the trainer can fill in. I consider my notes to be a “living document” and I’ll continuously add to them as I gain more proficiency with the task.

    8. TheOtherLiz*

      ADD inattentive type here. I do two kinds of notetaking depending on the needs of the moment: either 1, I’m taking notes to give me something busy to do and force me to stay actively listening and engaged, or 2, I’m taking notes on the essentials I need to know later. With #1 I worry less about finding the notes later and also capturing everything. It helps me process the info to see it laid out in my own writing and it looks better than cross-stitching (which I sometimes do on conference calls). With #2 I listen for what is most essential and relevant to me and what will I need to know later? I use the scratch pad half of that week in my calendar for those notes. It’s a half page, unlined, lots of room – I find that I can take all the meeting notes I need to in that space each week because I force myself to only write the essentials. And then I know where to find the notes in the future. And if I have time for mental multitasking (like I’m not trying to catch every word) I also have spaces on the page for OTHER ideas that naturally come to mind – here’s something creative to suggest to my boss later, or a reminder to schedule a haircut. I have learned to embrace that my brain is great at remembering any old thing while I’m trying to pay attention to a meeting, and I keep my planner handy, with clearly defined spaces for different categories of notes, to capitalize on that.

      1. Where'd That Hour Go?*

        “my brain is great at remembering any old thing while I’m trying to pay attention to a meeting”

        OH GOOD, I’m not the only one! It drove my bosses NUTS that I’d be writing on my notes page AND in my planner. Trying to tell them that if I didn’t write it down, it would just circle in my brain and drown out the meeting wasn’t exactly helpful either.

  8. Also ADHD*

    Oh, this post speaks to me. For me, my ADHD keeps my mind bouncing all over the place. In some ways, this can definitely get in the way if I have a long, monotonous task that I need to get done RIGHT NOW. I’d love to see how others in similar situations have learned to stay on-task when you’d really rather be doing something else. For me, I just try to latch onto something, anything, that I might find interesting or engaging to keep me absorbed into the work and moving forward. At the same time, I feel my non-linear way of thinking gives me a bit of an edge when coming up to creative solutions to problems and makes it easy to be flexible when priorities shift.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what others have to say on this topic!

    1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      I must admit, that medication has helped me the most with staying on task. It doesn’t cure it but it gives me the extra kick-in-the-butt I need to stay on the task.

      1. boo bot*

        Yup, yup, yup. I’ve got lots of strategies, some of which I listed below, but medication was what allowed me to start figuring out strategies in the first place. Not everyone needs it, but I sure did!

      2. Also ADHD*

        I tried meds before and they did not agree with me at all. I’m really not willing to go that route again since the side effects were not really worth the benefits in my situation.

    2. Missy*

      It helps if you can break down the long task into small parts that are very different. If you need to edit a 30 page document then tackle it in TYPES of editing. Like, maybe do all the typos first, then read for clarity, then read again for punctuation. And in those break it down even more, like each page. Just keep track of what you have done of each sub-task. (This may look like a chart with each page on one axis and each type of sub-task on the other). You can jump around from one sub-task or one section to another as long as all the parts get done. It is procrastination using other work as the distraction. At the end you will probably need to do one final sweep through to make sure you got it all, but it really works for me to do it this way. Find any way possible to make the components of the task different skills and then different units and just check off as you complete each one.

      1. CyborgScholar*

        I’ve found that when grading student papers, it helps if I break it down into stages, too. Like, I go through and mark all the errors in all the papers, and THEN I go through and calculate the grades, which allows me to focus on the sub-tasks without switching gears and breaking my focus so often.

      2. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        Breaking it down into tasks is a very good point. I do that myself often without thinking about it.

    3. raktajino*

      Depending on the type of task, music or a boring podcast can help engage the squirrelier part of my brain. I also have a tin of fidgeting putty to occupy one hand–it also helps me from biting my nails on my non-mousing hand because I’m so bored.

      That said, it took me 6 hours to review 400 lines of a spreadsheet this week. I would do two rows and give up for a few minutes. That’s why I also have a plug-in on my browser (StayFocusd) to block out most distracting sites. A neurotypical coworker said she stayed engaged in the same task by filtering the spreadsheet, looking at it from very different angles. I just couldn’t get that non-linearity to work for me, for this context. Often it’s a good match, but my nitpicky editor brain can be at odds with my easily distracted brain.

      1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        Before the meds when I was in college I also used music or even white-noise to drown out distracting noise.
        I found it very helpful.

        However, be very careful if you are using earbuds. With earbuds, sometimes you don’t realize how loud you are talking, especially when you are talking to yourself! I got some odd looks in the computer lab when I was in college because of this!

      2. My Cabbages!!*

        StayFocusd is really nice–but there are a lot of ways to get around it (*ahem* such as reading AAM on an incognito tab right at this very moment

    4. Matilda Jefferies*

      Definitely take advantage of hyperfocus when you can – it can be a blessing as well as a curse! I find the Pomodoro technique is helpful, and there a bunch of apps and extensions and tools you can use for that. I also saw someone who keeps track of how many “pomodoros” it took her to do a particular task – both as a way of estimating the work effort for next time, and as a kind of gold star for herself as she’s working.

      The other thing I sometimes do is take a piece of paper and write the word FOCUS on it in big letters. Then underneath that, I write the one – one! – thing I’m supposed to be working on at that moment, and draw a line across the page underneath. Then I start working, and any time I have a random thought or start to get distracted, I write that below the line, and get back to my main focus. That helps keep me focused on what I’m supposed to be doing now, without forgetting all the other things that I might need to do later.

    5. LadyofLasers*

      For brain bouncing, I first map out what I have to roughly, so I have something to follow when I get off task. Then while I’m working I do two things that really help:
      1) I have a notebook that I’m jotting down notes as I’m figuring things out. This is particularly useful if I have to do calculations. It doesn’t have to be neat, but working off paper helps me stay present.
      2) Totally stole this from someone: I make a special spot for my random thoughts ‘a parking lot’ and anytime I think of something off topic, I write it down there to look up later. And when I mean off topic, I mean questions like ‘How do you make gluten free bread?’. Getting it out of my head helps me turn back to my task sooner.

    6. Luna Lovegood*

      I have both ADHD and Autism (both recently diagnosed, and I’m currently still in uni). I’d also like to note here that the attention issue can sometimes be the opposite, particularly if you’re in a job that you find especially interesting, and this can be for both neurodiversities. This might be a good thing, but I have definitely found on work placements that this has happened and has meant that I’m not taking care of myself (like forgetting to have a 5 min bathroom break or go to lunch), which has in turn caused me to be more susceptible to sensory overload. My supervisor suggested making sure I set an alarm when I was going to be doing something that was particularly engaging to my brain to make sure I didn’t accidentally forget to give myself some mental space, and this helped a lot (I was lucky to have a supervisor that was helpful and the first thing she said to me when I disclosed my Autism at the beginning of the week was ‘what do you need from me to succeed here?’ which I appreciate is awesome and not necessarily what everyone might experience).

      1. CanadaTag*

        Sometimes you can do other things to try to deal with this. As an example, I have to listen to music (or someone talking) when I drive, because otherwise I’m going to hyperfocus on one aspect (like what’s right in front of me) and miss everything else (like there’s a car coming up toward my blind spot as I have to change lanes).

        Oddly enough, when I’m writing or reading, listening to music can help me hyperfocus on something, so for me it’s very individual as to what I’m doing at any particular moment. (Perhaps it’s because to me, it’s beneficial to hyperfocus when writing or reading, versus dangerous to hyperfocus when driving? I don’t know, I just know it works.) This can sometimes require changing playlists – there have been times when songs with words, as opposed to instrumentals, can be very distracting and lead my brain to going, “Oooh, shiny!” to something new every couple of minutes.

        Anyway, something to think about!

    7. Aerin*

      I tend to have a thing with clock-watching and trying to change tasks when the time is at a 5-minute increment (not sure if that’s an ADHD thing or if it’s elsewhere on the spectrum). So if I’m on a really long, really boring task, I might tell myself, “Okay, I’m going to work on this until 2:15, then I’ll get up and grab a snack.” Then if I get in the zone and next time I look up it’s 2:18, I’ll see if I can go until 2:30. But little bribes to break things up and get me through are usually pretty helpful.

  9. Amy*

    Don’t know if it will work for you, but I’ve found Remember The Milk to be a helpful way to track to-do stuff.

  10. Muriel Heslop*

    Special ed teacher who has a section of HFA (high-functioning autism) kids coming in 15 minutes. Cannot wait to share this with them. We talk about this every day but it will mean so much to hear from adults who may share some similarities and struggles with them. Thank you!

    1. ADHsquirrelWhat?*

      The big thing to me, for autism and ADHD – know your stims. And if at ALL possible, try to train yourself on “socially acceptable” stims.

      For example, I knit. I knit CONSTANTLY. I have knitting with me everywhere. Grocery store, waiting rooms, watching TV – sitting next to me on both sides at the computer. I take a break to think or read, I’m knitting. Multiple projects, so something fits my mood. If I have yarn in my hands, I can actually focus my BRAIN on other things. If I don’t have yarn available, I can’t focus.

      Sometimes I say that knitting is what I give my brain-squirrels to do so the rest of me can actually get work done! My son has a fidget cube, and it does much the same thing – gives him something to give to the squirrels so the rest of him can function. My father took pens apart – I suggest against that one, we were constantly having ink in strange places! But just accept that the squirrels are there, and give them a toy to play with.

      1. Fellow Autistic Squirrel*

        I’ve found paper clips to be the best socially acceptible hand-fidgets. They’re small, not out of place in an office, and you can fit a bunch in your pockets if you lose one. When I had long hair, I also used to use bobby pins and hair ties. My friend in high school would constantly fill her pockets with peppermints (like the individually-wrapped kind) and give them out- they were both a stim and a way to make new friends.

    2. Tau*

      My primary piece of advice for autism: get really, really clear on what sort of environment you need to work well and what will sink you. And then be really, really careful when selecting jobs to make sure you can find one you can work in. For me, at least, my performance is hugely dependent on external factors and a minor change in office environment could result in an almost complete loss of productivity. I have to make certain I land jobs I can work in, with good bosses who’ll work with me to ensure the situation isn’t changed.

      Oh, second piece of advice, tying in with this: if you ask for accommodations, make it really concrete. “Hey, my auditory processing isn’t great – is it possible to get subtitles on the training videos, or a transcript?” “The fluorescent light above my desk is really really distracting – is it possible to move somewhere else or have it turned off? I can bring a doctor’s note if you need one.” Do not just throw the word ‘autism’ in the room and hope people will figure out what you need. (A friend of mine has been making that mistake recently and it’s been a little painful to hear about.) In fact, I’d avoid using the word ‘autism’ at all – the stereotypes are such that it’s likely to hurt matters far more than help.

      1. Fellow Autistic Squirrel*

        I never thought about asking to have a florescent light turned off. I get migraines and the light right above my desk is hell. I’ve just been working from home for months (which is okay- 90% of my team is remote anyway).

        1. CanadaTag*

          Oh, yeah. Fluorescents can give migraines to anyone, I suspect, but between the flickering and the humming, they’re definitely hell for anyone with sensory processing issues with light or sound.

          And yes, concrete can be the way to go! If I were working, I would be happy to disclose (any job I’d be working at this point would likely be gained through a disability assistance program), but I have a list of what I need to allow me to do a job, and what I would like and would be beneficial to me doing well in the job, but aren’t necessary. A list created through long un-diagnosed experience…. Plus, even if the people you’re working for have a reasonable understanding of your condition… they won’t necessarily know what you need as an individual. :)

  11. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    As an adult with ADD I must agree with what others said about making list. I keep track of things electronically, using the task feature of Outlook.

    Secondly, I keep a pen and notepad with me pretty much all of the time. I don’t trust my memory. If some ask me to do something for them either I write it down immediately or I ask them to email me. I can easily forget something from walking down the hall, making a pit-stop, and then getting to my desk.

    1. KR*

      Yes to asking people to email!! I always ask my team to email me with follow ups to phone requests so it’s in my inbox, I can search it, and I can look back on it. Because I know I’ll forget

    2. EA with Anxiety/ADHD*

      Me too! This is my most ADD trait. I was a hand-writer back in the day for this reason, and now I just take a notebook everywhere.

    3. Ali G*

      If you like the Task feature in Outlook and have O365 you should check out Planner. I’m starting to use it and I find it really great – especially if you respond well to visuals of what you have to do.

  12. Tigger*

    I have ADHD and dyslexia. I was diagnosed at a young age so I have been dealing with it my whole life. Lists are a godsend. Also, wall calendars and my daily planner from Lilly (this planner is the best planner in the world!) help me keep everything straight. Write everything down. Also, I block off 20 minutes every week to clean/organize my desk so I don’t feel overwhelmed.

    I have also noticed that a good treatment plan (therapists, medication, yoga) helps keep me at my best.

  13. KR*

    I don’t have attention or learning disabilities but I have a lot of anxiety which makes it hard to focus and depression which saps my energy at inopportune times. One thing that really works for me is having a planner that I use as a to-do list. It’s satisfying to see things crossed off and anything I don’t finish I move to the next week. There’s only limited space in the planner I use so I can’t overload it with tasks and when I find myself losing focus I can use the planner to refocus myself and reset. I keep the planner literally right in front of me all day and it works most of the time.
    Another thing that helped me is having jobs where I have a lot of flexibility. If I’m having a bad morning (or bad week like this one) I get to work later or adjust my hours. It also means I can work when I’m focused which may be in the evening or afternoon and don’t have to force myself to try to work when I can’t seem to get anything done.

    1. KR*

      Also can’t stress enough – if you can get tools that make you happy. Get gel pens, pretty planners, fancy to do lists, a cool program – try it out! If it makes you happy you’ll want to use it more.

    2. raktajino*

      Adjustable hours are great, if it’s an option. I’m on salary and our office is pretty flexible, so if it’s just not happening today I can leave (usually). If I’m on a roll, I can stay.

      I like your planner idea, especially the use of the planner’s limited space. When I’m faced with a broad task, my anxiety kicks in and makes the focusing more difficult. (I have formal diagnoses of both anxiety and ADHD, so whee) I’ve been using sticky notes to make a flexible to-do list (like a kanban board): since I don’t necessarily like to hand-write, it’s self limiting as well.

      Our team meets every morning to refocus and reiterate our priorities, which has been SUCH a help. When it comes to finding a type of work and a type of environment that works well with non-neurotypical ways of thinking, I highly recommend one with up-front communication, teamwork when it makes sense, and yeah, flexible hours.

      1. irene*

        look up the Leuchtturm1917 planner!
        the left side of the page is the days of the week so you can note meetings or appointments or just a space to doodle every day, and the right page is lines for notes or a to do list.

        I’ve been using the Rhodia Webplanner at work (same design, but not as widely available) for 4-5 years now in a similar way to KR and the weeks I don’t take the time to start off my to-do list on Monday morning are always a mess. Usually it’s just because i have 1 priority project for the week that I have to get started right away, but I always need a little break with my database management and having the additional, on-going to-dos keeps me productive instead of browsing the internet. (my job involves google searches to verify organization addresses, or history of organization names, so it can be really easy to get distracted or info-overloaded)

        The Leuchtturm planners are nice because they come in a lot of colors, too.

        I like coping my on-going and repeating To Do list items every week because it lets me evaluate them and maybe drop off the ones that I’ve written down too much, or talk to my boss about the priority. sometimes i’ll realize i need to break up the task into smaller parts so that i can finish it instead of always feeling overwhelmed by too many steps, too. basically, the weekly to do list and rewriting it is valuable in a lot of ways!

        (I also keep a journal where I just write everything down that i need to remember, action items, or just comments that might help in the future. it’s not detailed notes, but i cross through stuff i’m finished with and i transfer the action items to my planner as needed. sometimes not until the week they’re due!)

    3. Anonymous Aspie*

      Couldn’t agree more. I also struggle with anxiety (over 80% autistic people do) and find flexible working a god-send for that reason. ToDo lists (colour coded or nested, both if I get my way!) are also invaluable to me.

    4. smol bean*

      I do the same thing with my lists! Everything goes into The Planner, and it’s color coded, and if I’m out of space, then I’m clearly trying to do too much and need to re-evaluate my list. It’s wonderful.

  14. Kj*

    Dyslexic, ADHD and dysgraphia here. I am very open about the dysgraphia, as it is the most obvious- my handwriting is a special level of terrible. I tell people, if they want something handwritten, that I will type it and send it them. That also lets me use spell check, the salvation of my dyslexic brain. I am lucky I got amazing interventions in school, so I am good at reading and enjoy it. ADHD is trickier. I tend to solve by using electronics to stay on track- I use my email to set lists and reminders. I convert all important papers to electronic documents so I don’t lose them. That is a life saver.

    1. Incantanto*

      Ugh, dysgraphia is mine and I’m in a workplace that requires handwritten lab books.
      I’ve found I have to set a time twice a day to sit there and writenin or I just put it off as I really hate writing.

      1. knitter*

        Probably not helpful for required lab books, but there is an app called snaptype that allows you to take a picture of a worksheet (how I use it with students) or any other paper, then type on to it. It saves as a PDF so you could print or email. It’s pretty amazing.

    2. Babs*

      KJ – Can I ask what interventions helped you the most in school?
      My jr. high aged son is Dysgraphic and his interventions have been sporadic. He’s a great reader, too and I’m sure that’s been a saving grace for him. I’m looking into outside tutoring for things like note-taking, organization and technology. I’d love to hear what worked for you.

  15. SkyePilot*

    Also adult-diagnosed ADD. This was such a simple “duh” thing but I didn’t even think of it until a new manager, whose daughter was diagnosed as a child suggested it, but playing white noise through my headphones is a huge help in our office setting.

    I also second the making lists others have suggested. Poppin makes very cute “Things to Do” lists that I find to be very helpful.

    Not sure the gender of the OP, but something to keep in mind if you are female and medicating for ADD: I was not diagnosed until grad school, so I had never worked professionally without being medicated. I recently became pregnant and had to stop taking my medication. Whatever coping mechanisms I had developed prior to treating my ADD are gone and it has been ROUGH. My productivity and level of work basically fell off a cliff. Luckily, I have a great, open relationship with my employer so it hasn’t been as big of an issue as it might have been, but it has certainly led to some very upsetting days where it feels like I am not competent or worthy of being in my job, which is absolutely not the case. All of that to say – if you are planning your pregnancy, do a better job than I did of figuring out coping mechanisms BEFORE hand and be prepared to give yourself a little grace :)

    1. Lilysparrow*

      I was diagnosed & medicated after having my kids, but I have had to go off meds from time to time for various reasons.

      A couple of things that really help your brain to function better without meds (or with meds, they just help):

      1) Quality and quantity of sleep need to be your top priority. If putting yourself to bed on time or unwinding your mind to fall asleep are tough for you then work as many hacks as you can to help make it happen – limiting screen time, setting timers, making your bed more luxurious, reading, limiting caffeine & chocolate, changing the lighting, keeping the room cool, a bedtime playlist, warm milk, chamomile tea, progressive relaxation exercises – try it all, it’s worth it.

      2) Green time, especially moderate exercise outside, on as many days as possible. The natural light and exposure to growing plants/trees has been shown to help regulate attention and impulsivity. If there is absolutely nowhere you can be outside ever, then merely looking out the window, tending an indoor plant, or looking at pictures of natural settings has at least some benefit.

      3) Eating a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods. There’s no research that backs up any “magic” supplements or specific diets, but a varied, whole-food diet is proven to help with symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, depression, and memory loss. The Mediterranean diet is usually used as a good example, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that specific.

      1. Jessen*

        Regarding 3, I often have to remind myself that potato chips do not count as a vegetable. It does help. (I probably have ADHD? I was diagnosed and then undiagnosed and almost certainly have some trauma stuff as well and I generally seem to be a mess that confuses even professionals.)

        I like to make large portions of whole-meal dishes, like soups that have a protein and a veggie all together. I’ve found it’s a lot easier for me to have one thing that I can heat up and eat that’s a reasonably complete meal, rather than trying to do the whole main dish and side dish and all that thing.

        1. Jessen*

          To clarify: I’ve found that because of busyness/distractibility, trying to put together a whole meal every day that includes all the bits I need in it is almost impossible. I tend to just grab whatever’s quickest instead. Hence relying on whole-meal dishes; if I can slop some bean and veggie soup into a bowl and heat it, I’m much more likely to do that.

          1. ADHsquirrelWhat?*

            YES! this is how I cook! Everything goes together into a single thing!

            I have had to totally relearn how to cook since my husband became diabetic because I couldn’t just plan to dump everything into the rice/pasta/potatoes/whatever. And cooking for one – I just don’t. I won’t cook. If I do cook, I cook enough for five people. Which given that I grew up in a family of /four/, I’m really not sure about my portion issues … (no, wait. there “might not be enough” so “more is better”. more is definitely enough. …. and I overflowed the pan again)

      2. LadyofLasers*

        To 3) Cutting way down on refined carbs and sugars helps my concentration and energy levels sooooo much

  16. softcastle mccormick*

    I have ADHD (diagnosed in childhood, went off medication in college, re-diagnosed and medicated in adulthood), and I’ve found a couple of things really help at my workplace:

    1)Writing down any comments or questions I have the urge to blurt out during meetings in my notes, and saving them until the very end. That way I can make sure they aren’t already addressed by the speakers before I impulsively interject.
    2) I’ve found a way to stay organized that works for me, but that doesn’t overwhelm me with minute details. I highlight important numbers/figures on a chart, but I don’t color-code each line into oblivion, which keeps me from losing the forest for the trees. I have a basic chart and filing system, but I try to keep it simple.
    3) I’ve learned to realize the difference between actual productive work, and fake busy-work that really does nothing but make me look/feel like I’m accomplishing something. For example, actually making productive adjustments to charts and data, vs. color-coding things, bookmarking pages, “brainstorming,” etc., which can be helpful, but really just serve to get me lost in a task instead of contributing in a real way to the workload.
    4) Headphones help keep me on task when it’s a particularly chatty day in the office.
    5)Along with that, impulse control has been my best friend. I have constant urges to join every idle conversation happening in a radius around my cubicle, but it’s inappropriate to do that, so I have to work on actively steering myself away from that impulse. I tell myself that if they wanted my input, or if it were for my ears, they would come to me directly. And often, they do!
    6) When I can tell I’m hyperfocusing on something that doesn’t warrant that attention, I take a walk.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      YESSSSS to using writing to combat impulsivity. This was a lifelong struggle for me, I always had to sit on my hand in class / bite my lip in every meeting to keep from blurting out half formed ideas or suggestions and then going on too long. (I’m not sure if its related to my ADHD or not, but I also have a nasty habit of being a “think through it out loud” person and have had to squash that instinct hard). I also noticed over time that even getting the chance to share something didn’t do anything about the urge when my NEXT brilliant idea hit – there was no “release valve” effect to speak of. I just needed to tone it way way down. Now I just focus on writing down every question / thought that comes into my head and commit to sharing no more than one of them, at a later time (unless I’m expected to be the main speaker, I mean, obviously). It’s amazing when I go back and read them later, how many of them are like OOH SHINY or were answered by the end and I’m always SO GLAD I didn’t speak up.

      1. Lilysparrow*

        I’m a big believer in using traits to manage traits, whenever possible (saves on will power).

        I like your example of going back over your questions to re-discover them later. That’s like using the lure of curiosity to counteract the impulsiveness.

        *Golf clap* well played.

