This diary piece is not specifically about Salesforce, although I do draw comparisons. I hope it provides some general food for thought about the following themes:
- Lived Experience
- Being Unique
- Reasonable Adjustments
- Making Space
Bonus: It may particularly resonate with those who found “A Salesforce Consultant’s Journey with Neurodiversity” interesting. It happens to be a year since that piece was published.
About 18 months ago I discovered that I had ADHD and was on the Autism Spectrum (ok, the latter wasn’t so much of a shock). This is in addition to being Dyspraxic (a mal-coordination problem; known as DCD/Developmental Coordination Disorder in the US).
As an update, since then I’ve tried neurofeedback which was helpful, but the game changer for me has been ADHD medication. It took a few goes to find the right one, but I’m grateful to the Dutch medical system (it’s not all perfect, as you will read later) for helping me on this journey.
As I understand it, for neurotypicals, dopamine connects the brain pathways in a smooth process. For us ADHDers the dopamine level is misaligned and signals don’t get sent onwards in the right fashion. It’s like having a bike where the gears don’t align properly – the wheels still go round, but it’s not a particularly smooth experience. If it works, medication can help raise the dopamine levels, so the pathway is smoothed and harmony is had!
For me, I’m now able to focus more (not perfectly!) and don’t context-switch so often. As a side-benefit, or possibly a consequence, it’s also hugely reduced my anxiety.
But everyone is different. Just like we all have different fingerprints (including identical twins), chemicals work differently on different people, which is why we have to experiment (with drugs, in my case) to find out what works.
Fun fact: since I discovered I had ADHD, I’ve realised that many of my friends and clients also have ADHD. People had been hiding in plain sight. There’s a social stigma around ADHD, so quite a few of my friends had been diagnosed in childhood, but hadn’t spoken of it to anyone. The big game-changer seems to have been that in 2013 the clinical guidance (DSM-5) was updated to include an “internal” type of ADHD that was not previously recognised. This improved understanding is still making its way out into the wider world. As the medical professionals refresh their knowledge, this has led to many adults only getting a diagnosis now. Better late than never though!
And so many of my friends? On reflection it’s not a surprise. I interrupt people, but I am also reasonably happy with being interrupted. Basically, it takes one to know one – I understand when someone’s thoughts need to be expressed right now, or when the brain is sent on a different thought process. For me it’s fun; for neurotypicals, apparently it can be frustrating. Hopefully that will improve in time, as people’s expectations and understanding of each other changes.
A slight aside, but here in the Netherlands, you’re likely to be assessed and treated by healthcare professionals with ADHD themselves – showing that, not only is it possible to exist with this issue, it’s possible to thrive. As well as getting insights on how the medication genuinely works, I got details on the cheats and the nudges that I can use and was given the confidence to make my own minor experiments. The benefit of “lived experience” is amazing.
The Salesforce ecosystem equivalent is screen sharing, using “log in as” or prototyping – never just rely on word of mouth but put yourself into the end user’s seat and mind set, to see the world as they experience it, along with their motivations. It’s almost always different from the theory because, just like with medication, people’s circumstances and natures are specific and individual; they are likely to vary from that which you anticipate, despite best efforts!
What can you see? (stats!)
Recently I flew into Birmingham, England, for a Dyspraxia conference. As Salesforce professional, I know that stats are important, so here are some to make you laugh (and think):
I’ve heard that 15% to 30% of children are neurodiverse; but fewer adults identify as neurodiverse. Why? Again, we’re talking about lack of support. For Dyspraxia there’s almost nothing available as an adult. These issues don’t go away so it would be nice if the gap in support could be acknowledged. Yes, this is a small rant, but highlights that inconsistent stats need to be investigated.
It is thought that in the UK about 5% of people have dyspraxia; in the Netherlands this figure is 0%. Is it really 0%? Of course not, but as the stats aren’t collected then the situation can’t be analysed. The consequence? This means there is no support available for Dyspraxia in the Netherlands; out of 130 people I managed to bump into at least one other person from the Netherlands who came over because no assistance is available locally 🤦🏻 This is true for other populations too, as Tumi Sotire touches on below.
Separately, I was reminded of the Iceberg Illusion (as pictured below) – success is just the tip of all the other effort that has gone in. It helped remind me that “success” (however you define it) is just the visible outcome of the effort to understand our strengths, abilities and, yes, weaknesses.
Speaking of weakness, what counts as a weakness? If we modify the environment so that the issue that surfaces/highlights the weakness is removed or redirected, then the weakness disappears and the strengths can become super-charged. We are talking about workplace “reasonable adjustments” as underpinned by advice and legislation, in the UK known as the Equalities Act 2010. Technically it’s a workplace term, but I feel the concept can be applied elsewhere too.
Much to my surprise (but obvious once you think about it), best practice says that you not do not require a formal diagnosis to ask for reasonable adjustments. I thank the GMB Union’s guide, “Thinking Differently at Work”, for this insight. Often people say “ooh, I have a bit of that”. It’s a bit of a red flag/trigger for me, but I need to remember that neurodivergence is all a spectrum. What benefits someone with a particular condition/divergence can benefit other people too.
Some examples of reasonable adjustments:
- Working from home. If travel to the office is difficult this can be a reasonable adjustment, but who doesn’t benefit from some quiet time without interruptions?
- Subtitles in (Zoom) meetings? If someone has a strong accent or uses unfamiliar words, this is a boon, as well as a bit of a laugh! Personally, although I have very good hearing (in fact too good!), I’ve used subtitles on my TV programmes since I was a kid. But this was brought in to help the hard of hearing.
- Help with prioritisation or extra time to complete tasks? Do you want something rushed and poorly done, or at a better quality? I think most IT projects could benefit from more flexibility here. Most deadlines are helpful, but overly enforcing them can lead to daft and expensive consequences as well as unnecessary stress.
- Accessible public transport. In a wheelchair? Modern buses and trains now have low floors and no poles in the middle of the stairs. Easier to get on and off. But this hugely benefits the elderly, anyone with luggage or those with a buggy to push.
- Ingredients listed on menus. These help people with severe allergies, but it significantly helps those with food intolerances or religious/cultural requirements too. How much pork gelatine do you want in that vegetarian-looking sweet treat?
One a personal level
- Furniture. In Victoria Bigg’s excellent book (Caged in Chaos; highly readable and insightful for absolutely everyone), she describes that, at school, having arms on her chair in the science lab meant she didn’t need to spend entire lessons concentrating on not falling off, but could actually concentrate on the subject in hand instead. Minor adjustment, huge outcome.
- Clothing. This one’s personal and something I do for myself: Wearing boots, rather than shoes. If I wasn’t walking in boots, you would see me stumbling and falling over far more often. They keep me upright, unlike flat shoes which don’t provide enough support for me: all sorts of small adjustments which enable me to fully participate in society.
My takeaway: We all excel at certain things, but different things. Some people may be excellent at time management, or tidiness, but others less so. Is it important? Can this be managed differently so everyone comes away happy?
And all this without mentioning the proven benefits that diversity brings.
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