In this blog, two of our Kubrick consultants, Shijo Varghese and Miguel Conkright share their experiences of having Dyslexia and ADHD. But before we begin, what are Dyslexia and ADHD?
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults. It is characterised by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that can interfere with daily activities, academic/work performance, and social relationships. People with ADHD may have difficulty focusing on tasks, organizing their thoughts and activities, completing tasks, following through on instructions, and regulating their emotions.
Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a person's ability to read, write, and spell. It is typically characterised by difficulties with phonological processing, which is the ability to identify and manipulate the sounds in spoken language. Dyslexia can also affect a person's ability to recognize and recall words, read fluently, and comprehend written material.
It’s important to note that Dyslexia and ADHD are both conditions that exist on a spectrum, meaning that their symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Dyslexia, for example, can involve difficulty with reading, writing, spelling, and language processing, but not everyone with dyslexia experiences all of these challenges. Similarly, ADHD can manifest in different ways, such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or a combination of these.
When I tell people I have dyslexia and ADHD, they often ask if I flip letters around. I've had this conversation countless times, with friends, family, officials, and now with you. People tend to have misconceptions about what it means to be neurodiverse, like assuming flipping letters is a defining trait of dyslexia. In reality, that's not always the case, and it's not exclusive to dyslexia either. I was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 9 and ADHD at the age of 14. I consider myself lucky to have been diagnosed at an early age, as many people go undiagnosed for years.
Dyslexia is a condition that is often under-diagnosed, with many individuals going undiagnosed for years, or even their entire lives. One major factor contributing to this is a lack of understanding and awareness about dyslexia among educators, medical professionals, and the general public, resulting in misdiagnosis or no diagnosis at all. Additionally, the wide range of symptoms and severity levels associated with dyslexia can make it difficult to identify and diagnose, while the assessment process can be lengthy and expensive, making it inaccessible to many individuals who may benefit from a diagnosis. People often take much longer than I did to figure out their neurodiverse conditions because characteristics of ADHD are so similar to those of dyslexia.
I have been diagnosed with the combined type of ADHD, which is predominantly the inattentive type with elements of the hyperactive type. Additionally, my difficulties with dyslexia are related to how I process auditory information in a reading context. By understanding the nuances of my conditions, I have been able to develop coping strategies to overcome any issues that arise. For example, my type of dyslexia makes it particularly challenging to learn Latin-based languages like French or Spanish. During my years in school, I was allowed to skip those courses, but I performed much better when I was offered a different language in high school.
My early diagnoses allowed me to receive specialized training and support that propelled me to earn a degree in Materials Engineering in the U.K. However, even with these accommodations, I still had to make adjustments in order to finally thrive. It's worth noting that at university, it seemed like around 90% of people with neurodiverse diagnoses had been diagnosed earlier in life. While the best time to be diagnosed is during your early life, it's still beneficial to know later in life as it allows for necessary adjustments. I feel sad that there are people who may never have the opportunity to achieve their full potential due to undiagnosed neurodiverse conditions and this is why raising awareness is so important.
Having Dyslexia and ADHD means I process information differently and have unique ways of learning and working. Growing up, I struggled to fit in with the expectations of a neurotypical society, and I often found myself pretending to be something I was not.
Even today, I remember the vivid terror I felt in my fourth-grade comprehension class, as I struggled to keep up with the reading. I wondered when it would get easier, but as the years passed, little changed. In high school, the texts grew more sophisticated, but my struggles remained the same. I can still recall the shame and embarrassment I felt when I was forced to read aloud from 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' mispronouncing basic words and drawing the laughter of my classmates.
When I was growing up, I had no idea about the concept of neurodiversity, but looking back, I can see how it played a fundamental role in shaping who I am today. My Dyslexia would allow me to find new and unique perspectives on doing things and my ADHD allowed me to hyperfocus on things that I found interesting. Hence, I would have flashes of brilliance followed by poor performance in school. Coming from an Asian family anything to do with mental health was taboo. Whenever I expressed that I found certain things challenging, my parents told me to just work harder. And so, I did, silently struggling throughout my education.
Whenever I mentioned that I had difficulty in certain aspects of my life I found that others would say they had the same. I had always done well academically so no one suspected me of having Dyslexia and ADHD was always seen as just part of my personality. Difficulty and one’s struggle are very relative metrics, how were others supposed to know how much I had struggled? I thought that these struggles were just part of being human. Although I could not help but compare myself to others in certain tasks, leading to insecurities about being considered “stupid”, “scatter-brained” or “thick” resulting in an exceptionally low self-esteem especially in writing and reading.
I specifically chose a Maths-based degree so I would not have to read lots of academic papers or struggle with writing essays. Unfortunately, this did not work out as planned and turned out that half my final year modules were essay based. I was drowning in the plethora of academic papers on accounting, trying my best to write essays critically analysing accounting principles. Whilst this was difficult for all my peers, I realised that I was struggling significantly more than them, spending days without even getting through one academic paper. This led to my self-esteem falling to an all-time low eventually culminating into a complete mental health breakdown.
I reached out for help from my university, and they referred me to a diagnostic specialist. After spending £400 an educational psychologist told me that I had Dyslexia and was very likely to have ADHD but needed to have another assessment to get that tested. My family was very concerned about the diagnosis, they thought I would use the label as an excuse in life and no longer work hard. They thought that I was now a burden on society and would not find work. It was ingrained in me that asking for support or showing my neurodiversity would lead to me being rejected for job opportunities. I was so concerned about this that I did not ask for adjustments throughout my Kubrick application process. I desperately wanted extra time on the written part of the Kubrick Assessment centre but was scared to ask for extra time for fear that they would look down on my application.
The diagnosis was a turning point for me as it allowed me to accept who I was, and, in that acceptance, I found new confidence. This shifted my mindset to focus on improving my ways of working. I embraced read-out-loud software which got me to get through papers that previously took me days in hours as I was no longer crippled by my reading ability. I still struggle with organisation and spelling but now I focus on how my strengths can outshine my weaknesses and how I can mitigate those weaknesses.
What can we do?
One thing we can all do to help this come about is trying to be more empathic and understanding of people’s struggles within the workplace or outside. There are millions of undiagnosed neurodiverse people in the world with both effective and ineffective coping mechanisms. Normalising conversations around neurodiversity removes stigmas and taboos. This can help others learn from successful coping mechanisms and build up systems to mitigate their weaknesses to help them live to be their best lives.
We can also change the narrative around neurodiversity being synonymous with disability. Yes, our conditions mean we have weaknesses, but they also bring us strengths and everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Dyslexic thinking is now a recognised skill in LinkedIn, it helps with problem-solving, big-picture thinking and narrative reasoning whilst ADHD helps with creativity, spontaneity and focus. Understanding neurodiversity on both a macro and an individual level allows people to ask for the right kind of help they need to thrive – and everyone deserves to thrive at work.