  17. Anon for this*

    I have an ASD. I was only diagnosed in my mid-20s and I didn’t set out to get a diagnosis (essentially I had to go to my university’s disability services to be allowed to wear ear plugs during exams and lo and behold I met the criteria for ASD), so I had already spent a considerable amount of time working in different environments without having a diagnosis.
    I think the important thing for me was to frame things not as “I have a disability, accommodate me.”, but more as “These specific things make me a much better employee – can we arrange them please?” I also grew up in a different country to the one I am living and working in now, so I was able to blame cultural difference when I was actually unsure about whether I was reading people’s clues as to what they wanted from me correctly – “Uh, work norms seem to be quite different here. I have seen people do X. Shall I also do X or is it ok for me to continue doing Y?”
    The things which I mostly needed were peace and quiet and clear instructions, including for social situations. I also have a thing about changing plans, but have come to accept that there is no way I can stop new things coming up messing up my pre-prepared to do list, so I worked hard to accept that the plan is “go to work, spend x amount of hours there” instead of coming in with a fixed plan of what I would accomplish that day.
    My ASD and the coping strategies I have developed come with lots of advantages for the workplace: I notice tiny things like some formatting being out of place, am super diligent and do what I promised to do, ask questions when I am unclear to ensure I am doing the correct thing, very detail oriented, follow procedures correctly etc. I work as a lawyer with extremely vulnerable people and because social interactions do not come naturally to me, I worked hard (and deliberately) on finding the right approach to deal with my clients, which I think has led to better results than if I had thought I knew perfectly well how to best interact with everyone.

    1. Weegie*

      This is *really* interesting – I love your framing of ‘this is what makes me a better employee’ rather than ‘I have a condition’. But I do wonder if that framing works best *alongside* a diagnosis?

      I ask (and I’d love to hear others’ experiences of whether it’s better in the work context to have an ‘official’ diagnosis or not) because I have suspected for some time now that I have autism/asperger’s but haven’t sought a diagnosis. I probably would have had I stayed in my last job, as they were notorious for not allowing anyone to work at home, outside ‘normal’ work hours, or even move desks to a quieter part of the open office/another office UNLESS there was a medical certificate in place. (And they did not respond to ‘I work better if x or y is in place . . .’ – I know because I tried.) Fortunately I was able to escape them and take advantage of my current employer’s very generous work-at-home policy, so I don’t need anything formal in place at present.

      But even now, I do have to go into the (open, very noisy) office once a week for at least a few hours, and I can’t stand the noise, lights, heat, or even the gossip that goes on around me. I can’t concentrate, and earphones are of limited use (can’t concentrate with music in my ears, either!). Would it be better if I had a doctor say that I needed my own office, or at least a desk in a quieter one? I don’t know. What have others found?

      Like you, I work in a detail-oriented profession, and can make connections that other people miss or just don’t see in the first place, and these are valued attributes in my field. It helps that I can also ‘pass’ as NT the majority of the time.

      1. Anonymous Aspie*

        Also love the framing – it helps to realise this is true! Also that actually I have a lot of strengths / talents that are NOT typical, and that if we can work around my difficulties the organisation will get a lot of value out of me. “Anon for this” has listed personal strengths that are characteristic of a lot of autistic people, which is good to be aware of.

        I found diagnosis helpful, bordering on essential – but as much for my personal wellbeing than for work. I agree that workplaces / managers who don’t respond to “this makes me work much more effectively” are not likely to be able to get the full benefit of an autistic employee’s talents – partly because the “I need this because of X disability” approach I’ve found doesn’t work very well, as what I “need” varies a lot depending on what difficulties I’m trying to mitigate. I do find though that “I am autistic (plus evidence), I struggle with change, I work a lot more effectively if we have a good plan / clear outcomes before I start – can we do that?” is a really effective way to frame things to get the working environment I need.

      2. Lilysparrow*

        I have ADHD, not ASD, so my perspective is a bit different. But because adult-diagnosed people often question if they need a diagnosis, or whether their issues are “real,” I have done a bit of research on what qualifies as a disorder, in a neurodevelopmental or mental-health sense of the word.

        Interestingly, it’s very hard to define! There was one pretty broad definition in the DSM IV, and the debate over how to update the definition for the DSM V was **huge**. And pretty heated (at least judging by all the papers published on it).

        What it basically boils down to is that many people have traits that match the profile for a diagnosis of some kind. But a disorder is when those traits cause you problems in major areas of functioning, like work, relationships, or managing your life and health the way you want to.

        If your traits aren’t getting in your way, then hey, awesome – you’re just doing you and it’s cool. We’re quite sure my husband meets all the criteria for diagnosis, but he hasn’t bothered. He’s chosen a career and arranged his life in such a way that he already uses “hacks” that work for him.

        I hit a wall and wasn’t able to meet some major goals in my work, or be the kind of parent I wanted to, so I got dx & medicated and it helped a lot.

        If you feel like you could probably handle some things better, or get better outcomes, or find helpful techniques or treatments, or feel more accepting of yourself – those are all good reasons to pursue a diagnosis.

        1. Weegie*

          Both yours and Anonymous Aspie’s responses and insights are so illuminating and helpful – thank you :-)

    2. smol bean*

      I know you’re anon right now, but I would love to talk with you further about the ASD + lawyer combination. I’m very interested in a law career, and I’m not diagnosed with ASD (but my doctors do agree that I have many of the traits, etc. I just haven’t gotten around to getting an Official Diagnosis.) (You have my dream career actually. I really want to work in Human Rights law, and my research right now is focused on genocide reconciliation and prevention.)

      I have a hard time with people though, especially social cues, and over stimulation. Changing plans are also a challenge at times, but I’ve adapted because so much of my schedule is out of my control right now. If verbal conversations are going too long, I’ll get totally lost and somewhat shut down. I have similar strengths as you, I’m great at noticing tiny things, I’m great at procedures, etc.

      How do you manage the client-facing aspects of your job? Especially while working in a different culture, with different social cues and expectations? And with vulnerable populations, which adds yet another layer to the social cue thing? Do you have to deal with too much verbal input in your work? What law-specific adjustments have you made? (Like, what things have you adjusted that are specific to the legal field? I interned at a firm that did not allow handwritten notes, for security reasons.)

  18. Beautyberry*

    I have such trouble with this. I have PTSD, and getting appropriate accommodations for myself and other trauma survivors is just *awful.* After a really problematic incident, I proposed some very basic ground rules– don’t bring up graphic violence, illness, or injury unless it’s directly relevant to the situation, don’t ask probing questions about peoples’ personal lives (as opposed to professional lives or outside of work hobbies). I was completely written off because “nobody else has problems with that sort of thing; nobody else said anything.” I ended up having to leave that job and haven’t been able to work since because that was my only career opportunity in my town.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      Oh these trigger conversations are so hard! I really sympathize with you and I’m sorry that the workplace wasn’t willing to work with you. Even though I agree that putting a blanket ban on things is an unlikely outcome, they certainly should have been able to find a solution that let you stay in your job.

      1. Beautyberry*

        Yeah, it is hard. FWIW I made it clear that it wasn’t a blanket ban on discussing violence at work all the time, ever, just in meetings and official work functions I couldn’t politely excuse myself from without severe consequences for my job. The incident that brought this up was someone in a position of power to me going on at length and in detail about war violence in a meeting when it had nothing to do with anything work related, and that was the future situation I was trying to prevent.

        1. Nonprofit Nancy*

          Ugh. I wonder if it would have seemed like a reasonable accommodation to them if you’d asked to be able to excuse yourself immediately and left the room. Hmm.

          1. Beautyberry*

            I did that at the time, actually! I excused myself and left. I brought it up afterwards in the context of, “You probably didn’t realize at the time that this was problematic, but here are some minor changes that would make things accessible for trauma survivors, which includes these groups of people you might not have realized would need it.” No dice, even bringing it up occasionally for more than a year.

    2. caryatis*

      >don’t ask probing questions about peoples’ personal lives

      The problem with that is that everyone has a different definition of what is “personal” (or “probing”). Some people don’t like basic questions such as, “Where are you from,” “What are you doing this weekend,” or “Do you have plans for the holiday?” There are real downsides to strict rules about what you’re allowed to talk to coworkers about.

      A better solution would be for everyone to learn not to push too hard on any topic. Understand that a vague answer or an “I don’t know” can mean “I don’t want to talk about it.”

      1. Beautyberry*

        Yeah. The specific context here was that they were asking deeply personal questions in job interviews, like, “Tell me about a time in your life that you showed sacrifice!” and then grilling the job candidates about the personal anecdotes they brought up. I suggested they add the qualifier “in your professional career,” to keep things out of problematic territory, but…no dice!

        They were terrible at interviewing.

        But for me, the basic issue is, (and I made this really clear to the people I was talking to) “is this necessary for work, and if not, could the other person nope out of the conversation if things got uncomfortable for them, without serious professional repercussions?” and the answer here was clearly no.

    3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I’m so sorry that folks weren’t able to find compassion enough to make some room for you and your needs.

      I’m hoping that you’ll be able to find a small script you can use and repeat that can deflect the triggers without making too intrusive a “deal” about it. People might keep needing reminders, but a stock phrase asking for specific behaviors helps many people with specific needs address what’s going on without initiating a huge commotion, and having a routine response can make it easier for you too.
      “Violence isn’t a good subject for me. Do you mind not getting into details?”
      “I don’t hear well on this side, could you speak up or let’s switch seats.”
      “My asthma will act up if I’m near tobacco smoke. Could you put your coat in the closet?”

      1. Beautyberry*

        I have mad ninja skillz at this, actually (one of my favorites: “Let’s change the subject. Puppies are cute. They are fluffy and love to be petted. So-and-so, what is your opinion on puppies?”)

        The problem here was that the power imbalance made it impossible to do any of those things (basically, either changing the subject or leaving) without a major career hit.

    4. Junior Dev*

      I’m so sorry that happened. I had a job where people would constantly joke about being “triggered” and I had to ask them to stop. There were also other cultural problems like drinking at work and people making really hateful jokes (e.g. racist jokes) that I tried my best to address but didn’t make much progress. The CEO was full of himself and emotionally abusive (I say this as someone who has PTSD from domestic violence, CEO’s behavior reminded me of my ex). I eventually got laid off and it was frankly a relief.

      1. Nonprofit Nancy*

        Yes, “triggered” is a word that used to have a more specific meaning in a mental health context but kind of spiraled out to be something more general and thus less helpful to the folks that originally needed it. I now hear people use it quite casually to mean something they didn’t like.

    5. Lilysparrow*

      Nothing helpful to offer, I’m afraid. Just wanted to say your name made me smile.

      I planted a beautyberry in my backyard last year, and I can’t wait till it wakes up this spring. Lovely plant.

  19. olusatrum*

    I have some constellation of depression/anxiety/ADHD/general “I have a hard time doing things” symptoms and I’ve found that the most helpful thing for me was actually building good relationships with coworkers. I think there’s an attitude of “it’s your responsibility and no one else’s to be put together and professional at work, no matter the cost.” Of course that’s mostly true, but I think it discounts the amount of goodwill and give and willingness to help each other out that comes out of solid working relationships.

    For example, I get a little nervous talking to the project management team, which tends to enable my bad habits of trying to finesse and perfect everything I ever send them. Or I’ll think “I’ll just send this in a moment” and then it slips my mind entirely. My mentor always makes a point of making friends with project management so I followed her lead and now I worry a lot less and sending emails feels like less of a serious focus interruption.

    I know most of us here like to be reserved and professional at work (me included!), but pushing myself to engage with people on a personal level has really helped create a more comfortable environment for me to work in. If something falls through my executive dysfunction cracks, I have a lot of goodwill saved up with coworkers that they’ll help me out or at least overlook it.

  20. TheEditrix*

    I have ADHD and am a copy editor — maybe an odd job for someone with attention problems! — but here are a few of the day-to-day things I do:

    I work on a small laptop, and I’m never just sitting and reading what’s on the screen; for me, the more senses I can engage, the better. I use line guides (often a bright-colored index card, held right on the screen) to keep my eyes focused and my hands busy, and I have a conductor’s baton that I can slide (gently) across the laptop screen over each line, word, or letter. I also rely heavily on a screen reader as another way to make sure I see/hear/feel everything on a page. I also use the Mac’s onscreen stickies a lot — if I’m afraid of forgetting something, I’ll put a note about it on a sticky with the “float on top” setting on, then minimize it so it still shows the first few words.

    I also try to do certain work at certain times of day — I prefer to proofread at the start of the day, for example — but our workflow is too chaotic for that to be as consistent as I would like :(

    1. American Ninja Worrier*

      I have ADHD and am also a copy editor! I was late to the game with line guides and didn’t try them until I got in trouble at one of my jobs, but they really help. I also try to set my most intensive tasks for the early morning, when my medicine is kicking and my brain isn’t fatigued yet.

      I think one of the reasons people with ADHD can be good copy editors is the relatively tight deadlines. Each task is handed off and completed within a day, sometimes within a couple of hours (at least in the industries I’ve worked in). When I was doing more writing and marketing, I really struggled with bigger projects that went on for weeks or even months, especially when they had ambiguous deadlines.

      1. TheEditrix*

        I think you’re on to something there, though I hadn’t thought about it that way, as far as deadlines helping create focus for ADHD people. I work in periodicals and always have — where things have to be turned around quickly and once they’re done, they’re done. The thought of working a book for months at a time (shudder) — I don’t think I could do that job.

    2. gmg22*

      YMMV, of course, but I think hyperfocusing ability (among other things) is what can make copy editing actually a fairly ideal job for ADHD folks! I took that for granted as I worked copy desks throughout my 20s, when I was not aware of my ADHD. When I started at a nonprofit communications job, suddenly everything felt like chaos. Strict frameworks help me work SO. MUCH. BETTER.

  21. Anonym*

    Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. So excited for this thread.

    Confirming that I had ADHD (inattentive type) in my 30s has been life changing. I spent years and years beating myself up for being a failure. Was one of those “so much potential, why can’t she just do the work?” students, always tested extremely well but nearly failed out of HS multiple times and DID fail out of college (went back and finished my BA in night school while working). Through my 20s got slowly more disciplined, from zero to just good enough to not be fired, but it was so hard. I got lucky and stumbled into a job working in growing programs that gave me a very wide breadth of responsibilities. When I can’t focus on one thing, there are a zillion other very disparate tasks that need attention, and it turns out I CAN actually focus in certain scenarios, like meeting with people and exploring new ideas and solving new problems. Skill in these areas seemed to help me skate by while often being late on tasks that require concentration and are not inherently motivating to me. The focus on growth means there are always new projects being floated, and the target is expansion, not very concrete deliverables. Always being haunted by guilt and a self-view as a failure, despite it being harder to justify from the outside.

    Cut to just over a year ago, talking to my therapist about the guilt – I’m labeled as a high performer, but only work about 2 hours a day. Team is happy, boss is happy, but I’m wracked with guilt and constantly afraid people will find out that I AM actually underperforming – because how much could I do if I could focus for 8 hours?? Therapist is surprised by this, as we had really focused on loss and relationships in the past. She gets me through to diagnosis, and sets me off researching. There’s SO SO SO much more information than when I was sorta diagnosed as a teenager (long story there). So many resources!

    The last year, I’ve been focused on three things, and it’s been the past few months that I truly feel like I’ve gotten where I want to be. The first was accepting that it’s okay that my work style isn’t “normal” and learning what works for me. Specifically, I use project management software to track things and break out dependencies and deadlines so I don’t lose track of what’s happening. Everything is calendars and alarms and alerts, too. I’m terrible at time management on my own. Second was digging into what derails me when I start avoiding tasks – for me, I get overwhelmed and anxious, feeling like I have to grasp all the impacts and dependencies and background and outcome before I start something. I don’t. When it’s already recorded, I can just check the project info and start to breathe again. I’ve gotten better with catching the overwhelm–panic–failure-is-coming-because-I-can’t-focus–unbreakable-avoidance cycle when it starts. Sometimes I set things aside for later – that’s okay!

    Third gets its own paragraph, because it underlies everything and fuels the worst impulses. Dealing with the guilt. Of a lifetime of being seen as a hopeless disappointment. Most of you reading this thread know how badly the fear of f*cking up again makes it even HARDER to focus. I’ve gotten rid of about 75% of the guilt and fear by just catching it and reminding myself of how far I’ve come, and that it’s really okay to not fit the mold. Again and again and again. I’m not worse, I’m just different, and by figuring out what works for me, what I need to succeed, I’m actually pretty awesome. And I average about 6hrs a day of productive work now, and the results are very clear, as I’m getting an amazing amount done.

    Apologies for the Great Wall of Text, I’m just so excited to share and see what others have learned! And I haven’t gone the medication route, but I’m leaving the option open, and fully support those who find it helpful for them. I definitely use caffeine to manage my focus and energy levels, and it’s working for now. Hope we don’t get a giant debate on meds…

    TL;DR – accept that it’s okay to be different, seek out help, learn through research and experimentation what works best for you, and cast off guilt and shame that’s built up over the years. You’re great, and you can do it! We can do it!

    Oh, and regarding yesterday’s inquiry about sharing diagnosis at work, I’m a hard no. Stigma is still too strong and you don’t know where it lies. It’s enough to say you understand your shortcomings and are working hard to overcome them. Nobody’s business how you do that.

    1. Anonym*

      Concrete stuff:
      – working to recognize when I’m losing focus as it happens, and trying any of several things to break the pattern; if it doesn’t work, I go do something else so I don’t get too frustrated
      – white noise (actually, I really like cat purring sounds, strange as that seems)
      – fidgeting helps me focus, but is decidedly Not Professional in my environment, so I move my feet/toes inside my shoes
      – getting up to walk around for any reason – I drink extra water so I’m forced to get up to pee (sorry for TMI)
      – I’m able to work from home some of the time, and try to schedule the hardest-to-focus-on tasks for then, when I don’t have my colleagues all talking at once and my team randomly interrupting my train of thought (IM status – Busy)
      – observing what times of day I focus better than others: for me, it’s 10-12 and 4-7. Afternoons I stuff with meetings, errands, anything more stimulating so that time isn’t totally useless.
      – occasionally announcing to my team when I need to focus for a while: “guys, I’m working on [terrible thing you’re glad you don’t have to do] from now until noon, so I won’t be available for anything less than an emergency” (this one has actually been useful for others, too)

      Apologies again for the autobiography above! Oy, the excite…

      1. EA with Anxiety/ADHD*

        :-) So much excite! This is such a good topic and it feels so good to be able to talk about it with others. :-)

    2. My Cabbages!!*

      Team is happy, boss is happy, but I’m wracked with guilt and constantly afraid people will find out that I AM actually underperforming – because how much could I do if I could focus for 8 hours??

      Oh, man, this was so much me in grad school. All my profs kept telling me how great I was doing and all I could think was “yeah, but I slack off constantly. I could be utterly killing it but I’m not, so how great could I actually be?”

      I’m not worse, I’m just different, and by figuring out what works for me, what I need to succeed, I’m actually pretty awesome.

      This is a little embarrassing to admit but I was actually driven to tears the other day as I was listening to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and realizing that it applied to me, too.

      Thanks for this thread, guys. It is such a relief to talk to people who really get what it’s like to go through life with this kind of brain.

      1. twig*

        Me too! (the wracked with guilt/”NotLivingUpToPotential” etc.)

        Being diagnosed with ADHD was such a relief. “You mean I’m not just a lazy f*cker with no discipline?”

        1. CanadaTag*

          Same for me with autism! Huge “It’s Not My Fault” banners waving, cheering resounding through cyberspace, etc.

    3. Lilysparrow*

      What project mgt software do you use? I sometimes think about trying that, but the ones I’ve looked at seem to have a big learning curve that makes me go squinty.

      1. Anonym*

        Hey, hope it’s not too late for this to be useful! MS Project works for me at the office, because I can trim it down to just the aspects I need – subtasks, due dates and dependencies – and not get bogged down in the rest of it. It took me a bit to figure out which functions I needed. That may be helpful to consider as you look at options.

        For big non-work projects like house renovations and figuring out my career path I’ve been pretty happy using Trello, though I didn’t stick with it (I’m back to just Google Keep to do lists on my phone for that realm). That may say more about me than the technology, though.

    4. tempanon*

      ” I’m labeled as a high performer, but only work about 2 hours a day. Team is happy, boss is happy, but I’m wracked with guilt and constantly afraid people will find out that I AM actually underperforming – because how much could I do if I could focus for 8 hours??”

      This is the story of my life.


  22. Jazzyisanon*

    I honestly don’t know if there’s a great answer to this one. I have bipolar disorder, and it’s definitely come across in the form of strange behavior. HR is aware, but I have no interest in letting management know. There’s just too strong a stigma.

    For me it’s really about knowing myself, and working hard at treatment. While there are probably some work accommodations that might help, they wouldn’t be worth disclosing the condition.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      It’s so unfortunate that the stigma around mental health is still so high, and specifically in certain diagnoses, that it really might be better not to disclose the condition. I’ve seen people successfully disclose depression and get a pretty good response from our HR, but that same HR has really failed on diagnoses like schizophrenia, bipolar, or borderline personality disorder – just completely buying into some cracked pop culture sense of what those terms mean. In those cases, I ended up thinking something vaguer like “struggling with mental health” would have been a better way to go about it, versus naming the disease. But it’s unfair and it sucks :(((

      1. Schizofriendia*

        Yup, Jazzy, I’m right there with you – that stigma is so hard to break. HR had no idea how to handle my diagnosis (someone I spoke with in HR legitimately believed that all people with schizophrenia are just…locked away in hospitals or something?) and couldn’t wrap their heads around the accommodations I requested, so there was a lot of push and pull with members of my treatment team and HR/disability office/management. I’m not sorry I disclosed because the accommodations are absolutely essential for me, but you learn pretty quickly that HR departments have terribly limited experience in dealing with certain disorders.

    2. Frankie*

      The stigma is really too bad. I have a wonderful coworker, one of my favorites, who has BPD, and I never would have guessed–she is warm, thoughtful, on top of her work (to the extent that I see it), reliable, empathetic, etc.–all qualities that don’t fit the stereotype as I’ve heard it. I think she manages a lot behind the scenes. OTOH, I had a roommate who has BPD and she was a walking nightmare. Is that because of her disorder or because she wasn’t a very nice person and was used to getting away with murder and not being challenged, regardless of her diagnosis?

      It really sucks that we are still where we are with the stigma. I’m sorry you don’t feel you can tell your leadership.

    3. Bi Bi*

      Yeah, I’ve only told my managers I have “mental health problems” and left it at that. Thankfully they’re all super supportive and our work hours are already incredibly flexible. I don’t have anything formal with HR because I haven’t needed any explicit accommodations or had to take any prolonged leave.
      I do worry if I was to put a name on it, it would shift their perception of me. It’s one thing to have “problems”; it’s another to have “a disorder”.

      Usually when I’m in a bad spell I just tell them my meds are being adjusted (which is true, but that’s usually as a result of my rough patch, not the cause).

      1. Bi Bi*

        I wish there was a mentoring program out there for non-neurotypicals. Because as this thread shows, navigating the working world is totally different when you’re not neurotypical, and I’ve wanted to get a mentor at work but I’m so nervous about telling a coworker or essentially a stranger about my disorder and not knowing how they’d react.

  23. hellohi*

    I have ADHD, so I am by default forgetful, easily distracted, messy, and slow at understanding instructions. Fun! I went through a ROUGH time when I entered the workforce after I graduated, but I’ve developed some coping mechanisms over the years.

    The most important thing that I have done is get medicated. I know this is somewhat inaccessible for some folks, but thankfully there are many programs and resources available for those without insurance/who are low income. That’s how I was able to get my meds. I am not exaggerating when I say that getting medicated was life changing.

