February 12th, 2021

Having a Learning Disability or ADHD in the Workplace

NCLD’s Young Adult Leadership Council members, Hailey Jerome, Michaela Hearst and Erin Mayo, spoke to BroadFutures’ interns about their experiences having learning disabilities and ADHD in the workplace. This blog is an excerpt from their conversation. 

Learning disabilities are invisible, which can lead to confusion and misunderstanding among our colleagues and supervisors in the workplace. Learning disabilities impact each individual in various ways. There is no “correct” or “one way” to disclose your learning disability or ADHD in your workplace. Each of the Council members shared how these different experiences impacted them in the workplace. 

How did you become successful in the workplace while having a learning disability or ADHD? 

Erin told the interns: 

“I did not disclose in one of my graduate school assistantships as I didn’t think my LD would impact me in the workplace. But, at the start of my first professional position after graduate school, I sent an email to my new supervisor about my learning style. I was nervous to disclose as I didn’t know how my supervisor would respond. My supervisor reminded me that my learning disability is just one aspect of who I am, not a hindrance, but rather a uniqueness of who I am.”

Michaela also had a similar experience during her unpaid internships: 

“I initially did not disclose, not because of shame, but because I did not think I needed to. There were internship sites that were probably not equipped to have interns. I felt that I needed more support, and I was made to feel like this was an unreasonable request. One thing I continue to work on is anxiety, namely not immediately blaming myself for every challenge. I constantly have to come to terms with what I need.”

The Council members continued their conversation by giving advice about potentially disclosing in the workplace based on their own personal experiences. 

Michaela began with an important message about knowing yourself. 

“It is up to YOU whether you want to disclose, but it’s important to practice self-awareness and self-care prior to (and during) work. Know what your skills are and envision yourself as a professional or an employee. Know what works for you, especially those strategies learned in school to stay organized such as note-taking. When people do not understand what it’s like to have a learning disability, remember to practice SELF CARE and rely on your support system.” 

Erin agreed with Michaela and shared the importance of advocating for yourself. 

“There will be individuals in the workplace who do not understand, but do not let them hinder your success. If your colleagues perpetuate microaggressions such as “you don’t seem like you have a learning disability” or “I would have never guessed you have a learning disability because you graduated magna cum laude,” you need to speak up. Individuals who identify as having a learning disability or ADHD may have to work harder in school to succeed or take longer to develop their ideas due to lower processing speed. Just how we learned the tools to succeed in the classroom and ADVOCATE for ourselves. We need to take those skills and apply them to the workplace.” 

Hailey agreed and she wants to make sure everyone knows that if you do decide to disclose in the workplace that you do so with thoughtful language. 

“Help your manager understand that you can do the task at hand, but you need a specific resource to be successful. For example, in college I used a software that read my emails before I sent them. This is very helpful for me. It helped me to correct any errors I may have overlooked because of my learning disability. Instead of saying to my manager “I have dyslexia and it is hard for me to read and spell. Therefore I tend to make a lot of mistakes on emails.” I can say “There is a software I used in college that helped me write emails. I need it to be successful.”

As with any good panel discussion, the interns asked that age-old question: what would you tell your younger self?

Hailey reminded them that it is okay to not know what you want to do with your life. Give yourself grace and do not be so hard on yourself. 

“You will probably change your mind a hundred times and that’s okay. I have met people in their thirties who are still looking for that job that makes them the happiest. Stop comparing yourself to your friends. They may be struggling too, but you do not see it. That new car they just posted on instagram might not be something they are paying for on their own. It is the same with learning. Everyone learns at their own speed. I am still learning something new every day!”

Michael would tell her pre-college self to “keep going, that I promise it gets better.” 

“Continue to work on what’s holding you back and don’t be afraid to do the (positive) things that will contribute to your overall self worth and confidence.”

Erin would remind herself to “keep working hard and remember that your learning disability  is just one part of who you are, and it does not define what you are capable of achieving. A career does not have a straight path. You will end up in your career where you are meant to be.”

These young women gave the interns a lot of great advice. We hope you learned something as well. Maybe you learned to put yourself first, to speak up for yourself, to practice self-care, or to never compare yourself to others. Everyone is unique and on their own journey. Just remember to be true to YOU, and do not let the stigma of having a learning disability or ADHD define your potential for success. 

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