    In addition to medication, I also write EVERYTHING down (this coping skill is more for those who work in an office setting). Having ADHD means that I may forget the important tasks of the day, where I put a file, the name of a contact, or a task that I am asked to do during the day. To compensate, I always have a notepad next to me with the date written on the top of the page where I write down instructions as they are being given to me, the tasks of the day, phone numbers of people who call the office, follow up tasks, reminders, etc. I can check the notepad throughout the day to make sure I’m still on track and to ensure I haven’t forgotten anything. It also comes in handy when my coworkers or bosses can’t remember when or why something was done, because I can flip through the notepad and find a dated note with the info they need.

    I also try to complete tasks as soon as they are given to me, so that I don’t continuously hold them off and then eventually forget about them. Having something done early means there’s time to come back to my report (or whatever) and catch mistakes before a deadline. It also gives me time to ask my manager or coworkers for guidance on the task if I have not done it before.

    I’m also messy and scatterbrained, so I try to end each day by organizing my desk, making a to-do list with the most important tasks for the next day, and
    putting all the files and paperwork I will need next to my keyboard, so that everything is in place as soon as I come in. That way I am able to keep track of paperwork and files, and it’s hard to lose important documents when they’re right in your face, waiting to be filed/processed.

    When I am being trained on a new task or process, I write down every step I am given verbatim. I sometimes have trouble processing spoken words, so if I write down the EXACT phrases I am told, there is less chance of misinterpreting something. Afterwards, I write/type up a “how to” guideline on whatever it was I was being trained on, so I can back to it and add in instructions later on. As I become more familiar with the process, I make a new guide which is only a few bullet point reminders to check off (check the date on line 4/make 3 copies of page 2, etc) as I complete the task. It’s time consuming, but as an aggravatingly slow learner, I find value in doing it.

    These tips might not work for everyone, but they really helped me get organized and be more effective at my job! I had no advice or direction when I started working “real” jobs, so I hope this can help someone in my position too.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      You sound like me. One thing I still struggle with is separating out what is probably related to my condition versus what might just be a bad habit I can work on: like, I’m scatterbrained and easily distracted, daydream too much, and have trouble with procrastination and focus – and some of those things are not really going to get better without medication no matter what pomodoro technique I’m trying that day or how good my list is or how long I spend color coding my notes. It’s a downer sometimes to confront this.

      1. hellohi*

        I often think about how defendant I am on my medication to function daily- I hate feeling like it’s a crutch. But life without it is worse, so I try not to dwell on it. If you’re not medicated, I hope that you are able to try it out soon. My psych had to prescribe me 3 different types of meds before I tried the one I am currently using.

        1. boo bot*

          I occasionally feel like this – although to me it’s more about, “What will I do when I inevitably can’t afford it/the apocalypse causes all a shutdown of all supply chains,” than it is about the principle, but I have two thoughts:

          1. To co-opt your metaphor, if you need a crutch to walk, then you should have a crutch! That phrase to me highlights how weird our culture is about accommodating any kind of disability. Like, if something enables you to function, whether it’s a mobility aid or a psychoactive medication, the end result of “you can function” is a good thing, and we shouldn’t have to feel ashamed of what we needed to get there (barring puppy-murder and other no-nos).

          2. Specific to ADHD medication, there have been times when I haven’t been able to get medication, or when I’ve needed to decrease my dose because I wouldn’t be able to get refills until my insurance kicked in or something, and what I’ve found is, the medication enabled me to create and stick to systems, which enable me to function in the world. If the medication goes away, it all gets a lot harder, but the systems don’t disappear – I still have my schedule, my planners, my designated places for keys and phone, and the habits of using all of them. So, even if I someday have to go back to my non-medicated brain, I won’t be starting from scratch.

          1. Nonprofit Nancy*

            Also I swear to god, in apocalypse zombie world where we are eating squirrels with our bare hands or whatever (and no meds around), I would be FINE – I feel like the “natural” setting is actually good for me – lots of stimulus, lots of quick reactions. It’s the sterile office culture with nitty gritty little boring tasks that is so hard for me.

            1. Lilysparrow*

              I am so glad I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

              Yes, ADHDers would probably do better in a pre-indistrial environment with lots of outside work, lots of urgent concrete tasks, and no arbitrary deadlines.

      1. hellohi*

        There is a hospital group by where I live that has a mental health facility. I had to fill out paperwork that proved my income level, a form that outlined my mental health/learning disorder issues, and give my health insurance information. I then got an appt with a psychiatrist and explained everything “wrong” with me and he prescribed me some meds as a trial. I had to try out 3 different types of medication before finding one that worked for me. I had to google a LOT before finding the program I am at now. I also made a list of every ADHD symptom I noticed I had, to make my case when doing my intake and to the psych. If you have health insurance, look through your provider list for a psychiatrist, and if not, Google can lead you to a good program.

    2. Amber Rose*

      I do that too! I make huge training manuals that are literally just for me, and edit them constantly as new things come up, because creating that document is the best way for my brain to process information.

      I also have a document saved on my computer called Notes, which is just a list of… sort of like work trivia. Small things that I don’t need to remember now, or maybe even this month, but which will probably come up again eventually. I have it divided into topics, and it covers everything from prices of obscure parts to who’s in charge of ordering more toilet paper.

      My label maker also has checklist templates that I can stick to files and sign off on things as I do them.

      1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

        I love checklists! Whenever I have to do a complicated, multistep thing, I will take notes as I’m being trained, then make a step-by-step checklist of the process. This helps in a number of ways:
        -Writing down all the steps helps me retain the information.
        -I make sure I have all the steps written down, even the ones that seem obvious – otherwise things are too easy to overlook.
        -It makes it easy for me to keep track of where I am in the process at any time.
        -If I am out and somebody else has to cover me, they will easily know what to do and when to do it.

      2. An Elephant Never Baguettes*

        ….I can’t believe I never thought of a ‘notes’ document. I just have about 20 post its stuck around my screen and my desk with Random Stuff I Might Have To Remember One Day. Creating a document for it is genius and I’m doing that tomorrow.

  24. Kristin*

    I was diagnosed last year at 32 as being autistic. I spent many years trying to blend in and seem “normal” (neurotypical.) Now that I know, I’ve let me coworkers and boss know. Sometimes I get really stressed and I have to leave the office before I have a meltdown. Previously I would “suck it up” and have a much more severe meltdown at home. I keep earplugs in my desk drawer, and close the door to my office when it gets too loud. I am upfront with people when I am overloaded, and put my phone on DND so I can minimize distractions. I have sensory processing disorder, so noise, touch (oh yah- told people not to touch me!), light, etc. really effects me.

    Since my diagnosis my anxiety has dropped significantly because I understand why I am the way I am (to an extent lol) and can better express it to my colleagues.

    1. Anonymous Aspie*

      Good for you! I had a similar experience (diagnosed at 27) a few years back, and have been gradually building better coping and “adulting” mechanisms since then. The initial “grief” / complete inability to cope passes and things get better from here on in :)

      (I won’t pretend anxiety isn’t still an issue, but because I know what’s causing it, I find it’s easier to apply coping mechanisms and life is less prone to get out of control.)

  25. Ms. Teach*

    I’m a teacher at an online school and we have a lot of students who have autism. One of the challenges in working with these students is recognizing that their behaviors and responses to you may be because of their autism. I would love some advice in how to balance compassion for these students while still holding them accountable for certain things (polite behavior, productive responses to setbacks, following directions, etc.). To clarify, I teach high school and these students are all general education with some supports in place.


    1. Anon because of stigma*

      Speaking as a parent – don’t feel guilty for holding the kids accountable. It’s doing them no favours at all to let them grow up devoid of skills they’re capable of learning.

      When it comes to polite behaviour, I think the key focus is on the basics of manners. There are social subtleties my son can’t understand, but he can for sure understand how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. So we’re very strict about that, and the result is that if he makes a mistake, people understand it’s a mistake because they’ve heard him speak politely.

      When it comes to following directions – do you mean complying with them rather than understanding them? I would say that the most important thing to understand is that nobody does things without a motivation, and getting social approval is not always a motivator for ASD kids. Either they’re not that bothered about it, or they are, but find it too hard to predict how to get it and so hope for the best rather than realising that doing X is a way to get it. So if you’re saying ‘Please do this’, it can help to say ‘Please do X, and then there will be Y positive consequence’. If they then don’t follow the direction, you kindly but firmly remind them, ‘If you don’t do X, you won’t get Y.’ Y needs to be something that motivates them, which might be a good grade, or you might need to work out some more individual motivators if you have the time/resources. But be prepared to back it up: if they don’t do X and you’ve told them that’s the only way to get Y, be prepared to withhold Y. Folding is no kindness to them long-term.

      When it comes to productive responses to setbacks … I think it depends a lot on the individual student, but one thing to remember is that using their imagination to figure out solutions to problems may be a challenge for them, and if it’s even a slight challenge, then stress may cut out their ability to do it. So you might try starting by agreeing strategies they can use to relax themselves when they feel stressed. You could also create a kind of flow chart they can use to confront problems – ‘Do I have a problem? Y/N’ ‘Is it problem A or problem B?’ ‘If it’s problem A, do I need to ask a teacher or can I find the information myself?’ etc. So if they get stressed by a setback, try the calming technique first and then redirect them to their flow chart – which would need to be visual.

      Does that sound doable?

    2. Anon because of stigma*

      Also – do you have a problem with politeness when it comes to pupils saying things like ‘That’s stupid’ and ‘That’s ridiculous’? Opinions can be very passionately stated!

      It helps to think of this like someone reacting to hitting their thumb. Tell someone autistic something that they see as untrue, and it seems to cause at least some people severe discomfort that results in a blurt. This isn’t necessarily a bad quality; think of it as the flip side of autistic honesty. If you love things to be true and right, encountering something that seems false and wrong, or at least incomprehensible, can be upsetting.

      However, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn more acceptable ways of communicating the same thing, so I’d give basic scripts, such as ‘I really disagree with that’ and ‘I don’t understand why someone would think that’. And tell them that if they start to feel really frustrated, say, ‘I’m feeling frustrated, I’d like to take a break for a couple of minutes’ so they don’t end up snapping at people. Again, motivation is important, so if they do it right, openly notice and compliment them.

      Compliments are always important, I think. Kids with special needs can experience the world as a place full of people being hostile to them for reasons they don’t understand; if they find someone who notices when they make an effort and praises the stuff they do right, that means a lot.

    3. Anonymous Aspie*

      Honestly? The behaviours and responses of the children in your school ARE because of their autism. All of them. As an autistic adult, here’s what I’d love to see happen in response to “challenging behaviour”:
      1) First and foremost, make sure the child / teenager feels safe! (I don’t fully understand what an online school is, so forgive me if some of this is misplaced.) If they are dealing with sensory overload or feel overwhelmed with too much information, too many changes or instructions they find unclear, they won’t be able to interact with you in anything less than quite a blunt and even brutal way.
      2) Try to find out what is causing the distress. Behaviour is communication. If there is difficult behaviour, something bad is happening, even if it is not obvious to you. Maybe they don’t understand your instructions (sometimes knowing the “why” is key to understanding, more than the “what”, for autistic people) and that’s why they’re not following; maybe they are overloaded. But there’s something not right.
      3) On “productive responses to setbacks”: in the moment, that is really hard for an autistic person to do! Emotional regulation is difficult, it comes later to autistic people than most (we might learn in our twenties to have the emotional control NTs learn in their mid-teens), and because we are told so much about what is “wrong” with how we are and behave, there is a really strong emotional response to what we might perceive as “failure”. For this one sometimes it is just a matter of giving time. Help the student to see a productive way forward, and encourage them to take the next steps, but please don’t punish them for being upset or even angry in that moment.
      4) Once the moment is over, perhaps next time you interact with them, talk about what happened and how it could be avoided next time. This isn’t about them “trying harder”, but about things like teaching them to ask questions or speak up early when they are struggling to follow, so that they don’t get to the point of being overloaded. Some might need scripts for that, or even prompting (if they have aides / supporters that can help model that behaviour). Encourage that behaviour and make it easy for them to ask for help, or take some time out if they are feeling overloaded.

      The point is when the child feels safe and learns how to manage their anxieties, by seeing things coming, asking for help or leaving the classroom if need be, the “behaviour problems” will almost certainly go away.

      1. Thursday Next*

        If these are students in a general education setting with supports (meaning that they are relatively high-functioning, problematic as that term is), it does them a real disservice to attribute *all* of their behaviors and responses to autism. I think identifying areas of concern, without assuming a cause, could open up a more productive and collaborative discussion.

        1. Anon because of stigma*

          I’d say that their autism is a factor in everything they do, problematic or not, because it’s part of who someone is. But I’d also say that, while creating a calm environment is tremendously important, and nothing will go well without it, assuming it’ll fix everything is … optimistic.

          My son is on the spectrum as well as my partner. My son certainly acts out when he’s stressed, but does he behave perfectly when he’s calm and safe? He does not. He can be stubborn as anything, because that’s part of his personality; he can make a fuss about not getting his way, because he’s a kid; he can be cheeky, because he thinks it’s funny.

          All of this is filtered through his autism, but it’s not caused by anxiety and a calm discussion about what to do next time gets you nowhere. Sometimes he just doesn’t feel like asking for guidance; misbehaviour is easier, and sometimes more fun. Autism doesn’t mean he always wants to do the right thing; if anything, the safer he feels, the more mischievous he gets. His school is wonderful, he loves it, and he’s well aware the staff all love him. And he still has good days and bad days within that safe space, for any number of complicated reasons. Nothing about people is simple, autistic or not.

          And while he absolutely needs a learning environment where he feels safe and accepted, that’s Step One. Without it, nothing will work and he’ll suffer unforgivably – but within it, he needs motivators, consequences, explanations and scripts.

          Ms Teach, are you able to connect with teachers who support the kids on your course? If they’re any good, they’re likely to have plans in place, and coordinating with them might also help. Consistency is hugely important with autistic kids; a lack out it can either confuse them, or help them figure out ways of getting away with stuff, depending on personality. (My son is a getter-away-with because he’s confident and mischievous. It varies, but consistency is always crucial.)

          Also, like I say, you can safely assume that personality is a factor as well as autism. Some autistic kids are earnest and compliant (at least when approached right); some are scrappy and independent; some are playful and skittish. It all depends. Safety and calm are where you have to start, but they’re a necessary beginning, not a complete solution.

          1. Anonymous Aspie*

            As above. I was a “high-functioning” “student in general education” (without supports – I was undiagnosed at the time). I was respectful of my teachers and terrified of doing things wrong or getting into trouble. There were no “negative behaviours” at school, except for one or two occasions in sixth form – I was too scared. When I had meltdowns (which were frequent) they happened at home, or in the girls’ toilets, where no-one would see. Honestly if I had been less scared, supported and encouraged to set healthy boundaries, my teenage “behaviour” might have been perceived as a lot worse, at least until I learned to pace myself and set / adjust to realistic expectations. Just because the students are able to mask to a certain degree, does not mean they are not struggling.

            1. Anon because of stigma*

              Very sorry that happened to you! Hope things are much better now.

              I think it’s worth saying something you doubtless know, but might be less obvious to someone in Ms Teach’s position, which is that it’s important that autistic kids feel safe, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have reasonable rules for behaviour. My son actually feels more relaxed around people who are strict with him, for instance, and has way more problems around adults he can buffalo. (I think it’s because things get chaotic and he feels nobody’s in charge. So he behaves worse, and things get more chaotic, and then I have to have another meeting with the staff and advocate for better discipline.) But there’s another aspie boy in his class who gets into serious trouble if he’s unclear on stuff, but if you set clear expectations and praise him for meeting them he’s very quiet and diligent. As they say, if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.

              The things they have in common are:

              1. Needing explicit expectations set out before they engage in a task.
              2. Needing to be spoken to in literal language that won’t confuse them.
              3. Doing better when there’s a clear incentive.
              4. Thriving on frequent praise and reassurance.
              5. Needing to be able to ask for breaks.
              6. Needing people who can tell them the consequences for inappropriate behaviour, and who will calmly back that up if the behaviour continues.
              7. Needing to feel loved.

              So … well, ‘be explicit’ is often good advice.

              1. Anonymous Aspie*

                Yes that’s fair. Clear expectations and consistent feedback are really important. Life is much better now than it was then, but I do tend to see red if it looks like people are demanding “appropriate behaviour” (ie responding exactly like they would) instead of setting outcomes and being flexible about how we achieve them. In my experience there are two types of people in the world – those who value “behaviours” (eg strict social masking) and those who value outcomes (eg actual good friendships / relationships) – and there’s only one type I get along with!

                It looks like we’re in agreement about needing to learn to set boundaries though :) Again, unfortunately, I’ve found a lot of “behaviours” people don’t respond well to that :( I can’t judge which Ms Teach is though, so I am sorry if I was being unfair.

                1. Anon because of stigma*

                  Yep, I think we basically agree. :-) I’m not sure it’s always accurate to say ‘behaviours’ equals masking; at least in my experience, it can cover pretty uncontroversial demands like ‘Don’t throw things’ or ‘Don’t yell at people if they say no to you.’ Some bars for ‘appropriate behaviour’ can be cleared without masking being required. (On a personal level, I don’t expect my son to pretend to be NT, but there is Nonsense I Will Not Put Up With And Autism Is No Excuse I Know You Can Behave Better Than That. But on the other hand, anyone who says he should never be allowed to stim is a twit, and any behavioural therapist he doesn’t like and trust, and who doesn’t relate to him as a person first and foremost, is a behavioural therapist I’ll work to get out of his life. He has had good behavioural therapists; the key fact was that they established a loving, mutually respectful relationship with him, and had big-picture outcomes in mind.)

                  But I agree that ‘pass for neurotypical’ is not a good long-term goal compared to ‘learn necessary life skills’ and ‘have good social relationships’ and so on, so I expect in practice we agree more than we disagree!

          2. Anonymous Aspie*

            (To clarify: this is a response to Thursday Next, I am broadly in agreement with Anon because of stigma here.)

    4. ADHsquirrelWhat?*

      The biggest hugest method to helping my son understand and cope with autism and his reactions to things is /explaining why/ we do something.

      “We say thank you so the other person knows we have it and are happy.” “we do our homework because this is how we practice our skills.” Whatever the issue is – breaking down the WHY they need to do it can make SUCH a huge difference, and so often the typical-to-neurodivergent discussion ends up being, in effect, “go clean your room.” “why?” “… because I said so!” instead of “so bugs don’t move in” or “because it’s a safety hazard” or “seeing your clothing on the floor makes me sad” or whatever. “Because I said so” means NOTHING. And being told to do something that makes no apparent sense is infuriating.

      Don’t assume the answer is obvious. Clearly it isn’t – the goal isn’t to force the person who CANNOT see things that way to learn to see your way, the goal is to create understanding. Give them the “why”.

  26. Emi.*

    Can I ask about responding to other people’s disclosures? If a coworker tells you they have, say, ADHD, it seems weird and rude to me to say something “I’m sorry,” right? But as a peer I’m not in a place to offer Official Accommodations; should I ask if there’s something I should do in our interactions to make things easier for them, or should I assume they’ll ask if they want me to?

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I think I might say something like, “thanks for letting me know, and please tell me if there’s something I can do differently to make your work easier.” I don’t think “I’m sorry” is quite appropriate depending on the disclosure; it might be a compassionate response to depression or a mental health struggle if the person seems to be distressed but in general I’d say no.

      1. Anon because of stigma*

        Very much this. It’s their normal, and once you’re used to the idea, it becomes your normal too. It’s also fine to say, ‘I really don’t know anything about ADHD, so if I need to know something that’d make your life easier, please assume I need telling.’ Honest ignorance is soooo much better than well-meaning know-it-alliness.

      2. Jessen*

        I honestly never liked “I’m sorry” as a reaction even to stuff that is definitely bad (I have a lot of trauma-related stuff). It feels a bit better there, but I don’t really want sympathy from my coworkers, and I’ve often had concerns about being treated as fragile or broken. I do think “thanks for letting me know” is a good response.

    2. ADHD*

      yeah, don’t say I’m sorry. I have ADHD and it’s not something I’m sad or upset about. That response would really confuse me and make me think you think less of me now. You can ask if there’s anything you can do, but overall I’d treat it as just an interesting fact that may give you some insight into how to better work with that person.

      1. gmg22*

        Yep. I think for many people, because diagnosis came later in life (after they had struggled in confusion for a long time), being able to say “I have ADHD” can be a relief, not anything to feel sorry about!

    3. Marty*

      “Thanks for letting me know and if there’s anything I can do to make XYZ a bit easier, please tell me.”

      Funny story, my autistic son says he feels bad for me because I don’t get thrills from schematics or Reddit’s “oddly satisfying” sub. My neurotypical brain is impaired by the inability to appreciate those things.

    4. Lilysparrow*

      I have a really hard time imagining myself or anyone I know with ADHD saying, “I have ADHD” and then shutting up. It’s sometimes hard to get us to shut up at all!

      They’re probably saying it as a preamble to an explanation of something or a request.

      “Oh, okay. Cool.” is a perfectly fine response, and wait to hear why they are telling you. Being flexible and accepting about what they say will signal your willingness to work with them cooperatively.

      To me, the suggested speeches about “let me know if I can make anything easier” sound a bit condescending.

      I’m blurty, loud, late, forgetful, and clumsy, but I’m not cognitively deficient.

      1. Emi.*

        What if they’re just saying it because they’re blurty, though? I also have a coworker who brings it up as a sort of justification for having said something inappropriate (“Oh, that’s my ADHD! Poor impulse control, you know”) and then I really don’t know how to respond.

    5. ADHsquirrelWhat?*

      Whenever I’m presented with information that I can’t see WHY I’m being given it, I try to default to, “Thank you for letting me know. What do you want me to do with this information?”

      Usually if someone’s /coming out/ about something, there’s a reason. Sometimes it’s just transparency, sometimes it’s because they need accommodation, sometimes they’re trying to make sure the correct story gets there first. But I figure, they know why they’re telling me! so – just ask!

    6. Dinopigeon*

      I have adhd/asd and mood disorder comorbidities.

      The depression and anxiety are mental illnesses. I’m ok with any kind of sympathetic remark you might make to someone who disclosed a physical illness, including “I’m sorry”. They are my brain malfunctioning. They are maladies, abnormalities.

      Adhd/asd define how my brain exists and how I enter the world as a person. They touch every aspect of my personality and perceptions. They are not the sum total of who I am, but at the same time, you cannot adequately describe me without acknowledging their existence. If I were “cured” of them I wouldn’t be the same person. Saying “I’m sorry” to me after disclosing adhd/asd comes across as “I find the person you are regrettable”, even if that’s not remotely what you meant. It’s like telling someone you’re sorry they have red hair or an extroverted personality. It’s very rude.

      So there are clear differences between these things.

      (Quick mention that I’m only speaking for myself, and discussion of “curing” adhd/asd is extremely controversial within those communities. But I still feel it’s best to err on the side of politeness unless you know how they feel one way or the other.)

  27. knitter*

    I have dyslexia as well as anxiety and depression. A past therapist suggested I may have AD/HD, but I never got tested (mostly because I felt that the anxiety was presenting as AD/HD) .

    I agree with DC Cliche above–I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching to find something I’m good at. While I am a special education teacher, unlike DC Cliche’s friend, I absolutely cannot be a special ed coordinator/administrator. While I have a fantastic attention detail and I’m very thorough in all aspects of my work, there is something about the legal compliance aspect that triggers major anxiety.

    Decoding isn’t a huge issue for me now, but written expression is. I try to set up meetings when I can because if I have to write something, I agonize over the grammar/spelling/clarity. Then I invariably find syntactical issues after sending that I hope colleagues will forgive. Google is my best friend for checking spelling. There are still some common English words that I can’t consistently spell. Google is helpful because it will also give a definition so I can confirm I’m spelling the right word.

    Processing speed and recall are perhaps the biggest issues I have. These issues impact meetings the most. If I get new information in a meeting, I basically plan on not understanding it the first time or forgetting it. So I have pretty involved organizational system. To-dos are immediately written down in my agenda. If I need to remember to do something at a particular time, I pencil it into my calendar or block off the time in my google calendar. When taking notes, I try to categorize information immediately so that I can cross reference it later. If I’m expected to review new information and give some sort of feedback, I am rarely able to unless I can preview and annotate the materials before hand. I need to get better at allowing myself to do this after meetings and still following up. I also have a “Thought Catcher” for each person I work with closely. This helps me remember what I need to ask them and what I’ve asked them to do for me.

    I’ve have told two previous employers that I have dyslexia. I have not disclosed the anxiety/depression, but this was mainly due to the timing of diagnosis and my resignation of the position. When I have disclosed my dyslexia, it was not in the context of requesting accommodations. It was more “this is something to know about me and has an influence on how I think about things”. I have not told my current supervisor, but I plan on doing so.

    Dyslexia can be particularly insidious because cognitively people with dyslexia are intact but for whatever reason there is a skill they just can’t master without specialized instruction. It leads to a lot questioning if you’re actually good enough. Or embarrassment that you can’t do something well that should come easily. So it has been a process for me to identify my strengths and weaknesses. I don’t think I fully understood where I continued to be weak with reading until I saw my husband (non-reading disabled) read an article. That was eye opening and really helped me identify skills I still needed to pay attention to.

  28. bad with numbers*

    I have dyscalculia but I’ve never disclosed it to employer – it’s so poorly understood that most people hear it as “bad at math” and make unhelpful snap judgements about my abilities. I do (very complex) math at work all the time! Most of my job is data analysis! But I absolutely flunked the math part of my interview because it was all mental math that I just could not do – they took me because I was really strong elsewhere and they thought it was nerves. (In a way it was, because dyscalculia makes you panicky and nervous when confronted with mental math/numbers you can’t interpret). I still find times I’m asked to do simple mental math on the fly the most stressful part of my job, and I do anything possible to avoid it. I would KILL for good advice on how to work around it.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      So do I! Fortunately, I rarely have to use arithmetic. My biggest office blooper was cramming a series of books into half the shelving they were meant to go on because I calculated wrong. It turned out all right because we would eventually have had to compress them that much, anyway, but it was mortifying. Yeah, y’all, I can’t do third-grade multiplication.

      (I’m actually pretty good with the concepts of mathematics, but basically completely unable to express them in calculations.)

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      I don’t have dyscalculia, but just wanted to chime in and say that it was a revelation when I did some aptitude testing a number of years ago and found that my problem-solving, thinking-logically type math aptitudes are really high but that this kind of calculation ability (I think they called it number facility) is a completely different thing that I’m much weaker at. I was a math major and I’m great at data analysis, so people always turn to me for things like calculating the tip or splitting the bill in restaurants, and I used to get so frustrated because I’m not actually especially good at those things. Once I understood that they’re different skills entirely, I felt so much better.

      I find sometimes I can deflect by saying “I get tangled up doing this out loud and need to see it written out – let me get back to you to confirm” or things like that when asked to do on-the-fly stuff.

      1. AVP*

        I am truly weak at this as well – and in a job where I do math and calculations ~all the time~ but I need to see them written out to make any sense. I for one am just really glad that every phone has a calculator in it now and I feel no shame in breaking it out for even the simplest of math questions, like tabulating a tip and splitting bills.

      2. Alienor*

        That’s interesting! I’ve always thought of myself as “bad at math” or “can’t do math” because I couldn’t pass algebra in high school, but I *am* good at arithmetic. I loved being called up to the blackboard to do a really thorny long division problem! I’ve never really considered them as two different skill sets–maybe I should stop saying I’m bad at math and just start saying I’m bad at algebra. :)

      3. GermanGirl*

        Yeah, I’m a math major as well, but I suck at mental arithmetics. As soon as I have paper, everything makes sense.

    3. Banana Pancakes*

      Me too! My last job was actually in an accounting department where I did (admittedly pretty basic) math all day long. But like you, I have no mental math skills at all. I also take a painfully long time to read analog clocks, can’t give or understand geographic directions, and get confused by concepts like “your right” vs “my right” because I have such a difficult time orienting myself.

      I wish I had advice, but I’m still struggling with this too. I also don’t disclose it to employers because I’ve had too many bad experiences with people treating me like I have the intellectual capacity of a potato.

    4. Dinopigeon*

      The number of engineers I’ve met who can’t do mental math would astound most people. But it’s actually entirely unnecessary to their jobs. My mental math skills are rather poor as well, and I actually didn’t fall in love with math until I got to calculus. (There was a little stirring over geometric proofs, but not full-blown infatuation.)

      My general advice is don’t accept their premise that you MUST do anything mentally. Whip out your phone and do a quick calculation. One of the engineers I work with does basic arithmetic on a white board whenever the need arises and I’ve not seen one person even question it.

    5. Office Gumby*

      Couldn’t do mental math to save my life. I have to have numbers, in one form or another, in front of me.

      Waaay back in the day before mobile phones with calculators, I learned a type of finger calculator so I could do my math in front of me without having to dig for a paper and pen. (This is because licking one’s finger and drawing on the desk/door/window/cashier’s counter is not socially acceptable, apparently.)

    6. Sabs*

      YES!!! I’m doing an HR internship right now and they like to include mental math problems in interviews and I really want to talk them into stopping this practice. Officially, I was diagnosed with Dyslexia and anxiety, but I really freeze up when asked to do math in my head too (I’ve always blamed dyslexia, but who knows). I just shut down, and even basic math eludes me. I am, however; very big into creating complicated formulas and Excel models for analyzing data and have been known in several of my positions for being the go-to for more complex mathematical calculations. So, yes, there are a lot of misconceptions and I think it’s different for each individual anyway.

      One thing that helps me is to do all of my work in Excel with easy to follow imputes and a variety of ranges. So, for example; if I’m calculating the variable costs of a contract I will include the “most likely” outcome, but then I also have a chart of if/then answers for things that may change the outcome. You can’t predict everything, but when you sit down to answer questions about the analysis the if/then numbers give me an idea of how changes to different factors will impact the bottom line. This allows me to provide estimates on the variables I’m asked about on the spot. I’m also known to always have excel open when I’m on calls or in meetings. I use it to take notes and have templates open for any common calculations for whatever we’re discussing. One group I worked with would just ask me at the beginning of each project if I already had an Excel model similar to what we were working on.

  29. Data Maven*

    ADHD here (I’ve been medicated since childhood). Here are the coping techniques that work for me:

    1. If you have medication, and you have a problem remembering to take them, I’ve found having a very regimented morning schedule while getting ready helps me remember to take it everyday. I never stray from my ‘getting ready’ routine-even on weekends, and I only forget to take my meds now once or twice a year. I also try and keep one dose hidden in my desk for emergencies for those time where I truly forget.
    2. I find routine helps me keep focused during the day. I have a little routine I do after I get into the office (hang up coat, go make coffee, while coffee is brewing check email, go get coffee, make to-do list, then start on first to-do). It only takes a minute, but I’m more likely to start work instead of get overwhelmed and screw around instead of getting any actual work done.
    3. To-do lists (as everyone recommends). I have about 20 different ones, but found that having 3 or 4 main goals for the day keeps me from getting overwhelmed.

    It’s also okay to experiment with what works for you, try a technique for two weeks, and if it doesn’t work- scrap it!

    1. Mr. Tyzik*

      I have a post-it note on my bathroom mirror of the things I need to do for the morning (take meds, brush hair, brush teeth, etc.) because I will forget something otherwise. I heartily second routine and to-do tracking.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      I am 100% on board with trying different strategies. Even ones that worked for a while can stop working for us – usually because we have ADHD, and they’re not interesting enough for us any more! So I have decided to embrace that, and go with whatever method works for me today.

      Yes also to routines! I have two little rituals that I use to remind myself that it’s time to stop fooling around on the internet and get to work. One is lipstick, and the other is my reading glasses. I find it’s a good way to force the transition – stop whatever random thing I’m doing, put on lipstick, put on my glasses (whether I need them or not), and then I’m in “work mode.” And I’ve made a rule, no AAM or Facebook or whatever when I’m wearing my glasses. It doesn’t always work, of course, but it’s a really helpful way to remind myself of what I’m supposed to be doing.

      1. Anon for these purposes*

        “So I have decided to embrace that, and go with whatever method works for me today.”

        *This, so much this. Realizing when I’m getting tired of a coping strategy and finding another way has been HUGE for me.

        1. Data Maven*

          This is actually something I need reminding of. I sometimes get frustrated that every couple of months I completely switch systems- but it’s what helps. I never even realized that it’s BECAUSE I get bored with the system that it inevitably fails!

      2. Anonym*

        This is so important – not everything works all the time, and it’s okay. Ideally we can work towards having a toolbox of many things that work at least some of the time. Don’t get discouraged!

        I used to feel terrible and just want to give up (usually would for a while) when something that had felt like “the answer” stopped working. Turns out the answer is many things. :)

      3. Lilysparrow*

        Yes to changing up what works today!

        There is a very strong correlation between ADHD and magical thinking. We tend to be very susceptible to the idea that this one perfect system or perfect technique, is going to solve everything forever.

        We really, really want that to be true, because managing symptoms and catching errors is stupid and boring and exhausting.

        So when the system stops working for us, we are tempted to self-blame and spiral down into giving up altogether.

        But the reality is, our traits and challenges, and the techniques that help, ebb and flow. Sometimes cyclically, sometimes randomly.

        We are always surfing, never permanently onshore.

    3. Anonym*

      This reminded me! For to do lists and selecting a manageable number of goals for the day, I use some of the organization sheets that Dave Seah creates and distributes for free. They’re fabulous, for me and a non-ADHD colleague as well. And I learned about them from commenters here! :)

      I use the Emergent Task Planner every day. Keeps me from getting overwhelmed, AND helps track how I spend my time (though there are other sheets for that).

      He might be some sort of angel, just giving these to the world.

    4. TheOtherLiz*

      ADHD taking medication here – my most frustrating pattern that re-emerges when I’m stressed is “Is my pill bottle on my desk because I just took some, or because I pulled it out of the drawer to take a dose, then got distracted before actually taking a dose?” So I went back to what I did in high school. I got a weekly pill case, marked with the days of the week, and first thing I do monday morning is count out my doses for the week and put them in each day’s spot. Then I have a checklist in a corner of my planner where I tick off each glass of water I drink, each stretch break, each time I go outside, and each time I take my meds. The two-step system – if I took my pills, I should have that many less in the pill case AND there should be a check mark on the planner – has saved me.

    5. Dinopigeon*

      I split my pills. Half stay at home in the old bottle, and half go in my purse in the current bottle (in case I’m stopped by police etc, I want the current bottle for legal reasons). That way if I’m at work and realize I forgot to take my meds, I’m not screwed.

      I’ve tried all the little reminders and the best solution for me was just to circumvent the need to remember when I get up and my brain is not firing on all cylinders. Notes on the mirror become “background” after a few days, and ditto for leaving the bottle in plain sight. I’ve never met a routine I could keep for longer than two weeks, on or off meds. If I set an alarm on my phone, between shutting it off and going downstairs there’s a strong chance I forgot already.

      But at some point in the morning, my brain WILL send up a flag that I need my pill, and so I always make sure I have some with me.

  30. Armchair Analyst*

    I find Jennifer Koretsky’s book “ODD One Out” about her journey as an adult with ADD/ADHD very helpful. I’ve been following the magazine ADDitude and a few others, too. But start there (in addition to other helpful advice in this thread).

    Good luck!

    1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

      I love ADDitude – lots of great info there. I’ve also found the book You Mean I’m Not Crazy, Stupid or Lazy? very helpful too.

    2. scooby snack*

      I love the ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life– TONS of good advice there.

  31. Mr. Tyzik*

    ADHD, treated with CBD. I would highly recommend trying CBD. IME, it greatly improved my focus, lessened my anxiety, and decreased the fidgeting.

    I’ve been fortunate that I work in STEM and have worked with Agile and Kanban practices, breaking effort into smaller chunks and tasks and using daily planning to move the work through a flow from ready to done. I use this in my personal life to keep track of household responsibilities, and at work to keep up with work tasks. I would recommend looking into Personal Kanban as a way of managing tasks and getting work done.

    Last piece of advice, learn who is task-oriented and who is relationship-oriented and make an effort to respond in kind. I work in a place where some will include a personal note in an email, giving a clue toward relationship-orientation. Try to respond in kind.

    1. AVP*

      Can you share more about your CBD routine if you don’t mind? I know it must differ for individuals but I’ve been interested in trying this for awhile now for my anxiety/mild ADHD and I’d love to hear from someone who is using it successfully rather than trying to sell me something!

      1. Mr. Tyzik*

        I use a tincture which is applied under the tongue and held for about a minute before swallowing. It begins to work for me in about 30, peaking at 2-3 hours. I take it in the morning after waking, and at about lunchtime to stay on task over the afternoon.

        You’ll want to experiment with your product to determine the best dose for you. Start small and build up until you reach desired results.

  32. Miranda*

    I am bipolar and (undiagnosed) math disability. The math thing doesn’t get in my way much, working in social services, but I always tell my managers that I am bipolar 2, so they can have a better understanding of my behavior. I work in early childhood intervention as a service coordinator, and chose to focus on disability advocacy for a reason. Tbh I believe in a “disability acceptance” spectrum where some are more accepted that others—which, imo, is why we have to even distinguish who is not neurotypical! Anyway, in order to discourage stigma, I am pretty open about my bipolar & depression. All my close coworkers & my manager know.

  33. Dust Bunny*

    I’m on the autism spectrum and it’s really handy in my job in some ways, but I struggle with self-starting and some other things. Networking is a no-go; I have no idea how I’ll ever find another job if I get laid off. And I’m very functional outwardly but I suspect I’ve maxed out the extent to which I can compensate, which worries me (I’m in my early 40s and wasn’t diagnosed until college, so I have a lot of practice dealing with this without accommodations, but there is only so much I can do).

    1. Anax*

      Since you’re here – I would suggest networking online, if it’s possible in your field. I’ve made a lot of great relationships in text-based formats, and that’s one of the main ways I network. For instance, as an IT person, I might try commenting regularly in IT-based forums like .

      It’s also worth noting that networks aren’t just about individual relationships – part of what you can gain is the gossip on company culture, in-demand skills, etc. You can get a lot of that knowledge without talking at all, just by reading professional forums, and I’ve found that very valuable.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        It’s very possible in my field, but not really at my level. I’m sub-professional so I’m not the one who does all the stuff that connects with other people and organizations. I do occasionally, but anything of any importance has to go through my bosses, anyway.

  34. Matilda Jefferies*

    I’m giggling a bit at the idea of an open thread about ADHD at work. I’m picturing dozens or hundreds of extremely wordy posts, as we get distracted and start talking about ADHD rather than doing our actual work! Then lots of sub-posts and new posts with “Oh, I remembered one more thing!” and rambly personal stories that may or may not be related to the topic at hand. There may not be more *posts* on this topic than on most of the others here, but I’d be willing to bet there will be more average words per post than usual.

    Thanks to Alison for the OP, and to everyone who is contributing – it’s really helpful. Distracting, but very helpful. ;)

  35. Cobol*

    Sorry if this has been said, but if you’re not, or no longer, on medication I would get on it. I stopped taking on college because I didn’t need it to finish work, or pass classes, and spent the first 15 years in the workforce falling behind on everything I did.

    Outside of that, the one thing that’s helped me the most is just to start whatever I’m trying to do. Even if I can only get a paragraph of writing done, or even saved the plan I’m going to use with the new name in the right folder, I’ve found I’m 2-3 times more likely to stay on schedule.

    1. wafflesfriendswork*

      I took meds for my ADD in high school and it helped so much, until there were side effects I didn’t like, so I stopped. Instead of looking into different meds I just stopped completely, and it took me six years to get through my undergrad with a lot of blood sweat and tears. Now that I’m in the workforce I’ve sort of figured out how to fake it, but I worry that if I go on much longer I’ll fall behind. Even making the appointment is so hard (helloooo anxiety probably caused in part by my ADD)

  36. EA with Anxiety/ADHD*

    My neuro-atypical traits tend to present themselves in two main ways at work: one is being anxious about tiny things, like locking doors and putting things on calendars. The other is that my train of thought tends to jump the tracks, and people get lost (and bored/annoyed). I’m actually an executive assistant, and I honestly believe that the coping strategies I been forced to develop are a big part of what make me good at my job.

    Apologies for the novel that’s about to follow, but the TL;DR is: my coping strategies can be boiled down to lists and writing things down (also mindfulness, zoloft, and therapy, but those are more personal coping strategies, as opposed to concrete ways I stay on top of my work).

    I have an excellent memory for many things, but if I’m talking to my boss and she asks me to print something for her, I’ll forget by the end of the conversation if it’s not written down. And as an EA, my job description is literally to handle lots of little tasks that are often unrelated. So I always go into meetings (even informal check-ins) with a list of questions I need to get answers to or topics to raise. This also helps me to stay on topic in meetings instead of rambling about things that aren’t a priority for my boss, who is a busy woman. I print this list or write it out in one color, and take a pen of a different color to write the answers in. I also number the action items as I go and circle the numbers, so even if my notes end up all over the place, I have a sort of connect-the-dots roadmap at the end. I then go back to my desk and immediately make a typed to-do list, which I arrange by priority level. I physically cross the items off on my notes as I type them up.

    I keep to-do lists organized by day of the week in a draft email (so it’s always available and easily editable). I also keep a section for future tasks (next week or next month) so I have them written down, but they’re lower down so I don’t worry about them. I try to space out when I plan to do big tasks, so there are only one or two a day (if possible) and then plan to do the little tasks I know about ahead of time around them as needed. This also leaves room for all of the stuff that comes up daily. At the end of every day I re-adjust my week based on any new tasks that have come up. At the beginning of each day, after checking my email, I look again at my to-do list for the day, re-prioritize if necessary, and then put it on a virtual sticky note with that day’s to-do list on my desktop. I return to this as needed. It keeps me focused on the tasks at hand without having to expend mental energy on the other tasks.

    In this email draft, I also keep a list of things I’m waiting to hear back about. This might be more pertinent for my job as an EA, because a lot of what I do is keeping other people on track. So if I’m scheduling a meeting and waiting to hear back about people’s availability, I have a note to follow up by x date if I don’t hear back.

    Typing this all out, it sounds like a lot. But honestly, it’s second nature to me and keeps me on track. It helps my anxiety to have everything in order, and because I consciously prioritize and break things down, I don’t have to keep repeating the mental work of organizing tasks – when I get lost or sidetracked, I can return to my lists and know exactly where I should be. Once I’m engrossed in a task, I have no trouble completing it – it’s getting there that’s the hard part.

    By the way, this is why I love AAM. Thank you, Alison, and also I love all you beautiful internet strangers here who are supportive and successful and and honest about this stuff.

    1. Anonym*

      We’re note taking twins! I also go over mine and number and circle the action items, in priority order, because my notes tend to look like some sort of coded, foreign language treasure map.

      I do use checkboxes to flag actions as I take the notes as well. Makes them easy to find. They get checks if done, and Xs if they’re transferred to another list.

      Actually, while the details vary, I use a similar number and degree of tracking and adjustment tasks. I actually put follow ups on my calendar. *high five*

      Seconding the appreciation for the AAM community. I don’t post too often, but the combination of wisdom, entertainment, comfort and renewal of my faith in humanity I get from here is immeasurable. So grateful.

  37. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

    I was also diagnosed with inattentive-type ADD as an adult. I found that getting the official diagnosis really helped me reframe and understand some things. (For example, why things went so wrong at a previous job pre-diagnosis. It was kind of a relief to realize that it wasn’t so much “I was a bad employee” as it was “these undiagnosed/untreated medical issues really affected my performance.”) I am on medication, which helps a lot, but I also swear by Outlook reminders. Sometimes I just need notices popping up on my screen so I don’t forget important tasks!

  38. Random Obsessions*

    There’s more than just that for ADHD.
    There’s also impulsivity (you might click on a button before you’re supposed to making the task last longer because you are constantly having to go back and forth.)
    There’s also hyperfocusing (you cannot switch your focus and you lose track of time; might not be a bad thing in some jobs but it can make union reps annoyed because you stay past your clock out/forget to take breaks, and it might affect your productivity across the board because you aren’t switching between pieces of work that need to be completed)

    1. peachie*

      I get what you mean, but I’m still hesitant to attribute every mistake I make at work to ADHD. Partially that’s because, as mentioned, it’s an explanation, not an excuse, and those mistakes can have real negative effects regardless of their cause. But mostly, it doesn’t feel good to me as a person — it feels too much like telling myself “Well, none of this is really my fault.” I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Some things are DEFINITELY just my fault.

      1. Lilysparrow*

        I think I get what you’re saying. But to me, understanding how a mistake, or certain types of mistakes, relates to my ADHD doesn’t negate my responsibility. It just keeps me from getting hyperfocused on unproductive self-blame so I can focus on correcting or preventing the problem.

        Analogy- I have big feet. Literally. I am more likely to step on people’s toes or accidentally kick their chair when I cross my legs.

        It’s my job to keep my clompers under control as much as possible. And if I cause someone else a problem, I need to apologize and do whatever I can to fix it.

        But it does nobody any good for me to get mad at my feet, or think poorly of myself for having them. They are the feet I came with, that’s all. Sometimes I do a good job managing them, and sometimes I don’t.

        Everybody has something to deal with in this life. And most of it, we don’t get to pick. But in the grander scheme, I’d rather stick with the issues I have, because I know a lot of people have it much worse. Even (maybe especially) the people where it doesn’t show.

  39. Harper the Other One*

    Thank you so much for this thread! Both of my kids are on the autism spectrum, and they’re both high-functioning – basically, they struggle enough to struggle but not enough that people are immediately sympathetic, because “he/she can do X, Y, and Z, so why are you making such a big deal out of A, B, and C?” A big priority for me as a parent is to figure out the ways they can do everything they need to do while still being comfortable and happy. Knowing how a large group of adults have approached work will be so helpful!

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      As I said below, the biggest help for me was a basic project management class. If your grade school offers one (my kid’s school has more electives than I knew were possible), then make them take it. If not, then pay for them to take it at a local community college around 10th grade.

      It doesn’t just list the tools and tips (sub tasks!), it makes you use them, and see the impact. You also get a chance to try different methods and see what works best for you.

    2. Anonymous Aspie*

      What (s)he ^^^ said.
      Also: self advocacy. If you haven’t already, talk to / teach your kids about how to frame their needs and strengths in words their future colleagues and managers will understand. This has come up a couple of times above, but things like “I’m autistic, I find it really helps if I’m clear on the task and goals before I start, can we make a plan?” is a good way of framing things – it keeps things low-key and offers solutions so that people immediately know what they can do to help. (This takes practise, and there are a lot of people out there who will not respond well however you put it, so the earlier your kids learn to deal with those knocks while you can still support them and achieve some successes along the way, the better.)

  40. stemprof*

    Question: I am an academic and do a lot of writing, reviewing other people’s papers/protocols/etc, data analysis – things that require extended focus. Once I get started, I find that I am usually able to focus (unless I’m reviewing particularly bad writing), but I often really struggle to get started with these tasks, and haven’t found great strategies for this. Has anyone found any strategies that work for them? Taking breaks doesn’t really work for me, because I just struggle to get re-started after the break.
    (I have diagnosed GAD and suspect I may have ADD)

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      1) Routines. For me:
      – Do not check my to do list or emails (I will find something shorter to just ‘clear out of the way’)
      – Prep my desk / supplies so that I don’t need to stop for a new pencil / that red marker / a drink
      – Start the background music (headphones in office, just computer at home).
      2) Set up a meeting notice for the time I plan to do the hyperfocus work. Reminds you and keeps others from breaking in on it.

      I’ve seen articles that say, ‘do hyperfocus work early in your working day’, and while I haven’t been able to break the ‘check my email for emergencies’ habit completely, I have noticed I get to the long tasks more quickly if I save emails for after I’ve spent an hour or two on that spreadsheet.

      Doing it at the same time / day during the week (eg, ‘T/W/FR, 9 – 11am) can also be considered part of a routine.

    2. My Cabbages!!*

      Break things down into their smallest components. It was so impossible for me to start “writing a paper” but once I just thought about “okay, write down the methods for Figure 1” that was a lot easier to begin.

    3. Lilysparrow*

      I find it helps to a) lower the barrier of entry, b) start an “open loop” so you are motivated to close it, and c) make starting as rewarding as possible.

      So for example, lowering the barrier could mean anything that removes physical or mental hassle from starting the task – “greasing the skids,” so to speak. That might mean having a specific low-concentration task that gets you engaged with the material before diving in: a checklist? Seeing how long the paper is and estimating how long the review will take? Creating an empty draft of the report template and updating it with the right name & title? Something that is low-hanging fruit and can give you a small sense of “done, check.”

      An open loop could be laying out the material in your space the night before, or before lunch, so that when you get back it’s right there. You’re already started, so you might as well keep going.

      Making it rewarding is about doing physical things to make the experience more enjoyable – specific music, or a cup of tea, a favorite pen, a comfy chair, whatever makes you look forward to the task a little because you get to have X while you do it. It’s the “spoonful of sugar” theory, and it really does help.

  41. Angwyshaunce*

    Lists. I am very scatter-brained, so keeping lists (both at work and in my personal life) has boosted my productivity immensely.

    At work, I actually keep three different “levels” of lists.

    Level 1: Master List. This is my “long term” list. I track everything that needs to get done in a spreadsheet. For instance, when I receive a new project, I figure out every step that needs to be accomplished for that project, and add an entry for each. This includes things that cannot be done yet, but must get done eventually. When a task is completed, it gets deleted.

    Level 2: Daily Tasks. At the start of each day, I scribble down on paper the things I want to focus on immediately for that day. I can pick things off the Master List to focus on, or if something urgent or quick comes up, I just add it to the daily list.

    Level 3: Task List. Many tasks can be broken down into smaller individual tasks. If I’m having trouble focusing on a particular task, I try to break it down into smaller, more manageable steps, then focus on each step one at a time.

    1. Brownie*

      Yes! My coworkers don’t understand why I always need to know all the steps of a task, but inevitably end up asking me for my super-detailed task lists or instructions when they need to do said task. There’s so many days when something like “Make a teapot” is too overwhelming, but breaking it down into smaller steps lets me focus on those and, in the end, complete the entire task.

      Side bonus: Super detailed task documentation makes troubleshooting so much easier too, so now I have a reputation as being the one who can figure out and fix things.

  42. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I have set systems in place. I am hyper-organized and have notes, charts and templates for everything stored away. This way I have a pathway forged for any task that needs one. There are some I have that I never use because I don’t necessarily need it but on some “bad” days, I may need to dig into it just to see what I’m goofing up or forgetting if the numbers/process seems to be messing up.

    I need noise and stimulation, thankfully I have my own office so I just keep the radio on or play Hulu on my phone with shows I can have in the background and no need to ‘watch’ or follow along to.

    I also don’t have any problem telling people if I’m having a difficult day or if I’m distracted for a reason, such as added stress in my personal life. Most people are really happy to make exceptions and accept your needs if you’re not just coming across as flighty and aloof to them. Once I’ve said “My dad’s having a procedure done today, so I may be a little distracted or distant.” Which works best for me but it’s understandable that it doesn’t work for everyone or every one you’ll ever have to interact with during the course of work.

    Sometimes I just have to remind myself to take breaks, ‘rewind’ or deescalate myself. This manifests in muttering to myself or testing people who are my sounding boards, when I wasn’t in an office setting, I found a safe space to scurry to for those mini-breakdowns.

    Really though, having a structure and routine are key for me in the end. Even now that I’ve done things for years now, I have checklists and check lists for my checklists ;)

  43. Batgirl*

    The biggest impact my ADHD had on my worklife was punctuality. It took me years to figure out that I can’t accurately gauge the passing of time very well and that I need a bunch of shortcuts otherwise the many morning tasks will add up to far too much.
    – I take showers when I get home from work to deal with shaving and grooming etc so that I can literally just soap up quickly in the AM.
    – My hair is styled and put up before bed so I can just shake it out in the car.
    -Clothes and accessories laid out night before. My work bag, lanyard, phone and prepped lunch bag live in the same place.
    – I put my breakfast (also made the night before) in a to-go pot. I eat it at home as the last thing I do if there’s time, but if my ‘leave now’ alarm sounds, I can take it with me.
    – I leave extra early and get there deliberately a good half-hour to an hour early. I either eat breakfast, go the gym or run errands at places local to work.
    -Google maps has helped me time my ETA and journey times more effectively. You still need to account for surprise accidents though.
    -Routine is key. I have to get in super early whenever I get a new job because the leaving, commute and start time are so different and it always throws me off back to square one.

  44. AFAF*

    Wow, this is really interesting – thanks to the LW for the suggestion and Allison for hosting, as well as all the commenters so far.

    As I’m reading through I’m seeing a lot of similarities between how people with ADD & ADHD describe themselves and their work life and how a friend of mine does. He doesn’t have a diagnosis and objectively he’s done well professionally, but there are definitely things he finds difficult or stressful in work and non-work life that really chime with what people here have described. I’m wondering if looking into this might be helpful for him.

    If anyone is willing, links for further reading/resources on adult ADD/ADHD would be great? Google isn’t always a great source for trustworthy health information.

    (if it’s off-topic or derailing of course please delete!)

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      I have lots!


      Yashar Ali started an epic ADHD thread last week, so there should be lots of recent hits if you just search for ADHD. Same with Facebook, there are lots of people out there talking about it!

      ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life, by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau
      Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin
      A Slob Comes Clean, by Dana K. White
      The last two are not geared specifically towards people with ADHD, but I’ve found them really helpful. A Slob Comes Clean in particular – her big thing is “decluttering without making a bigger mess,” which is very important for us distractable types!

      1. scooby snack*

        Seconding those books– and want to add Driven to Distraction and Delivered From Distraction, which are a bit dated but are good sources of explanations/context/stories that may be helpful.

  45. Jenn Jenn*

    I have nothing to add but just wanted to say I think this is a great idea. Thank you for doing this!

  46. bikes*

    I had a youngish hire for a mid-level office job whose references were excellent. One of the references, however, disclosed to me that the hire had an ADHD diagnosis. Hello? What?! Not your place, reference!

    The hire self-disclosed rather quickly and at that point I was wondering if I should rat out the over-sharing reference or not mention it (making a fuss about it might make the hire feel stigmatized). Sometimes we would chat about using organizing/goal-setting planners and online tools to stay on top of assignments but it didn’t feel much different than the chats I would have with other new hires.

    In this world of constant attention switching, many of us have problems maintaining focus and keeping track of details. I used to have great focus when I was younger but often am required to switch my attention frequently between tasks throughout the day now. The conversations about staying organized were secretly helpful for me as well.

  47. Brownie*

    Severe depression combined with anxiety and all the hormonal mood issues/swings caused by unmedicated perimenopause here. I love my checklists for tasks. Every step detailed so when I’m having a bad day I can (and do) focus solely on each line of the checklist. Looking at anything high-level during those times leaves me feeling so overwhelmed I can’t figure out how or where to start, but if it’s all laid out line by line I can do each line without curling into a mental ball of “I can’t.” A little 4×6 inch notebook is perfect for laying out the day’s tasks into manageable bits without setting off my overwhelmed anxiety too because it’s not too much at once. Some days I go through 4 or 5 sheets, but there’s never more than one active sheet at a time. And the good feelings productivity boost of “I finished this entire page of tasks! Go me!” can’t be beat for helping me feel motivated.

    My other coping technique is headphones and mood-specific playlists. If I’m really having problems concentrating there’s certain songs that’ll distract my brain enough that I can focus on work. Same with if I’m having emotional swings, firing up the emotion-based songs lets that emotion drain off while providing brain distraction, then the “I finished something” feeling starts my productivity ball rolling again.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I wouldn’t get through any day without my music, that’s for sure. I have a bunch of what I call fight songs, which are just the kinds of songs that I imagine would play during a battle in a movie or game or something, and then I am actually in a battle with my own brain/fear but you know… winning! Triumphant music!

      It feels like such a silly coping strategy but it’s weirdly effective for days where I’m just in a really bad place and need to keep it together for a few more hours.

  48. Jules the 3rd*

    Hunh – reading all these, I want to add: If you can, take a Project Management class.

    Most of the tools and tips here are project management ones; it was THE most useful class I ever took. Hands down, I use that stuff every day. Not only did I get the tips, I had to practice them and figure out which ones worked for me.

  49. Ghost of a Ghost*

    This might really depend on location, but how does one go about getting diagnosed as an adult (28)?

    I’ve long suspected I have an ASD (along with depression and anxiety), but I haven’t had much luck with reaching out to the places that make the most sense to me. My general practitioner wouldn’t discuss the potential for an ASD until I treated my depressions and anxiety with religion (stopped going there for a lot of reasons). I called a couple of mental health facilities in town, but they didn’t do diagnoses or ASD and they couldn’t tell me where to go. Then when I found a pediatric ASD diagnostic facility, they of course don’t diagnose adults, but they also couldn’t tell me who could.

    I live in the second largest city in my state, but I don’t know where to get help!

    1. caryatis*

      A therapist might be a better resource than a hospital for this. Psychology Today has a therapist search function, and you can look on the person’s webpage to see if they have ASD expertise.

      1. Ghost of a Ghost*

        Thank you! I’d been putting off finding a therapist until I had a diagnosis to work on. I didn’t even think that maybe a therapist might be the one to make a referral in the first place.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Look for a not-awful GP? If you live in a huge city, there’s gotta be a few. Or do you have a local or state help line? We have the Distress Center, and also our health care system has a website for helping you locate assistance. Or maybe your employer has an EAP that might help?

      I’m sorry I don’t really understand the US system so that may not be helpful.

      1. Ghost of a Ghost*

        I appreciate your response. Unfortunately, I hardly have enough energy for work, let alone to try to find someone that’s not affiliated with the religious medical group that runs this city. I don’t qualify for the crisis line, and work’s answer is “just be normal.” They’re a smal company, so I’m lucky to even get health insurance, and getting time off just isn’t going to happen. Hubs and I have an exit plan, but we can’t implement it until some legal proceedings are wrapped up which could take years.

    3. Anon because of stigma*

      You might also try autism charities? They’re not all perfect – there’s some EXTREMELY IMPERFECT stuff going on in some places – but they could have some practical information.

      Also, your GP sucks a lot, and I wouldn’t ask them for help with an ingrown toenail, never mind a psychological wellbeing issue. I might even consider making a formal complaint, if that felt like something you could comfortably do rather than one extra straw on your back.

      Good luck!

      1. Ghost of a Ghost*

        Thank you, the charity is an excellent idea! They should at least be able to tell me where to start. It just takes so much energy to find anyone trustworthy in the medical field, especially when the whole town is run by the same religious organization. The last straw was when they refused me contraceptives because they decided it was time for me to breed. And it was a woman who told me this! “It’s policy” my lily white behind.

        1. Anon because of stigma*

          Good grief. I think there are definite reasons to consider relocation at some point!

          I hope this doesn’t happen to you, but super-religious people can be … funny, let’s say, about things like ASD. Enjoying telling people ‘God never sends you things you can’t handle,’ for example – usually said while not helping you. And if I have to read one more person online saying ‘God sends special children to special parents’, I will not be held responsible.

          Religious people are prone to the just world fallacy, let’s say, and neurodivergences can be a reeeeeeeally uncomfortable topic for people who hold that fallacy, because they’re definitive proof that babies who’ve done absolutely nothing wrong can be born behind the starting line – and a strong hint that maybe we should be doing more to make the world juster than it currently is. So there’s a bunch of religious platitudes and attitudes to defend them against accepting the realities of autism and the like, and some religious people (and some non-religious people) can be a real pain in the you-know-where about it.

          So … brace yourself, I’d say, and be selective about how you disclose.

          Also, even a sensible self-diagnosis that leads to a better understanding of your own needs can be helpful, so don’t despair if it’s hard to get an official diagnosis. You don’t have to wait for one before starting to adjust your life.

          You might also check out Wrong Planet? It’s one of the biggest sites for neurodivergent people, if not the biggest, and if you post in the forums there you might get some good advice. And if I have this right, they don’t insist on you having an official diagnosis; if you’ve self-diagnosed based on a decent understanding of the condition, that’s considered enough. So that’s another resource you could try.

          1. Jessen*

            Those of us who are religious and have various mental health issues frequently come up with religious ways of saying “eff you” in response. I usually instruct people to take it up with God and stop bothering me.

            1. Lilysparrow*


              I get a lot of traction out of “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

              1. Jessen*

                I usually go for something like “well I’ve prayed about it and that’s between me and God.” Which is pretty much religious code for “none of your business.”

            2. Ghost of a Ghost*

              You know, I never thought about it going both ways. I’ve always gotten the feeling in those kinds of conversations that even if God made me this way deliberately, it was my responsibility to change myself to be normal. Maybe I should try looking at it that I’m supposed to be this way. It would be nice to feel like I have the right to exist.

          2. Ghost of a Ghost*

            We have relocation plans that should take care of most of the things I have issues with. Unfortunately, it could be years until we can implement them due to some pending litigations. Yay. Part of why I wasn’t working very hard for a diagnosis. It won’t matter off the grid, but when we recently got the news that it could be years, I figured I should probably get some help coping. And this post was well timed.

            My mother was raised strict Southern Baptist and literally moved to Alaska to get away from her mother, so I understand how weird religion can get. I haven’t met anyone yet who could adequately explain how if God heals good Christians who pray, why haven’t any amputees gotten their limbs back? By their logic it’s impossible for an amputee to be a good Christian, which makes about as much sense as -as – I can’t even think of anything that makes as little sense.

            As much as I’d love to blame religion, it’s not the only culprit in maintaining the stygma. My husband is agnostic, yet refuses to believe in mental illness in general, making it a taboo subject at home unless I want to listen to another lecture on strength of will. (Don’t get me wrong, hubs is utterly amazing and supportive of me, we just agree not to discuss the topic.)

            As you said, self-diagnosis was helpful since I could implement my own coping strategies, unfortunately, those strategies only help so much without further support and treatment. I would like an official evaluation to help determine if I’m autistic which makes me depressed and anxious; or if I’m just depressed which gave me anxiety which presents with autistic tendencies; or if I’m just anxious which presents as ASD and depression so that I can get the right treatment. There’s just so many horror stories out there about people on the wrong drugs, or given unnecessary treatments.

            I’ll check out Wrong Planet, since I didn’t find The Mighty to be all that helpful. I should rephrase: The Mighty is great at putting amorphous things into words, like how stimming helps, or what a panic attack feels like, or how to talk to a neurotypical spouse. But it didn’t seem to exist to get people professional help.

            1. Anon because of stigma*

              Does it help to point out that autism isn’t a mental illness? It’s technically a developmental disability, or, if you prefer, different wiring.

              With depression and anxiety – I don’t know you, obviously, but a common scenario is that autism brings heightened anxiety; that kind of goes with the territory. (For instance: I come from a neurodivergent family; we’re not all diagnosable with anything, but we’re ALL strung tight as violins. High anxiety is a divergent thing.)

              Then depression … the chances of that go way up with stress. Being anxious is stressful; trying to get by in a world that doesn’t accommodate your neurotype is super, super stressful. So autism can make you more vulnerable to it, especially undiagnosed, unsupported autism.

              Like I say, I don’t really know, but that’s a pattern I’ve seen before.

              Also: sometimes what looks like an attack of depression can be a meltdown. Useful to bear that in mind, because the two need different coping and support measures. This doesn’t mean you aren’t depressed, but it does mean that meltdowns can camoflage themselves in the midst of depressive symptoms, so keeping notes on what kicks something off, how you react and what, if anything, helps you out of it, can be a way of adding to your wellbeing skills by helping you distinguish.

              1. irene*

                this is a really good comment about the differences!

                when i was 18 or 19, i read a thing about anxiety/depression in children, and i said “wow, this sounds like i’ve been struggling with mental illness since i was like 5!” – but a little while later, someone else said offhand “X things you might have Asperger’s Syndrome, what a laugh!” and i had never considered it before, didn’t even know what it was. Turns out, the behaviors i thought indicated depression in a little kid could also have been ASD behaviors.

                over the last 15 years i’ve become more mindful about what triggers a bad time for me, and i can generally ID if anxiety is high because of sensory overwhelm or ASD problems, or if it’s anxiety for its own sake. and once you get one, you usually get the other. it turns out that what we though was depression probably was mostly a result of constant anxiety and stress.

                this midnfulness has been really helpful at work, because when i start having a bad time, i have different strategies to help according to what is the central problem. anxiety means going for a walk around the parking lot, sensory means making an adjustment to my environment, and general executive function overwhelm means reviewing my to do list and possibly a quick 1-1 check in with my manager that i’m prioritizing correctly. (since so often i get stuck doing low-priority tasks because they have clear goals and steps!)

        2. My Cabbages!!*

          There is not a big enough


          for me to signal the horror re: the contraceptive line.

          1. Ghost of a Ghost*

            Oh yeah, I can understand how something didn’t get passed along to the lab department. and I can even understand how they accidentally prescribed two medications that could have killed my husband. But I draw the line at being told that just because I’m married, I need to start popping out kids. Especially since both husband and I saw the same GP and she knew very well that we are intentionally not procreating for very good reasons.

  50. RoseGrey*

    This is timely for me, I am autistic but don’t find that hinders me much as I’ve been dealing with that for years. However, recently I was diagnosed with ADHD and dyspraxia and I have spent the past few weeks on training courses at work really feeling the ADHD get to me and I have no coping strategy and miss a lot of information because I can’t focus. My new job is also very technical and fiddly and the dyspraxia is so visible to me now and I am already being renowned for dropping everything and being overly clumsy. Any suggestions for how to help with either? I’m finding it much harder being diagnosed as an adult because it doesn’t seem to be expected like it was for children. Like I have to sit occasional exams for work and extra time to process is not a thing (or I’m too scared to ask)…

    1. Beaded Librarian*

      Ooh dyspraxia do you have a spelling variant? I’ve learned that being upfront that you have spelling issues is important and also spell check is essential. If spell check isn’t an option learning your most common spelling errors and trying to watch out for them also helps.

      1. RoseGrey*

        Fortunately emails have spellcheck, especially as I work in multiple languages. I’m very used to checking everything spelling and grammar (or just hoping it is excused as I am a foreigner :) ). No one but me will ever have to read the mess of my personal handwritten notes.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      LOL – my mom once introduced me as ‘Grace’, greatly confusing the woman who’d just watched me stumble over the door sill (1/2″ or less). But mom also made sure I got both professional support and various physical skill classes (6 yrs ballet, for example).

      ADHD – as everyone here’s been saying, get it in writing.
      – Ask for goals / directions to be in an email or other doc
      – Write notes from the training
      – As you have questions, write them down in a tickler file and take that with you to meetings. I love the system ‘EA with anxiety/adhd’ describes above.
      – Tell your trainers, boss and coworkers you need input in writing. You shouldn’t have to disclose ADHD to do that, it’s a reasonable request. After years of giving my employer feedback that I don’t like video training, can they please provide a transcript, the last two years have had a ‘transcript only’ option for most training sessions. (large tech company, I am certainly not the only person requesting it)

      Dyspraxia: Gross motor control / Physical training classes (ballroom dance; martial arts; yoga; aerobics; zumba) can help you feel your full body better. After *several years* of dance training, I’m still clumsy most of the time, but at least now I know how to concentrate if I need to feel my body and how it moves through space that includes other objects without knocking them over.

      On the handling smaller objects:
      * Get lots of sleep and eat regularly – I’m way worse when tired or hungry.
      * Hand exercises and stretches – to make my hand muscles less tired
      * Consider fine motor classes (calligraphy, drawing, maybe sculpting?) – your normal doctor (general practitioner) could probably recommend some.
      * Switch to more comfortable / less breakable supplies.
      – I only drink from plastic tumblers (dishwashable / reusable) or metal drink bottles
      – Thicker pens / pencils, OtterBox phone case.
      – If I need more ‘purse’ than my pockets, I have a mini-backpack and I use both shoulder straps.
      * Consciously make an effort to find a reliable grip for things that you commonly drop.
      – I dropped papers if I tried to use a side-hand to receive them, or top hand to pick them up, so I have trained myself to put my hand out palm up and let them set it in my hand. That gives me lots of time to set my thumb or other hand on it to secure it.
      – Another example might be using 5 fingers to pick up a pencil instead of 2 or 3
      – This can be mentally exhausting, but repeated training / making it a habit really helps ease that.

      Good luck, and I feel ya.

      1. Jessen*

        When I switched to an office job (from a call center with scheduled breaks), I literally had to set break alarms for myself. Otherwise I’ll flat-out forget to eat and then feel miserable.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        Also: I gave up on cursive writing a long long time ago. Block printing ftw. And people can *read* my writing, unlike my dad’s.

        God I hate cursive.

        1. Kivrin*

          This is interesting, because my autistic/dysgraphic son does much better with cursive than with block printing. Not having to pick up his pencil as often turns out to be a ton easier. I guess the moral is to try it both ways.

      3. RoseGrey*

        I feel like I go from bored to “Information Overload: Can’t Focus” very fast and I’m not sure how to stop the cloudy feeling when my brain just says “Stop! Enough!”. My dispraxia was first diagnosed when I stopped being able to read due to my brain filtering out info overload and blurring all the words.

        I’m going to try and see if I can get some small excersises to help with motor control because I think today alone, I have already dropped 10+ fragile components/tiny screws/containers of water. Holding glass requires me to just think about it and it will be in pieces on the floor.

  51. Beaded Librarian*

    This is really interesting to me. I have ADD and have recently added so tricks that seem to be helping and having issues with something that one comes up for about 2 months out of the year.

    I recently added a white board with a to do list on one side so I can tell if I didn’t finish a task yet as my job does require semi frequent task switching at set times and I was slipping on coming back to things lately as well as a list of things that I need to check on on a more infrequent basis so they are taken care of and things like breathe if it’s getting crazy on the other side.

    The infrequent issue I’m running into again and haven’t been able to address well is we do third grade tours of the library every year and I show them how to use the catalog. Not infrequently some of the kids decide to scroll up and down on the screens while I’m explaining things which I find visually distracting and it makes it hard for me to keep my place in the session. It also makes it more difficult for them to follow the instructions but that a bit different of an issue.

    If anyone has a suggestion on how to handle this I’d love it as telling them to stop because it’s distracting doesn’t work and in some cases I think it makes it worse. Neither does telling them it makes me dizzy.

    1. Batgirl*

      -Dont let them touch it until you’re done explaining.
      – Show them a frozen screen or screen shot or print out.

      Kids fiddle. ESPECIALLY with the thing they’re learning about. It’s very difficult for them not to unless you make it impossible. Thank you school board for the classroom full of swivel chairs. It was like a carousel ride.

      1. Beaded Librarian*

        That you for the suggestions. I’m not sure I can make the print out part work but I think explicitly telling them to not touch the mouse or keyboard until I ask them to might help. Thank you again.

        Basically I have about 20 minutes. To explain how things work and walk them through 2-3 types of searches while explaining how to locate the books we find on the shelf. We use our public computers which are not set up in a classroom type setting which doesn’t help matters.

  52. caryatis*

    Our culture’s framework for discussing these things is a bit wrong. It’s not people with an “””illness””” versus “normal” people–it’s simply that people are diverse, and we all have different ways of functioning that we have to figure out for ourselves. It doesn’t really matter whether someone has been formally diagnosed; they might have some autistic traits, or obsessive traits, or whatever it may be, that do not interfere with their life enough to meet the (quite unscientific, BTW) diagnostic criteria used by psychiatrists.

    So, my advice would be not to pathologize your own personality. It’s not useful to tell coworkers (or yourself) that you have a “””disease””” when you could just accept how you work; know what you can tolerate and what you can’t; and succeed in your own way.

    1. Frinkfrink*

      You need it when the ways you need to work and what you can’t tolerate are at odds with the workplace. For example, when I was stuck in a shared office with a set of cubes and couldn’t focus because of noise and visitors: I could ask people not to drop by my cube unannounced and interrupt me, but I couldn’t ask them not to drop by my coworkers in the office. I was junior enough that I wouldn’t rate an office of my own without more years at the place, but getting an ADHD diagnosis and treatment plan and bringing that to HR got me authorized to have an office where I could shut the door and not be interrupted. And then, although I didn’t *have* to disclose medical info, explaining to my coworkers why I got an office before they did kept them from being resentful about it.

    2. ADHsquirrelWhat?*

      I hear this a lot.

      I disagree.

      Getting my diagnosis was lifechanging for me – because it gave me an answer AND a place to start finding MORE answers. I search for organization information /for ADHD/ I get an entirely different set of things than searching for “normal” organizational help. Knowing that I have ADHD even explains why some medications work differently on me!

      We should accept our differences – that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t label them. Labels give us power – the power of COMMUNICATION. With a label I can find people who have similar experiences and trade thoughts and understandings that I can’t do without that label. Labels give us a place to start that isn’t all the way back at square one every time.

      Labels are NOT the enemy. They are only an enemy when they are used by people that refuse to accept anyone that is not “normal” – and any divergence from normal is the enemy there anyway. Normal is something I am not – and while I can pass, it is actively painful for me to do for any length of time.

      I can accept how I function – or I can try to function BETTER. I can accept, or I can get help and learn how to use my strengths and buttress my weaknesses.

      My labels are my tools, and I am a tool-wielding animal. Better living through diagnosis, through chemistry, through understanding and through communication. Don’t pathologize the label.

    3. only acting normal*

      I was happy enough with my tentative self-diagnosis until I needed an official one to get a workplace accommodation.

      Once I live in Utopia, where my co-workers all “accept how I work” as readily as I accept myself… until then, nope, sorry.

  53. Competent Commenter*

    Very excited about this thread too! This is going to be a bit chaotic because I’m on a deadline, but I just HAD to post! I have adult-diagnosed ADHD, combined type. I struggle.

    Managing details: EverNote, an online project management tool, has been a godsend. I manage a large spectrum of projects from very big picture planning down to making sure everything is spelled right. Can’t go an hour without running into a web page that needs editing, or a photo shoot that needs scheduling, etc. And my brain was constantly thinking about aspects of large jobs that I needed to make a note of, things I’d forgotten, things I might forget…a constant swirling of details. I was drowning in it. With EverNote, I have different electronic notes I can add to, organized in electronic notebooks. So every time something comes up that I can’t/shouldn’t interrupt myself for, can’t forget, etc., it goes there. My employee can see it as well although I’m the main person who adds to it. It’s calmed my brain a lot. Not only does it help me organize projects and find information, but it lets my brain let go of things, secure in the knowledge that the information is retrievable. A real relief.

    On note-taking in meetings: I found it very helpful when I started my current job, but then I was overwhelmed by all the paper notes. I try now to scan my notes with my phone app immediately after a meeting and upload them to my computer. Maybe I never need to look at them again, but I know they’re there and do sometimes refer to them. In the meantime I’m not wondering if I should type them up, where to store them on my desk, etc. I also try to bring my laptop more often to meetings (not always appropriate) and take notes that way.

    I relentlessly email myself: I don’t put to-do items in my meeting notes—I email to-dos to myself on my phone immediately, or bring my to-do list with me and add them. I also email myself if I run into someone in the hall and have to follow-up with them. I also set a million phone alarms for myself. I never expect that my memory alone will be enough.

    Working memory/visual confusion issues/self-confidence: I’ve been embarrassed about my working memory and visual issues, but the coping methods I’ve developed have won a lot of praise from coworkers/supervisors/the public, so I’m starting to feel like I rock this because everyone has some trouble but I’m the one that goes the extra mile to problem solve. At a training session where we had to answer questions and assign ourselves to categories, I couldn’t remember which of five color categories my numerical score put me in. They were in different places on the piece of paper and I could not remember that 5=red for more than 10 seconds. Those moments are so frustrating. So I made a quick cheat sheet on the paper, felt like an idiot…and no one else could remember what their number correlated to and counted on me to tell them. That was a confidence boost. Similarly, we had to photograph about 20 people from a list at an event. I already knew that I would not be able to hold the pairing of name and person and small group they were being photographed with long enough to tell the photographer “here’s Jane Smith from our list to be photographed with John Jackson.” So this year, since we had or could find online photos of everyone, I put photos of their faces into a table with their names and brought the printout. People thought I was a fricking genius.

    Self-esteem: Your self-esteem can really take a hit when you have ADHD in a non-ADHD world. I recently downloaded the Reddit app and joined the /adhd community. Holy cow is it reassuring, normalizing, confidence-boosting, and more to hear other people talk about their identical struggles. It has been transformational for me in defining what ADHD means in my life. I’m holding my head higher. I feel more like a normal person in a world not made for me, and not so much like I’m failing at life.

  54. IDontHaveANameHereYet*

    I’m autistic, ADHD, epileptic, and have super subtle TBI effects.

    …my boss knows i am epileptic. That’s it. Because i work with kids with disabilities so EVERYONE thinks they’re an autism expert and I cant deal with the fight that would ensue.

    (Please note, my students are all “oh you’re like me” and I’m like *shrug* “yes”)

    I’ve found that letting people assume the things I need (written directions! To be left entirely alone on breaks! A specific consistent schedule with very few state earlier than a specific time!) are an epilepsy thing makes my life easier.

    I’ve also used a soft disclose in the past. People who panic when you say autism dont when you say hyperlexia or nonverbal learning disability or semantic pragmatic language disorder. Bc everyone is Aware of (afraid of) autism but no one knows anything.

    (Being very, very good at things no one else enjoys doing has probably helped too but obviously not everyone gets to do jobs with components like that)

    1. Anonymous Aspie*

      I bet the kids love you though. You’ll be only one that “gets” them.

      I found it really funny (in a sort of quiet giggling way), when I got my diagnosis and found out what autism really meant I started to be able to “spot” people on the spectrum. It’s sort of satisfying, like you know this special secret and no one else does. Your students will love that too :) It might be the first time they’ve realised they have a special insight, when everyone is telling them about what they can’t see and read from NTs. The first autistic people I made friends with really made me feel that I’m not “wrong” or “broken”, it’s not even that I can’t read body language – it’s just that autistic people have different body language and we can read each other just fine.

      I’m sorry things are hard for you at work, though. I’ve found it impossible to get by without disclosing, as I get so anxious about having to hide “myself” all the time. Sometimes it’s gone badly, but other times it has paid off and I’ve been happier for it.

      1. IDontHaveANameHereYet*

        The kids ADORE me and it’s mutual. And I love seeing them realize that there are adults like them & who make sense to them.

        I’d love to be able to disclose (and if they googled me theyd find out anyway but I’m not just handing them the info). But if one good thing to come out of epilepsy it’s “something no one is going to argue with me about”. I cannot deal with “you dont look autistic”. Yes, yes I do.

        Anxiety and masking are the worst. I’m glad disclosing has worked out for you at least some of the time. I hope kids I work with get to feel safe disclosing.

  55. anony-Nora*

    Diagnosed with ASD as an adult, here. No really helpful advice, just the observation that goodness, some jobs and organizations are a way better fit for me than others.

    My old tasks were great: work was done or it wasn’t, it was correct or it wasn’t, everything just black and white. Now management is changing processes without thinking about the ripple effects and my work is a pile of ambiguity; I might have to look five or six places (and not always the same places!) to get the information I need to do a task instead of just one or two like before, and my attempts to get clarification from my boss are just met with a shrug. It’s jacked up my stress and anxiety, and I’m seriously looking for a new job because this one shows no signs of improving. I’m not comfortable disclosing here, because my bosses are terrible people and would use it against me. At a more professional company though, I might.

    1. Weegie*

      Hope you do find a more congenial job – that was my strategy once my former place of work reorganised and went into meltdown.

      I seem to have gravitated towards a certain type of work and workplace for all of my employed life, and anything outside of my norms just makes me seriously unhappy.

      You’re right – we know instinctively what works for us, I think.

  56. Volunteer Enforcer*

    I have SPD, which is like a less well known version of Aspergers. I find being upfront about how the condition manifests, being yourself and asking for any accommodations you may need to be the best ports of call. If you’re in the right organisation they will accept and respect you just the way you are.

  57. Anon law student with ADHD*

    I was diagnosed with ADHD my 1L year of law school at the age of 25. It was a MASSIVE surprise, but man, everything started to make sense after my diagnosis. I am doing 100x better now than this point last year, but I still have days–and even times of the day–when I struggle. My attention sways between hyperfocus (where I literally cannot look away) and absolutely no focus (such as this morning, where I looked at this thread, read an email, oh yeah what about the thread! I need to comment! Read another email, didn’t respond, but wait! the thread!!…you get the picture). When I am more physically active, my attention is closer to what I would call average. Law school has been insanely busy this semester, so trying to find time to eat let alone run is almost laughable. And, predictably, my attention has been suffering. Being so busy as a person with ADHD creates a vicious cycle: I do not run because I do not have time because I cannot budget my time due to my ADHD, which is made worse, because I do not run. And repeat. Spring break is coming up, so I am planning on taking some time to reevaluate my priorities and (hopefully) establish a better routine since my current method is not working.

    To try and combat my poor time management, I do the following. I’m not successful every day, but it helps somewhat.

    -I keep sticky notes with me wherever I go, especially when I am in class or at work. When I think of something during class, I quickly jot it down on a note. It might not make it to my to-do list, and it might not be that important, but writing it down gets it out of my brain for the time being.
    -I carry around a small steno pad where I write down every assignment and pressing thing that I must do. I used to just rely on the sticky note method, but then I either kept losing the sticky note or would have five sticky notes.
    -I pack my laptop bag/backpack the night before. Everything has a specific place, and everything stays in that specific place. I try to pack my clothes/food the night before, but I’m not always successful here.
    -I take notes by hand in class. If I have my laptop out, I won’t get anything done. I don’t let myself stop writing, because if I try to sit and listen, I’ll start daydreaming or thinking of the other million things I need to do.
    -Conversely, I now keep my long-term to do lists on OneNote. If I think, “Oh, we need to do X for law journal,” or “I need to finish Y project for my externship,” I might write it down on a sticky note and in OneNote. It’s not efficient, but it’s been working really well for me.
    -I ask my friends not to interrupt me when I’m hyperfocused. It’s not because I’m trying to be a jerk, but snapping hyperfocus is…incredibly jarring. It’s really unpleasant.
    -This could be some predilection towards cleanliness and neatness that I inherited from my mother, but I find that if my space is cluttered or dirty, my brain cannot operate. I keep my workspaces and home clean and tidy.

    1. Anon law student with ADHD*

      Oh! Another thing I forgot! I use my outlook calendar religiously. I’ve tried paper calendars and those don’t work, even though my paper steno pad is my favorite. It’s synced between all of my devices. Appointments, meetings, classes go into my calendar IMMEDIATELY. That has helped so, so much.

    2. Batgirl*

      +1 on the interruption of focus. Super annoying.
      – I (stupidly) didn’t realise this was my ADHD but I am just the same with physical exercise and my life going smoothly. Huh.

    3. Batgirl*

      Ive had so many failed organisational overhauls that my first question is always: how easy is that? How integrated into a routine could it be?

      I’m always in danger of my hyperfocus and creativity coming up with complex systems. Simplicity is key.

  58. peachie*

    I have a lot of thoughts about this, but the biggest thing for me has been about addressing the specific current problems rather than trying to make myself into, say, A Person Who Will Never Be Late Again. I’ve noticed that people with ADHD are often really good at jumping into new systems, apps, checklists, etc. — but it often doesn’t stick. And I think that’s okay! I’ve had planners, to-do lists, timers, and all sorts of systems, and none of them have been permanent. I much prefer thinking about it as, What issue am I having NOW that I need to deal with? If I keep forgetting to do tasks that will happen way in the future — like, “check in with X group about this project 9 months from now” — maybe my solution is to put it in a planner. If I lose track of that, maybe I put it in an Outlook calendar. And if that doesn’t work (I’m super good at dismissing notifications without reading them), maybe I try to set up emails to myself that delay delivery until I actually need to do the thing. One day at a time!

    1. peachie*

      That all being said, I wrote a super long thing a bit ago about dealing with ADHD at work, so… here are WAY too many thoughts and ideas!

      * Work backwards and set your own deadlines. For ongoing or recurring projects, work backwards from the due date to set your own mini-deadlines. For example, if I have a mailing that goes out every 3 months, I will set a deadline for when I have to have the copy checked, when I have to make sure we have the materials, when I have to print, when I have to mail, etc. Once you come up with these, WRITE THEM DOWN in your preferred organizational tool.
      * If you’re given deadlines, do something about them as soon as you get them. It doesn’t matter what the something is, just make sure you get it out of your brain before you forget. (And don’t forget about other peoples’ deadlines that affect you, like “coworker is supposed to send me this report by this date”!)

      Identify the guilt and anxiety
      ADHD can cause us to feel a lot of guilt and anxiety, especially when we’re in jobs we may not be naturally suited for. It is so, so important to figure out the exact source of this guilt and figure out how to handle it. Here are some examples from my job:
      * I felt a lot of guilt about not answering emails on time and constantly having voicemail to check, so I established a “no email in the box” rule for the end of the day.
      * I frequently missed deadlines for recurring but irregular (ex, not on the same day) projects, so I set up a double reminder system to keep that from happening.
      * I felt guilty about procrastinating too much, so I made a plan to reduce the amount of procrastination.
      * I felt guilty about frequent therapy appointments, so I had a discussion with my boss and worked out something that makes everyone more comfortable.

      Establish an end-of-day standard
      How you end your day influences how you start the next one. This doesn’t need to be complicated. For me, it’s:
      * No voicemail and no email at the end of the day — I don’t always succeed, but I always strive for this. If I don’t have time to deal with all email, I still end the day with my inbox at 0 by using the delay delivery function to forward the messages to myself to handle the next day.
      * Neatness standards are not something I have strict rules about, but I don’t let myself leave without my desk being in some semblance of order. Make sure to give yourself 5-10 minutes of “tidy-up” time at the end of the day.

      Let your work help you
      Even if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your diagnosis, there are many ways your workplace can help you thrive. Here are some examples:
      * Change your hours: If you struggle with lateness and fatigue, like I do, see if you can move your hours back. Doing this made an immeasurable difference in my quality of work life. If possible, a flexible arrival window is great — I don’t need to be in at exactly the same time, so I say “9:30 is the absolute latest I’m going to show up” then always try to get to work by 8:30. It often does not work, but (a) I’m almost never later than my “late” time, and (b) showing up early doesn’t mean wasted time because my hours are somewhat flexible outside the core working hours and I can leave early.
      * Order new supplies: Many offices will let you order office supplies, so think of what would help you. For example, my work got me a whiteboard, planner, phone headset, and some desk organizers — this has nothing to do with my ADHD, as far as they know, but it does help!
      * Talk about accommodations: There are many accommodations you can make that might make your work life easier. For example, I’ve said to my boss, “I have a lot of emails to get through today — I’m putting on white noise headphones, so just let me know if you need me.” Don’t be afraid to do something differently just because you don’t want to look different — your workplace wants you to succeed and will generally accomodate your needs.
      * Be honest with your supervisor if you can: If you’re falling behind or having trouble, most supervisors would rather know that and help you fix the problem. Way too often, I pretended nothing was wrong until things were really bad. It’s okay (and often encouraged!) to keep your boss updated on how you’re doing! And this doesn’t have to mean disclosing any specifics — lots of folks have mentioned the potential thorniness of ADHD, but even just being honest about the backlog of work you have can be a huge weight off your chest.

      * Mix in fun and boring projects — if you generally make your own schedule for the day, try to work on novel/interesting projects AS WELL as the boring, routine stuff.
      * Productively procrastinate: Look, we’re all going to procrastinate. Try to make it productive. For example, I will use work breaks to deal with personal to-dos, like paying bills, dealing with finances, answering emails, etc. Even better…
      * Make a list of dream projects: Make and frequently reference a list of projects you would like to do if you have time. We ADHDers often have a lot of ideas about how to make things run better or more smoothly — write these things down! When you feel like procrastinating, look at that list — now THAT is productive procrastinating!
      * Write down your accomplishments: Preferably somewhere where you can’t lose them. This will boost your self-esteem and also be very handy when evaluation time comes around.
      * Don’t beat yourself up: We’re all going to have low-focus days. It sucks, but try not to beat yourself up. What’s important is that you keep trying.
      * Look for opportunities within the company: There are often many opportunities to take on projects outside of what your actual job description is, and if you can take advantage of these, your work will be more varied and interesting. For example, I now run a conference solo every year and am the administrator for one of our software platforms, just because I asked.
      * Make a list of your accomplishments and refer to it once in a while. Even looking at a to-do list filled with lots of x-es will make you realize that you ARE getting work done.
      * Think about what you’re good at and try to take on projects that align with your skills. Don’t forget that just because some tasks may not come easily to you, there are things that you excel at. If you can make them a part of your work, your mood will improve immensely.
      * Know that you’ll NEVER be done — and that’s a good thing. ADHD obviously has its drawbacks. It also has its positives — namely, that our minds run a million miles a second and we generate ideas like crazy. You are going to come up with a million ideas and possibilities, and you won’t achieve them all. But don’t let this be a bummer! Remind yourself of how much you are doing, and the fact that you have some perpetually unfinished items on your to-do list just means you have a lot of ideas. Take pride in that.

  59. automaticdoor*

    So, I have bipolar disorder and general anxiety. I didn’t disclose to my current boss of 6+ years until just about a year ago. (We’re too small a business for ADA protections. However, I work in a small-enough field that if he fired me over it, it would probably backfire on him, not me.)

    I only disclosed because I was applying for a federal advisory board on severe mental illness and needed a reference letter, and I was applying as a person living with SMI, not a subject-matter expert. Did not make the board, but my boss has been very supportive. His version of supportive (on everything sensitive) is Not Mentioning It, which I personally do find helpful.

    But it’s nice because I was finally able to give actual reasons for things like, why I get really unproductive in the winter (severe SAD), and why I need to shift my schedule later, like 10-6 instead of 9-5 (the meds make it extremely hard to get up in the am), and why I get very “stuck” when I’m overwhelmed with tasks (basically I go into panic anxiety mode and completely shut down, like literally).

    Ultimately, I’m glad I told, but it took a long, long time before I felt like I could tell because I wanted him to see me, not my diagnosis.

  60. Have you tried rebooting?*

    I have ADHD, and I have found a few things that really help:

    1. Interval timers – It took some tweaking to find my sweet spot, but I have learned if I set timers for 30 minutes of work and 10 minutes of free time, it keeps me both focused and not bogged into hyperfocus.
    2. The ADHD group on Reddit. Such great support and ideas.
    3. Good headphones and a white noise app.

    1. boo bot*

      Oh, yeah, timers! I will completely and utterly forget time exists without something to interrupt and loudly remind me.

  61. Nonprofit Nancy*

    Any Executive Functioning disorder folks in the house? I went round and round between this and the distraction type of ADHD. I think “more lists” and “breakdown instructions into smaller steps, preferably in writing” were common suggestions.

    1. EA with Anxiety/ADHD*

      That’s a really good summary of my paragraphs-long response above. More lists, small steps, in writing. :-) I might need to get a tattoo of that.

      1. Non Nonprofit*

        Hehe well I still need to make myself like, look at the list and do what it says, which is where I fall down on the job personally. But that may be some other brain weasel.

        1. Lilysparrow*

          Well, that’s working memory (oh yeah, there’s a list) and task initiation (actually do the thing).

          So those would be classic ADHD/ED brainweasels right there.

    2. only acting normal*

      I compensate so much for Exec Disfunction with lists and planning and structures and calendar reminders and and and, that managers’ most consistent comment to me is that I’m organised. Oh the irony.

  62. Anon because of stigma*

    Public Service Announcement:

    If you stare at a page with letters, numbers or lines on it, and they waver around … they are not supposed to do that. Look for an online test for ‘visual stress’. Colour filters can help.

    This may seem like stating the obvious, but I have a relation who reached their forties without realising that stuff on the page stays still for most people. Not surprisingly this made any kind of paperwork a nightmare for them.

    1. Emily*

      Thanks for the PSA!

      I don’t have the particular issue that you mentioned, but there have been things that I took for granted (everything from attention issues to sexuality) for a looong time before discovering that many other people did not function the same way as me At All.

      1. surprise allergy*

        Ahem, yes, that happened to me, too.

        I went 30 years thinking that kiwi fruits are supposed to leave a prickly feeling in your mouth. Turns out they don’t for other people, so I’m probably allergic to them, which sucks because I love kiwi, prickliness and all, but I can’t have them now while I’m pregnant because that would teach my little one’s immune system to also overreact to kiwi.

  63. Astrinde*

    Adult-diagnosed Autistic with social anxiety disorder here, and several things have helped me.
    As a child I loved learning and school, so when my mother asked how my day had gone, I would try to recall everything and report it accurately. This meant mentally visualizing my schedule, where I’d sat, what I’d heard and done. I would describe each class in order, and since my mother also likes learning things, she would ask for more details if I mentioned something interesting. I now realize that someone inquiring, “how was your day?” is really just asking a general question and requesting a short, polite response! but this practice trained my memory well and taught me to think in outline form, which has definitely helped me in the working world. So if you have a special interest or hobby you enjoy, then it might help you to use that knowledge as practice in mentally organizing information.
    I have also been helped by being realistic about my limits and wishes and not judging myself by neurotypical standards. I can interact in an office setting, but – though I felt terrible admitting this to myself! – I prefer to focus on my work and not chat much. Therefore, I chose a job (transcription) that allowed me to concentrate without having to attend meetings, make phone calls, or endure direct supervision; eventually I was able to do that work at home, which suited me even better. Now I attend nursing school, and I took steps to ensure that I could succeed: attending therapy to learn coping skills, requesting test accommodations, finding quiet corners of the building where I could study in silence and solitude, and most of all, not comparing myself to my classmates. (An example: it’s great that my fellow students can interact easily with patients and enjoy doing social activities together; it’s okay that I struggle with communication and avoid most such activities. We are just different, and that difference doesn’t mean I’m a bad nurse or a boring person.)

    1. Dell*

      This is really helpful for me. I’m autistic too. I started a new job in an open office with lots of meetings, political nuances, and “peopleing” as I’d like to call it.

  64. ITB*

    I know most of the readers of this blog are based in the US, but if there’s anyone based in the UK there’s a programme called ‘Access to Work’ which offers grants for support which goes over what’s covered by reasonable adjustments, such as a job aide. It’s not just for physical disabilities and might be worth looking into if you need extra support

  65. boo bot*

    I have ADHD and wasn’t diagnosed until I was almost 30, so I developed a lot of helpful and not-so-helpful coping strategies along the way. I will share the helpful ones?

    1. Pick your battles, where you can. Someone said this above, but finding work that plays to your strengths and relies minimally on your weaknesses is really the ultimate strategy. I freelance, which means that – while I do stick to a schedule – I don’t have to show up at a location every day, dressed nicely, managing not to have lost my keys, phone, or wallet along the way. I do work that I (mostly) find interesting and engaging, so my attention’s not constantly drifting to something else.

    2. Make your decisions ahead of time. I cook on weekends for the whole week, and (while I don’t necessarily recommend this) I pretty much wear the same outfit every day. The outfit thing, while a bit odd, sort of embodies the spirit of this one: as much as you can, make decisions ahead of time, so you’re not splitting your focus in the moment, trying to figure out what to eat for lunch and which shoes to wear on the way out the door to a meeting. That, friend, is how you lose your phone, keys, and wallet.

    3. Organize what’s important. My house often looks kind of messy, but I have strict organization for the important things – keys, phone, wallet, etc; those items are always either on my person (in their designated spots in my bag) or in their designated place in my house. If items are permitted to wander at will in my home, they may not return.

    4. Identify your obstacles. I make sure I’m always working on a number of things at once so that I can switch from one to another if there’s something I just can’t concentrate on. When I do switch between tasks, I get up from my desk for a minute before starting the new thing. On days when I really can’t keep my mind deeply focused, I switch between a bunch of tasks and do a little bit of work on each of them – it gives me a little progress everywhere, and it prevents the feeling of, “I haven’t even looked at this yet, it’s overwhelming!” I don’t listen to music while I work, or try to work with TV in the background, because it drives me insane, which makes me unproductive.

    5. Protect the strategy. I don’t take unscheduled calls if I don’t have to, which means I’m not switching gears on the fly. I stop working at the end of the day, because I know if I don’t, I’ll throw off the rest of the week. I don’t let people talk me into doing things on weekdays “because you have a flexible schedule.”

    I realize that this is pretty specific to my own work situation – not everyone can insist on scheduling calls 24 hours in advance (and I don’t always do this – as time goes by I’m able to relax on some of these things, but it was a lifesaver years ago). For others, this might mean, wearing headphones so no one can distract you, blocking websites you waste time on, kindly telling colleagues you can only chat at lunch, or asking your mother to call you after work.

    Anyway, hopefully some of this makes sense and is helpful to someone!

    1. Weyrwoman*

      #3 and #5 really speak to me – I’ve been doing them too! Especially #3. My mom used to comment growing up at how messy I was, and when she came to visit my place a few years ago it was “wow you’re so organised and clean!”. Well, yeah, mom. I have to be. I tell my friends that if I put my wallet or phone down, please don’t move it, because I will absolutely go completely banana crackers if it isn’t where I left it. Everything has a place and By Gods it’d better be there when I come back for it.

      1. boo bot*

        Yeah, the difference medication made in my life is basically, “I lived with a poltergeist for 30 years, and now it’s gone.”

        Leaving the house used to be, “Okay, here’s my phone, put it in my purse. Now I need my keys, where are my keys….. WHERE ARE MY KEYS?!!?… Hooray, my keys! Okay, ready to go… Here’s my purse… Hey! WHERE DID MY PHONE GO?” I swear, things moved on their own…

  66. Gennifer*

    I have major depressive disorder and ADHD, and am possibly on the autism spectrum. I’ve really only mentioned the ADHD to my supervisor when it (or rather, sorting out medications for it) was actively causing some issues at work. Thankfully she has been great about it, taking the condition into account without blaming everything on it, and working with me to accomodate organizational methods that work better for me.
    I haven’t mentioned the depression directly, but I am working on developing some sort of mental health support as part of the work health and safety committee for our career field (art conservation, an unexpected perfect storm of personalities and working conditions that make mental health a very big, and very hidden, issue)

  67. Sled dog mama*

    Recent (last 3 months) diagnoses of generalized anxiety but I’ve been struggling with the anxiety/depression/something else for a good portion of my life. The biggest light bulb moment for me was learning to ask very specifically for what I needed to be successful. Things like please repeat that so I can be certain I understand, please slow down so I can take notes, etc.
    I also had to learn not to compare myself to others only to myself. I currently have a coworker who is in the same role I am, he has a photographic memory and can rattle off word for word statues relevant to our job, I know the content but memorizing things is SO hard. I’m never going to be able to rattle off things word for word, and that doesn’t make him any better at the job than me it just means we have different strengths.

  68. W. Redding*

    I have inattentive ADHD and anxiety. One of my kids does, too. So too my parents, siblings, cousins… So I have a lot of experience thinking about it. I long ago learned to recast this “problem to be managed” into a more pragmatic framework. I had an epiphany, which is that rather than fight it, you can put your ADHD (and to some degree, anxiety) to work for you — for the better — even on the job. This is what I’d tell employer or anyone else: Don’t count on me to keep my desk tidy or stay in one spot all day or remember peripheral/unessential details or turn things in early. But if there’s a problem to be solved, I am ON IT. I can hyperfocus like nobody’s business. the quality of my work is always high, because I tend to gravitate toward doing things that most engage my curiosity, and then I will be in my “zone”. I can be very creative because my mind leaps from one good idea to another and sees six different possibilities at once (can’t shut it up sometimes). Because of my anxiety, I can be extremely empathetic as well as aware of undercurrents that crop up – honed from years of having an overly sensitive radar for whatever vibes are in the room. In one of my previous jobs, I found I was also a natural at planning and esp. crisis planning because I had no problem imagining ALL the many ways that things can go wrong (sound familiar, GADers?)! On a personal note, these are very confidence-boosting concepts to impart to your ADHD/GAD kid — believe me, I have had many such discussions with my kids. As a result, they think of ADHD /anxiety as a raw material that must be shaped, like clay, into something more refined and defined (and constructive), rather than simply “a liability”. They also see that they are not alone. We joke that we are proud to come from a LONG LINE of procrastinating, absent-minded, frustrating but also curious, offbeat, creative, deep thinkers who manage to pull off some pretty funny personal stories as a result of the way things are with us. who knows… maybe Shakespeare had some serious ADHD or manic thing going on, given how prolific he was.

    1. Weyrwoman*

      Oooh yes to making it work for you! It’s part of why I’ve loved being a tech-oriented job – multitasking by default is a huge superpower in this industry, and that attention to detail from the hyperfocus/anxiety can make you look like a superhero.

    2. I see myself in so much of what you wrote.*

      Don’t count on me to keep my desk tidy or stay in one spot all day or remember peripheral/unessential details This is me. I was even told at my first review at this job that my desk must be improved. OldJob said “Well, it’s not how I would keep my desk but you seem to know where everything is.”

      I can hyperfocus like nobody’s business. I thought this was a gift when I could ignore Old Boss while he was standing over my desk shouting instructions to someone else across the room and I’m still doing what I need to be doing.

      I found I was also a natural at planning. Me freaking too! And I love planning and all the details that come with it. In fact, I was told that I was the detail-oriented one on the team because I learned how to catch EVERYTHING. “No, these receipts need to be under the llama grooming supplies, not the llama herding supplies!”

  69. Art Frame*

    One thing I do is say to others, “I need time to process that. Can I get back to you in (finite amount of time reasonable for the task).” I have never had to tell anyone WHY, but once when pressed, I stated, “I work best when I can think over a situation.”

    This may not work in all worlds of work, but in my arena, it’s just fine.

    1. Jonathan Paul Katz*

      I have a colleague who does this! Honestly, it often makes other folks’ work easier too, since they know that you are doing something, not just forgetting it.

  70. Ray Ray Hey Hey*

    I struggle with this a lot – I have ADHD, severe anxiety and depression, which can combine into a deadly cocktail of problems at work! I have found that some coping mechanisms are very personal – what will work for one won’t work for another person. But, the things I have learned to do lots of to-do lists, which was really tough for me at first (I use Evernote so I can search and track my notes very easily). My secret to getting myself to make the lists is to make it a “game” – I try to keep up my streak of days with a to-do list! It makes it harder to miss a day because you don’t want to go back to “0 days” in your pattern.

    I’ve also trained myself to be ok with taking breaks! I have a hard time focusing on one thing for a long period of time, so things like the Pomodoro method or just taking a 5 minute (and time yourself so you don’t go over!) break when you find yourself struggling help. It lets me “reframe my brain” so I can come back to the task at hand fresh!

  71. Weegie*

    Thanks for this, OP!

    For ASD, I found Laura James’ book ‘Odd Girl Out’ beyond useful – it rang so many bells, and I found some of her strategies for surviving the workplace/life mirrored some of mine, which was affirming.

    I have been meaning to get to Steve Silberman’s ‘Neurotribes’ for some time: I heard him speak at length about his research on the radio, and his perspective is both illuminating and validating.

    1. Anon because of stigma*

      Jennifer Cook O’Toole is good too – she mostly writes for younger readers, but in an engaging and helpful way that adults may also find useful.

  72. Weyrwoman*

    ADHD since childhood here. Specifically, I’m extremely vulnerable to the hyperfocus, less so to the easily distracted/hyperactivity. It’s caused a lot of problems for me, particularly since I stopped my medications about a decade ago. On the positive side, not having meds for a decade means I have a lot of coping mechanisms! So.

    For the hyperfocus – I’ve sort of learned to sense when I’m more at risk for this, and so if I find myself multitasking (and all tasks must be done), I’ll set a timer or remind myself to check the clock regularly. That way if I’ve been at something for an hour, and I see that, I can be shocked “Oh my gods an hour already?” and divert myself by either switching to another monitor/desktop, or by taking a bathroom break. I’ve found the doorway-induced-forgetfulness to be a useful tool in this.

    For the distractibility – I allow myself to be distracted. But only for five or ten minutes (think Pomodoro method, or even the UnF*ck Your Habitat time frames), and then I make myself go back to what I was supposed to be doing. At times this doesn’t work at all, but if you have the freedom to do so, allow yourself to be distracted. Class it as a “slow day”, and resolve to be more mindful of the time you spend on things the next day.

    I’m also prone to ADHD-interruptus. That is, I interrupt people a lot, in the middle of conversations which don’t concern me, often because a single word or phrase caught my attention and I feel the impulse to chime in. I’ve been trying to train myself to hear those triggers and then tell myself “you weren’t invited, don’t crash the party” or similar. … To be honest, it hasn’t been working all that well.

    In the interests of disclosure: I’m lucky enough to work a job that as long as the work gets done, and doesn’t take an unreasonable amount of time, my manager doesn’t care what else may be going on. It’s also a software dev-type position, so I can multitask with a full complement of work-related things and use AAM or fanfic as my allowable distraction while still getting things done.

    1. Weyrwoman*

      Oh! Also. Instructions in writing. Always and forever. Even when I haven’t disclosed my ADHD to an employer, I find it useful to phrase things as “sometimes things get lost in middle of doing stuff, so I’d really appreciate having a written reminder of what’s expected”.

  73. Lauren*

    It depends on how ADHD affects you individually, but for me, the most important thing is finding a job environment that has flexible hours and/or a remote work aspect in some capacity. I worked in a desk job for two years with incredibly strict hours (think like a Victorian factory) and it took a huge toll on me mentally. I also think it could help to consider a career where you move around a lot, like as a doctor or a teacher. I’m not suited for either of those jobs, so I look for office jobs with a flexible schedule and/or remote work opportunities.

  74. Nonnynonny*

    I have anxiety (generalized and social, both diagnosed) & mild depression.

    I do not have ADD or OCD diagnosis, but both are diagnosed in multiple immediate family members (as is the anxiety) and I see tendencies in my own life as well. I had some full blown obsessions when I was a teenager that subsided by the time I left college.

    I think, like most people, I compensate with whatever is available to me, and don’t always realize I’m doing it, because it’s what seems “normal” to me. But when I examine how I work and talk with colleagues who have some other diagnoses and how they compensate, I can identify some of how I get my work done.

    I have a focus problem that hides pretty well. I think the anxiety tinged with obsessive tendencies helps me compensate when I lose focus. I can work in bursts of immersed focus as long as something seems new, shiny, somehow. I work project-based work and that helps. The generalized anxiety drives me to hoard information and detail, to write everything down, and to keep checklists that I can tick off to reassure myself I am being productive.

    The social anxiety is a bit trickier because I work in a pretty collaborative job. I can spin and spin on small interactions and really stress about how others see me, stay up all night trying to fix an interaction in my head, particularly when I’m working with difficult people. For this, I really just kind of “fake it” a lot. I try to lead with empathy and be genuine, and try not to think too hard or stay in my head during a conversation, just by kind of telling myself “this is a normal conversation and you’re not making any mistakes, and if you are, it’s probably just fine.” Some of this has just come with time and a bit of acceptance that people are messy, interactions are imperfect, and no one is likely to explode or die if you say something awkward or phrase something the wrong way.

    I also have pushed myself to be as transparent as I can be with my managers when something is causing me anxiety. If it’s a relationship with a difficult coworker, I’m a bit more careful about how I phrase it, but I have found that simply going in and saying “in this meeting/project I felt this way recently, do you see it this way, do you suggest I do anything differently?” has been a very powerful conversation for me in terms of reality-checking, resetting my bar for “normal, pleasant interaction”, etc. To be honest, sometimes this means I choke up a bit in my manager’s office. I also acknowledge that, tell them that I’m just a crier and I’m not especially upset, I apologize, it just happens, and that helps me get under control a bit more quickly. It’s something that still embarrasses me but it’s just what I do and trying to neutralize it a bit when it happens has actually helped me get better at sensing I’m about to cry and stopping it before it happens–something that used to be impossible for me.

    Really, though–I strongly believe there is no “normal”, and that we all have neurological weaknesses that we shore up with other strengths–I think there are a lot of people walking around who could be diagnosed with this or that, but they learned so early to compensate that they don’t appear to be someone with a particular kind of struggle.

    1. Nonnynonny*

      Oh, and for the focus, insisting that my calendar not be filled with back to back meetings, and time with either the office door shut or working at home to get some quiet work done.

  75. Anon for this one*

    I am mid-career and was just diagnosed with ADHD last year. Most of my life, I thought I was just lacking in character, focus etc. I developed a number of coping mechanisms (making lists, stopping several times a day to think through what I am forgetting, making someone else read over important documents/emails before sending, proofing by reading backwards and forwards, and picking a position where my ability to juggle 25 simultaneous responsibilities is valued above my (lacking) ability to fine proof. Oh, and a lot of guilt and anxieties about when I messed up – I maintain I don’t make the same mistake twice, mainly because I am my own harshest critic (though I am amazed at my ability to find new mistakes to make!)

    Last year, my job got a lot bigger (director level, with my team down by half), and my coping mechanisms weren’t working. After my daughter -practically my mind twin- was diagnosed, I realized why everything has been so difficult. I got on medication, which isn’t a magic cure, but does help.

  76. Justin*

    Myself, especially because I never got officially diagnosed as a child (I know what’s up (ADHD as a child, isolation from feeling/being treated as different, then anxiety/depression because of said isolation) because it’s quite obvious but my parents never wanted me classified as such, and I did very well in school anyway, or maybe because of it), if it comes up, I might, at the most, admit I am “not neurotypical.” But I’ve usually done it by way of an apology (NOT an excuse). However, I have only done this with those I trust and am not asking for an accomodation.

    Everyone’s different, but to me, explicit lists and functions help me a lot. And… patience? I am not patient. Not at all. So I build in pauses before blurting/barging into things/places, even if not necessary, and it has helped me not come off like I’m as erratic as I sometimes feel.

    The Power of Habit is a book that helped me a lot, since you asked for books. There’s a sequel book as well but start with that one. It’s not written for the atypical but it has concrete instructions.

    1. Justin*

      A manageable list that is. I also have terrible handwriting, so it’s hard for me to be engaged in speaking and also able to take notes that make any sort of sense that I can read later. I can type my notes at school but at work I’m mostly scribbling so I look like I’m paying attention and then I write down typed notes as soon as the meeting is over.

  77. Scrumtrillescent*

    I have questions…or maybe a request for perspectives?

    My oldest child (17) is on the spectrum. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s before it was removed from the DSM V. He qualified for Early Childhood Intervention, but when it was time to transfer the management of his care to the school district, he stopped getting services. (Legally, the school only has to consider the opinion of the district-employed diagnostician. She said he didn’t have autism. We exhausted every possible avenue of appeal…the last hearing we had we had 13 separate diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder from highly regarded local institutions and professionals to underscore the ridiculousness of the district diagnostician still insisting that he didn’t have autism. We were featured in two local papers twice. And they STILL refused to acknowledge he had autism until maybe two years ago? His freshman year in high school?)

    All that to say that he’s pretty high functioning, but there are still some gaps. I stayed home with him most of the first 7 years of his life and tried to fill in for what the school district would have provided.

    He has had two jobs so far in his life. He really wants to work, he wants to have his own money, and he wants to move out of my house after he graduates high school next year. The first job was at a pizza place in a mall. He struggled with the customer-facing roles. When he was told to give out coupons and samples, he tried to make it seem like he was doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing…I guess to increase the perceived value of the coupons and samples. It just weirded people out though, including his boss. My son said that when he would work the register, his boss would complain that he was taking too long. But when they let him cook or clean, he was fine. He even got his food handler’s permit on his own. (It wasn’t a requirement.)

    He bought his own cell phone plan with his income. (He had been on my plan with his data restricted.) When he did that, he chose not to port his previous phone number over and got a new one instead. He did not tell the pizza place that his phone number had changed. One weekend, they made a last-minute adjustment to his schedule and called his old number and left a voicemail. He didn’t receive the message and, therefore, didn’t show up for his shift. They didn’t fire him, they told him that they were going to make him an “on call” employee. They never contacted him again.

    Once I realized what had happened, I encouraged him to tell his boss about his diagnosis so that they could adjust their expectations of him. I thought that if the boss knew what had happened and why that they may let him continue working there. My son adamantly refused. He does not like the fact that he is on the spectrum. He won’t tell ANYBODY about it, even though not telling them negatively impacts him.

    I am at the point where I am assessing whether or not I should try to obtain guardianship of him since he turns 18 next year. I have scaled my involvement way back to see how he does on his own. I didn’t force him to contact his former employer. I don’t force him to disclose his diagnosis to anyone. He sets up his own dr’s appointments and transportation to them. He and his doctor discuss his medications and I let them make their own decisions. (If it was anything dangerous or questionable, I’d step in. So far, so good.)

    He has gotten in trouble at school a few times, mostly for “jokes.” He has a very dark sense of humor. School is not an appropriate venue for the jokes he made. I told him that after the first incident. I told him that the context of his diagnosis would be useful to the school when deciding their response but that I would not force him to disclose his diagnosis unless he kept getting in this type of trouble. He got in similar trouble again, I disclosed his diagnosis, and now he has a 504. (After how hard I fought to get him services through the school district and lost, I didn’t think there was any chance of them ever providing services to him. So they didn’t know.)

    His dad and I have been divorced for about ten years. His dad doesn’t handle responsibility well and has lived at home with his parents since our divorce. He works a couple menial jobs with no hope of advancement. He got a job for our son where he works on weekends. He holds up a sign outside of new housing developments to encourage people to look at the model home. It actually pays really well ($17/hr.), but they work outside in all types of weather, they have a cap of 10 hours a week, and none of the skills our son might be gaining from this job are transferable to any other type of work. He needs to gain marketable skills and to become accustomed to communicating with customers, peers and supervisors.

    He has applied for every job within a ten mile radius of our home. He got interviews at three or four of them, but they turned him down. He doesn’t share much about the content of his interviews. I drove him to one, though, and got a little insight. As he was showering and getting ready for the interview, he got some shampoo in his eye. He really fixated on it, asking me what to do about it, saying that it still hurt after attempting to rinse it with water, asking me how long his eye was going to be like that.

    When he got out of the interview, I asked him how it went. He said he didn’t think it went very well. I asked how come and he said that he couldn’t focus because of his eye hurting from the shampoo. He told me that he told his interviewer, when asked how he was, “Not great. I got some shampoo in my eye earlier and rinsing it out with water didn’t help.” He also said that they asked him to write down his phone number on a piece of paper and that when he did, he accidentally wrote down my phone number. He then asked for the paper back and profusely apologized and blamed it on the shampoo in his eye.

    I told him that “How are you?” in the context of most interactions is just something people say, expecting “Fine, thank you, how are you?” in response. He said that he had to say something about it because he felt it would be obvious something was wrong. I told him that accidentally writing down my number isn’t a very big deal…and that he could’ve just left it and I would’ve let him take the call on my phone. He said that they needed to know he was accurate, since he would be responsible for accurately taking people’s orders and preparing their food. (It was a fast food restaurant.)

    So, I guess, I’m at the point where I just don’t know what to do. I know he wants to work. I know he is discouraged from the rejection he has received. I know that the weekend sign spinning job is not enough to support him. (I’ve told him this. He is dismissive of this information. He says he will live in his car if he has to. He doesn’t have a car and can’t afford to buy one. He didn’t finish driver’s ed because driving made him anxious.) He, of course, won’t take any job interview advice from me. His dad drives a car that is literally falling apart and the neighborhoods they stand in front of are in towns over an hour from where we live. So, once his dad can’t go (or doesn’t want to go) anymore, my son will lose his job. He isn’t motivated to apply and interview anymore because he technically has a job. I told him that having a job that he can get to independently is probably more valuable than the higher salary he gets working the sign spinning job. But, I’m his mom. He dismisses everything I say out of hand. I don’t know if all of this is a sign that I should attempt to get guardianship (because how will he support himself???) or if he’s just got to learn via trial and error. My biggest fear is that he will leave my house to live with his dad in his dad’s parents’ house and live there forever, just like his dad.

    I know this is long and parts of parts of it were not work related, I hope that’s OK. Thank you. I am open to any advice, perspective, opinions, etc.

    1. BRR*

      I’m so sorry for everything you and your son have had to go through. I’m really hesitant to say this because I’m not familiar enough with your situation, but I don’t think you should pursue guardianship. From your post, it sounds like trying to help him more might cause him to pull further away and the outcome for him will possibly be better if you pulled back a little. Something not unique to you or parents of children on the spectrum, is how do you get your kid to listen to reasonable advice when they don’t want to because it’s from a parent. For me, I would be much more reasonable dealing with basically any stranger than my parent. My apologies if this is a dumb comment, but if other forms of management are feasible, are you pursuing those? Therapy? Coaching?

      Job stuff: Since he’s in high school, I’m not sure if this is technically a bad job choice since it’s on weekends only and pays more than other jobs. I have to imagine this job won’t last forever (i.e. the houses will sell eventually), and maybe you can frame everything as his next job? I think the key thing after high school will be more finding a job that plays to his strengths.

    2. NoodleMara*

      I will be honest, there are plenty of jobs that don’t have customer facing roles. I can’t handle doing retail customer work, answer phones, making phone calls to customer, whatever. My job doesn’t require that. I do have okay communication skills with coworkers but it took years to learn how to do that. And communication and small talk both take practice and learning to get okay at it. I’m 26 and it took me years.

      There’s also nothing wrong with working menial jobs if he can support himself and is happy and high school is a good time to do that.

      Stop telling him he has to disclose his diagnoses, that’s a judgement call for him to make. I would never disclose my autism because that is an incredibly nuanced and difficult conversation to have in the best circumstances, let alone when you’re seventeen and probably incredibly anxious about things.

      I’m not sure what to tell you about the rest, except maybe you should be talking to a counselor about this. It might also be a good idea to connect him to the Autism Self Advocacy Network or other Autism organizations that are set up and run by autistic people.

      1. Anon because of stigma*

        I’d like to add a little friendly pushback to the concept of menial jobs. My (autistic) son is still in primary school, and whether he’ll ever be able to work is unclear – it’s my big hope, but no certainty. Any job he could do would have to be blue collar and supervised; that would make me very proud.

        But ‘menial’ workers do a lot of the stuff that holds a country together. We need our streets swept, our trash taken away, our warehouse shelves stocked. It’s honest, necessary work, and the fact that it’s held in low regard says bad things about our society’s values, not about the people who do it. I’d far rather my son cleaned bathrooms than ran a company that made its workers’ lives miserable or manufactured arms or something like that; he’d be a better man.

        So … no shame in honest work within someone’s capacity, is what I’m saying.

      2. Scrumtrillescent*

        Thank ya’ll very much for your suggestions and perspectives.

        He has rejected the idea of becoming a part of autism organizations run by autistic people every time I’ve suggested it. It may be because he rejects every suggestion I make about anything, but it also may be because he doesn’t like having autism, he doesn’t like admitting he has autism, and he feels that he is unlike other autistic people. I’ve given him books about autism and autistic people, including books written by autistic people, connected him to a blog run by an autistic person, but he is just not interested. There was a documentary about an improv comedy group whose members were on the spectrum (and he has an interest in standup and comedy and would like to pursue a career in that) and he didn’t want to watch it. He’s also at an age where he’s trying to establish his own identity and would rather choose his activities and either do them by himself or with friends, so it could be that too.

        In almost every circumstance, I would agree with you about not forcing him to disclose his diagnosis, but he had gotten in trouble at school twice for what was being perceived as threats of violence. I didn’t want him to get permanently expelled and I didn’t want the police to become involved. They were actually very inappropriate attempts at humor. I disclosed his diagnosis for him to mitigate the very serious circumstances that he found himself in and to reframe what had happened so that his punishment would be proportionate.

    3. Bionerd*

      My son on the spectrum. I feel you with fighting with the school district for services (and losing).

      I don’t think you should pursue guardianship, personally. It sounds like even attempting that could forever damage your relationship with him. And honestly I don’t know that a court would grant it. Is he incapable of making his own decisions or are you just afraid of him making the “wrong” ones? My answer would be different if he didn’t seem to know how to keep himself safe from predatory people or would likely never be able to work.

      He obviously wants to be an adult and at this point I think you should pursue paths that allow him to do that. Maybe free adult courses or support groups through local autism alliance groups? Maybe help him research self help books for kids like him? Maybe some sort of career counseling to find careers he might excel at to give him a goal for the future? It’s not the end of the world to bomb an interview. Neurotypical people do it too. It’s a learning experience, not a personal failure.

      1. Bionerd*


        Also. I think my comment reads with a harsh tone. It was not meant harshly. I can feel your worry about him and his future through your post. You are doing well and you are a good mother. ASD is easily misunderstood by others, and no one wants their child to struggle. But it is so hard to know how to step back.

        1. Scrumtrillescent*

          Thank you. I appreciate your comments and I don’t feel that they were harsh.

          He currently receives services from the state and HATES them. They do have a career counseling program…he would get to go in and tell them what kind of career he would like, they would give him a skills test to see what skills would need to be developed in order to work in his chosen field, and they provide free training for anything he would need to learn before being able to get the job of his choosing. He rejected it because it is a service available to him because he has autism. He has the opportunity to receive massage therapy, music therapy, art therapy, equestrian therapy, rec therapy, and more and has rejected them all because the help is associated with his having autism.

          I would pursue guardianship if I didn’t think he possessed the necessary skills to live on his own. Medication management is one of those necessary skills. Being able to determine how much you have to make and how often you have to work to be able to live is another necessary skill. I don’t think he has those yet. If I don’t pursue guardianship, he can cancel the services that he currently receives and be removed from the program. If he then found out he couldn’t live on his own and came back to me, it would be a 12 year wait before he would be able to get back into the program he has.

          Since he gets social security disability payments, it is not as difficult to pursue guardianship. The program that currently provides him services helps with the transition to self-sufficiency or the transition to legal guardianship as the people they serve get closer to 18. If he stays with me, I want his services to continue. That would be the main reason I’d pursue guardianship. I’ve been completely transparent with him about the skills he will need to live on his own, that if he stays with me I will want his services to continue, and that in order to ensure the services continue I would have to pursue guardianship.

    4. Tinker*

      As far as the guardianship thing, it doesn’t sound like an effective solution for most or all of the problems presented. Those seem to be:

      — Does awkward social things of a sort that don’t play well in work/school environments.
      — Doesn’t want to disclose his diagnosis to managers/teachers, even in situations where you perceive such disclosure to be useful.
      — Quite possibly does not present all that well at job interviews.
      — Seems to be discouraged about work.
      — Is currently (age 17) employed as a sign spinner, which doesn’t seem like a job with much of A Future (TM).
      — Seems to be aligned with his father in some regards; father doesn’t have a great work history.
      — Isn’t taking advice from you; your perception is “dismisses everything I say out of hand”.

      These do seem like problems — however, they seem mostly like “young person starting out” problems that are compounded by disability, not a matter of legal capacity. In fact, of the things mentioned it seems like the thing he’s doing well at (handling his medical decisions) are the ones that guardianship is more meant for.

      Two things with regard to “dismisses everything I say”:

      1) Partly from when I’ve had that kind of directed at me, and knowing what my internal experience was at that time, I kind of want to go “is that really the case?” It could be either way, of course. From my perspective… it was being projected on me that I was just going “lol old people, I’m not going to listen to them”, but what I felt like was going on was that I was being asked to do things that didn’t make sense (often this had to do with the generational culture gap), that I couldn’t do and that they did not believe I could not do (a whole lot of this, in retrospect, was spectrum stuff), or that were not really aligned with my goals (a lot of this was… well, my parents have issues).

      2) If it was the case that I truly was dismissive toward everything another person said to me, and that person then attempted to have me declared incapable to handle my own affairs — particularly if that threat seemed potentially credible, as in the case of a financially dependent young person with disabilities documented in childhood — I would feel like I was in danger, frankly, and also that my perspective was being profoundly dismissed. I would not want to be in any way personally vulnerable in talking with them (for both practical and emotional reasons), and I would be even less inclined than previously to listen to them other than to gather information as to what they were going to do next. This doesn’t seem like a productive mental state to address any of the items of concern you’ve listed here, which generally seem to hinge on the kid listening to you (or at least to someone) and taking your advice to heart — you might be able to use force to get him to apply to jobs, but performing well in the interview pretty much requires buy-in of some sort.

      Basically: you’re trying to convince, and most of the things you’re asking for are areas in which the only power you have is in convincing — hence, don’t use a tool that is about compelling and if anything may damage your power to convince.

    5. ADHsquirrelWhat?*

      Scripts and routines.

      He needs scripts and routines for life. “When I do X, then I need to do Y.” “When I change my phone number, I need to tell my workplace.” His sense of “obvious” is different than yours. His emotional maturity and ability to deal with change and unexpected issues are not going to be on par with his age group.

      And routines are for lots of things. Laundry. Favorite meals. Basic cleaning in various rooms. Everything needed so that when he’s out on his own he knows all the things he needs. Part of why people with autism have such a hard time living alone is that often they miss “obvious” things and end up needing to re-engineer basic living from scratch. Make sure he has the tools he needs so he can make his own decisions.

    6. Lilysparrow*

      Some of these things (dismissing your concerns, insisting on doing things his own way even when it is ineffective or not optimal, magical thinking about being independent when he doesn’t have the practical infrastructure in place, being unmotivated to job hunt because he has a minimal job)

      Are exactly like what typical 17 year olds do all the time.

      I don’t know if that’s helpful for you or not. I certainly understand your concerns, because he does have more challenges to recovering from mistakes than typical teens do.

      But from my perspective, it sounds like a lot of this is indistinguishable from typical immaturity at his age. And the thing that usually helps typical teens get over it, is when they actually have some real independence and get the short sharp shock that they have to hustle and take good advice if they’re going to turn things around.

      So maybe if there’s a way to foster more independence rather than less, he will have less to push back against?

    7. Batgirl*

      I work with both SEN kids and NT kids and what you’re describing is typical for both. Pushing away the responsible parent (It’s a key independence step to not rely on you or even your advice) while simultaneously screwing up is just so very normal. Inappropriate humour and not being great at their first couple of jobs is how they figure out appropriate jokes and how they figure out what jobs they are good at.

      Schools and districts don’t have funds to diagnose and help everyone who needs help and not every student wants that help. Thats their call. Any half decent educator will see the traits even without the diagnosis. Heck even NT people have a couple of traits of something.

      Educators pay attention to that in a way that employers don’t because it’s more prevalent in kids who haven’t learned workarounds yet. They may have given him more strategies than you think; look how independent your description of him is and how he is motivated he is (I know you don’t think so but my point of comparison is with other kids) and how he is experimenting with what he can do; how he is not put off by small failures to fall on you for spoonfeeding. That’s all positive, terrific stuff. A few of my students of the same age are miles behind that – NT and SEN.

      1. Scrumtrillescent*

        Thank you. I’m glad that you see positive things in what I described.

        Without getting into anything that would identify him, the trouble he has been in at school is outside the norm I think, for any kid. I was part of a group email exchange with all of his teachers after the first incident. One of the teachers said that she was afraid of him because of what had happened. That’s when I decided to disclose his diagnosis. None of them knew that he had autism. The second incident, they were considering charging him with making a terroristic threat. That’s when I decided to pursue the 504 plan, against his wishes.

  78. Jadelyn*

    I have ADHD, which wasn’t diagnosed until last year (I’m 33) – I just always thought I was disorganized and a total flake because I couldn’t stick with a single system, ever. Now I know that it’s how my brain just *is*, and if I want a system to stick I need to make it work for me, not against me – which means not too complex, enough visual stimulation (color-coding) to keep my attention, and easy to wipe the slate clean and start over when I inevitably drift away from it, which is why electronic list-keeping systems don’t really do much for me: if it takes too much work to clean out old stuff and document the things that happened while I wasn’t paying attention, I’ll just keep putting it off and then I’ve got *no* organization system. I love my tech tools for literally everything in my life, but I’ve learned that for organization at work I HAVE TO have something that I physically write out. It’s the only way I can really feel like I’ve got the mess *out of my head*.

    I’m doing a form of bullet journal right now. I did get a bit overwhelmed with some of the “monthly spreads” “weekly spreads” etc. you find if you look for bullet journal systems/ideas, but when I decided to step back from that and only use it as the list it was originally intended to be, I was able to use it.

    I also use color-coding – I have a set of rainbow highlighters, and I do boxes instead of bullet points for tasks, so after I write down tasks, I color-code them on urgency: red for “oh god seriously this needs to be done yesterday” down through purple for “eh, if I have some time at some point”.

    I keep my notebook (I’m a huge fan of discbound notebooks – I have an expensive Levenger one that I splurged on awhile back, but I got divider tabs at Staples and I’m refilling it with cheaper paper I find on Amazon) sitting open in front of me on my desk literally at all times. I add things to it when I talk to someone on the phone, or when I go through my emails in the morning. I have ways to note in-progress tasks as well as completed, so I can feel like I’m at least getting *somewhere* even if I’m not *done* with a given task.

    Periodically – not necessarily every week, it depends – I do a “reset”. I put in the date that I’m resetting on, then copy over (I call it kiting, because I used to play too much WoW) any tasks still undone or partly done from the previous list. This also lets me re-assess my color coding – maybe something that was on orange status and still undone needs to be red now. I’ve also just started scoring my previous list when I do a reset: how many tasks done (in-progress counts for half) out of how many tasks on that iteration of the list. Not enough data yet to see if that’s helpful, but we’ll see.

    I also use a ton of folders and subfolders in my email, including an “Active Pending” folder that’s pinned to the top of my Outlook sidebar. I try to keep my email inbox down to under 25 or so, but I also don’t let myself move things out of the inbox until I’ve done *something* with them, even if it’s just that I’ve written down what I have to do in my notebook. Eventually my sense of overwhelmed “oh god what do I even do next” clashes with my “oh god there are 200 emails in my inbox” hard enough to force me into action on it. I’ve made sure my coworkers know if they want something done, they HAVE TO put it in an email or I make no guarantees about it getting done in any sort of timely fashion.

    I’m planning to start doing a weekly plan on Mondays, to see if that gets me anywhere. I’m thinking about using sticky notes for that part – one for each day – so I can stick just that one day’s notes on my monitor every morning and maybe that’ll help me stay on track. We’ll see how that goes.

  79. Ada*

    Any tips for dealing with chronic depression and anxiety disorder in the workplace? This is my husband’s issue, and he’s so worried he’s already ruined his career because he’s lost 3 jobs now due to his panic attacks. He’s now talking to a service that specializes in pairing people with disabilities with appropriate jobs, but I can tell he’s still afraid the pattern will continue. Any tips from someone who’s been there would be greatly appreciated!

    1. BRR*

      I hope this isn’t presumptuous but is he getting treatment? I’ve been fired twice (our of three professional jobs) and therapy has been essential for me to relieve some anxiety. I’m not sure in what way his panic attacks are impacting his job performance, but have being hired could he ask for an accommodation?

      For depression, Captain Awkward’s post on dealing with depression at work is an amazing resource.

  80. DM Farmer*

    Thank you for this thread! My 15 yr old is severe ADHD and learning disabled. Part of my goals as a parent is to prepare him for the work force. These insights into the struggles you have had will allow me to prepare him now for what he may face and what coping strategies to start teaching him. These are not things they prepare you for or have any real advice to give outside of platitudes of “he’ll be fine, or he’ll figure it out”.

    I have always worried how he will cope outside of a school setting and these set my mind at rest.

  81. BananaPants*

    Something to keep in mind is that in the US, ADHD does not automatically qualify as a disability for which an employer has to make reasonable accommodations under the ADA. Many people without ADHD make assumptions about folks with ADHD, or have negative opinions about the condition and the medication often used to treat it. Disclosing at work will often causes managers to view the employee with ADHD as different or less-capable than other employees, or to hold them to different standards – all for no real benefit or extra accommodations. In many cases, we can get the accommodations we need without disclosing the condition and asking for formal accommodations.

    I have ADHD and have not disclosed it in my workplace. I wasn’t diagnosed until my mid-30s, so I naturally developed coping mechanisms in school and in the workplace and have always been able to wrangle the tools and workplace environment that I need without having to invoke a diagnosis, so I don’t want to even remotely risk that a manager will think differently about me or turn out to be anti-Ritalin/an ADHD denier. Everyone’s different, but for me there’s absolutely no upside to workplace disclosure and a LOT of potential downsides.

    1. DolphinFeels*

      Hey there! Wanted to clear something up – under the ADA (especially after the ADAAA), ADHD absolutely qualifies as a disability, along with almost anything else. The ADA does not provide a list of disabilities (the only thing mentioned explicitly is HIV) and offers coverage based on pretty expansive definitions. Anyone with a physical or mental impairment that substaintially limits one or more major life activities is covered, and major life activities can include anything from concentration, to thinking, breathing, seeing, hearing, and functions of the neurological and brain systems. Furthermore, an impairment doesn’t even need to fully prevent or even severely restrict a major life activity to be considered “substantially limiting.”

      None of this is to say that the stigma with employers does not exist. It’s a difficult decision to make, whether or not to disclose at the workplace. If you need an accommodation, and you’re not comfortable going to your manager, try your HR department. If your company has more than 15 employees, they have to accommodate you (reasonably).

  82. Jonathan Paul Katz*

    Autism spectrum here.

    Something that I found really helpful is repeatedly reminding my boss to give me direct feedback. If your colleagues are not used to working with folks who aren’t neurotypical, it will usually take a while to get used to different things. So, for example, just reminding folks “hey, I need X in this way” helps.

    1. LQ*

      The direct feedback one is really good. And when my boss does (he’s normally a very indirect person) I do everything I possibly can to change whatever it is right away and to thank him for it and ask for more. (I just phrase it as a I want to get better/be better/do better thing, no disclosure.)

  83. Jessen*

    I’ve found sometimes partial disclosure is better than full. I’m likely to say I have “depression” or something. That’s not exactly true – I’ve had varying diagnoses and I suspect if they’d actually put CPTSD in the DSM-V that’s what I’d end up with. But people sort of feel like they understand depression, and it doesn’t lead to as many questions or the sort of advice that Captain Awkward hates. Most people don’t have much framework for trauma outside of a military background. And it still lets me feel like I can sort of step out or otherwise take a few minutes to handle my mental health and have it understood.

    1. Justin*

      Sort of similar to what I do (I have different issues but I broach them vaguely and people usually leave it at that unless I choose to go further).

  84. PugLife*

    Ugh this is so hard but one of the things that works for me (nnt in a whole slew of common but terrible mentally ill ways) is Rigid Structure. I get anxious very easily and tackling my inbox on a daily basis is so important. I like the OHIO method – Only Handle It Once – so I start my day by getting my inbox down to zero. It’s a lot of jumping from task to task, but I’ve learned that this works best for me. All emails handled in strictly chronological order. Every day. After that, I move on to the longer-running tasks/creative work. I also keep a running to-do list in Google Keep, and set reminders on all tasks that I can’t complete until a certain time. I also use keep to remind me “check in on XYZ” and I schedule those check-ins at the start of every project. I also text my coworker daily with project updates (I’m the person who works on it most) It’s difficult! It requires constant vigilance. But I haven’t been fired yet!

  85. NoodleMara*

    I’m on the autistic spectrum although not diagnosed.

    My main tool is a note taking system. I’ve got OneNote set up so that I can take notes on everything that I need to and keep them organized. My main tabs are Info, To Do’s, Projects, Meeting Notes, Other, Field Notes, Social Media. A lot of these overlap but 95% of things fall into one of these categories and I can link between things that are in more than one section. It is on my phone so when I’m in the field, I can put it right in and then pull it up later on my computer. I also take pictures of written notes and store them in OneNote so I still have them and I also place pdfs right in there.

    Second, I have taught myself how to make small talk well enough that people have a good relationship with me. I really struggled with this for a long time because I’d rather not chit chat, just work but sometimes they ask about what I’m doing or my day and genuinely want to learn. I know I don’t come across as normal with small talk but I get close enough that it satisfies people’s need to chat with me. It’s literally a script I came up with after people watching enough. I’ve learned variations on it, so that I don’t come across robotic, but that took a lot of time. It’s five minutes or less and since I can’t really carry a conversation past the small talk, it tapers off really easily.

    Third, I chose a job that doesn’t have a large amount of things I can’t handle, primarily phone calls. I am not an admin, I will not do sales, etc. I know better than to do this because it makes me so incredibly panicky. I can do face to face for small amounts of time in the field and that works well.

    Fourth, calendars with reminder times appropriate to the occasion. A full day meeting gets a reminder a full day or two ahead so I can be prepared for it. A quick afternoon thing gets a two hour reminder. Things that need more preparation get longer reminder times. I often put projects into my calendar with when certain tasks need to be done for them so I can check it that day and know where I’m going. This also helps if project leads come to me and need help on certain dates, I can check my calendar and be able to tell them if I’m available or not.

    Fifth and probably most importantly, I make sure I’m coping in the rest of my life. I use OneNote to track my personal life, I have a set morning and evening routine, I have a calendar that gives me alarms for medication and events. I make sure I get enough sleep and enough to eat. I bring snacks to work for mid-morning and afternoons because the 10am hangry really messes with me and it literally can make me sick the next day. I make sure I’m getting enough alone time if we have a busy week and there’s lots of people. I do something physical like ice skating or working out two to three times a week so I don’t get twitchy.

    I also like that my coworkers are relaxed enough that I can crochet in meetings. I’m not the primary note taker, so it works out and keeps me focused. I’m also not the only one doing it. I also bought noise cancelling headphones so I can either drown out loud coworkers, listen to podcasts if I’m doing something repetitive and physical or put music on for background noise if I need to concentrate.

  86. Sarah Selvaggi-Hernandez*

    Yay! I am autistic and in academia. What helps me be successful at work:

    1) Could this be an email? (Please say yes.)
    2) I love opportunities to brainstorm 1:1. Group brainstorming is dysregulating and I will go mute, but I have a lot to say.
    3) Be explicit. I can’t pick up what you don’t put down. It doesn’t offend me if you are detailed and thorough in your expectations, especially if it’s a new task.
    4) If it’s casual communication between colleagues, let me use emojis, memes, and gifs. Digital echolalia is a blessing and some of my favorite stims.
    5) Invite me. I’ll say no…or yes and likely not show up. But invite me.
    6) Do you have something you’re passionate about? TELL ME. It’s my favorite. I love hearing about everything from theory to puppies to kids because I get happy-flappy when someone else is clearly excited.
    6a) Pass me information on things that interest me. It may seem like a weird fandom (hey there, fellow Browncoats), but it’s the best way of letting me know you care.
    7) Let me eat lunch in my office. I like you, but the lunch room is a dysregulating mess.
    8) Schedule time with me. If I’m in my thoughts, it’s painful to pull out of them and tend to your requests/thought flow.
    9) Please don’t be offended if I ask you something seventeen times in seventeen different ways. I am not being difficult; I just need to have a comprehensive understanding of the expectations before I carry out my task.
    10) Check out spoon theory. “Functioning” labels can be damaging to autistics – every day is different for me, depending on how many spoons I have.
    11) Understand if I’ve asked for accommodations, it’s because I need them. The reality is, I’ve accommodated you and your preferences a million times but you don’t realize it because it’s a societal norm.

    ..I could probably go on forever, but I’ll stop. Thank you for asking! <3

    1. LQ*

      This reminds me of a couple other things.
      I always -always- close my office door for any conversation. I say it’s because I’m loud (which is true enough) but it’s really because the conversations outside.
      And I am SUPER hard core about the only one conversation in a meeting, no side conversations rule. (I may or may not have at least once in my Very Loud Voice told everyone to Stop Talking! One Person At A Time! :()

  87. Mid to late twenties male*

    I don’t want to be a downer. But my advice for this situation is to get it under control, then find a new job when you have mastered that control. As someone who has disclosed a mh disorder to their employer, the consequences were not great, and I believe it has really limited my options at my current company.

  88. Clay on my apron*

    I have ADHD (attention deficit, impulsiveness, no hyperactivity). I was diagnosed about 5 years ago in my early 40s, when my son was diagnosed.

    It made so much sense and put so many things in perspective that I was actually thrilled to get the diagnosis. I had struggled for years and always thought I just needed to try harder :-/

    Medication has helped me but it took a number of tries to get it right, and it doesn’t mimic being neurotypical. I still need to work hard at managing my ADHD, the meds make me more aware of going off track.

    So things that have helped me include:
    – I found a job that is a good fit. This isn’t that easy and won’t happen for everyone. My work meets my need to keep learning and be exposed to frequent change.
    – I get very distracted by sound and movement. I try to sit where I’m not facing a passage or walkway and I’ll sometimes find a quiet place to work away from our open plan desks.
    – I make good use of my calendar. When I need to work on something, big or small, I schedule time in my calendar so e.g. “prep for meeting with Jo” (right before “meeting with Jo”) or “review SSB presentation”. Often when I see it in my calendar, I realise that I had forgotten all about it. This helps me meet deadlines and see whether I’m taking on too much work.
    – I use my calendar also to create structure in my day. I have an appointment that tells me I need to leave the office.
    – To do lists don’t work for me unless they are very visible. I’ll make a to do list and forget about by the next day.
    – Kanban boards work very well for me. They are very visible, they let you see where your work is and the work of those you are supervising.
    – I need to take notes. In meetings or conversations I tune out or I just lose the thread of what is being said. I will often go through what was discussed to clarify that I am on the same page as the other person. I also send emails confirming what we discussed, because I lose my notebooks.

    Things are going well enough that have moved into a very demanding role in a very fast paced environment, supervising others, coordinating their work with the larger teams they form part of, constantly responding to planned and unplanned changes. I never thought I’d be able to do this but so far I am managing.