Claire is a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) at Brainwave. During 2022’s ‘Neurodiversity Celebration Week’, in her own words, she is sharing her story of neurodiversity, her diagnosis of ADHD and how having this understanding of the condition helps in her chosen career.

‘If you’ve met me, you’ll know I’m loud, talkative, probably quite annoying and that I love my job! What you may not know is that I am one of the many neurodiverse people in this neurotypical world. I was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) – Inattentive Type, in 2019.

‘Firstly, I am not the ‘stereotype’ of ADHD – I don’t bounce around the room full of energy – in fact, I’m often the opposite. When I first visited a psychiatrist in 2019, I thought she’d diagnose depression, as I’m a roller coaster of up and down moods person. I was amazed when she said she thought I had ADHD – but it turns out neurodiversity often presents differently in females than males and when I read more about it, it was like reading a book about me!’

So, if having loads of energy isn’t how my ADHD shows itself, what symptoms do I have? As previously mentioned, it’s often different in females. To summarise, symptoms include always running late, constantly losing things like car keys, difficulty relaxing, starting a new hobby but not sticking to it for long, over sensitivity to comments from others, difficulty settling to certain tasks but being able to hyperfocus on others, procrastination, making lists when you could be doing the jobs, time blindness so thinking you’ll achieve a-g when you actually only have time for a-c!

For me, the over-riding feelings of all the above were “it’s my fault”, “everyone else manages life”, “I’m so rubbish at everything” and “I wish I was different”. This led to poor self-esteem, which you wouldn’t know if you saw me confidently presenting to a room of people! Receiving a diagnosis of ADHD has enabled me to work past “it’s all my fault” and towards “it’s ok that I find it harder, my brain is wired differently”. This has been a huge change, but I can now say that as a rule, “I’m a nice person and I like me!”

SLT and ADHD and me

I worked in Community Paediatrics in the NHS for many years. My career was full of ups and downs – one minute I’d be managing the large caseloads, the next I’d be drowning in a mountain of admin. By 2018, after the birth of both my children, I was feeling deflated, dejected, and deskilled and was ready to leave my SLT career. Then I saw the job advert for Brainwave – a whole family for a whole day!?! So, I applied and here I am! What I didn’t know at that point, was that my previous difficulties were because I am neurodiverse.

At Brainwave, I am fortunate to be able to have many of the things that, to me, really help my headspace. Staying in one workplace all day means I’m not dashing around the county, clock watching, hoping I’ve not forgotten anything. My own desk with everything organised where I want it really does mean “tidy desk, tidy mind”. Working with one family for a whole day – I mean, just wow (for me and the children and families I support)!

This is the real nub of why I now love my SLT career! I get to spend a whole day, talking to the child and their family, understanding their aims for the assessment, writing the Programme of activities, and then teaching the activities. Importantly we explain WHY we are recommending particular activities, and what they can achieve by carrying them out at home.

At Brainwave we make a difference, and time is the key factor. In the NHS, I used to squeeze this whole day into one hour, often seeing six children in a day. I felt like I was never able to do a ‘good enough’ job due to the many constraints within a public health care system. That is not to dismiss the NHS SLTs who do a fantastic job with fewer and fewer resources. But I get to see that ‘light bulb moment’ when I give an explanation to a family who suddenly understand why their child does ‘that thing’ and how they can help them.

I know, without a doubt, that making the difficult decision to leave the NHS for Brainwave, has been the best choice for me and my family. I have been lucky enough to find somewhere that supports neurodiversity, and accepts me for me, even though they sometimes wish I came with a volume control!

‘“But we’re all a bit like that aren’t we?” Is something I heard a lot when I was first diagnosed, and yes, some of the things I struggle with are common, but the difference is the intensity, severity, and overall impact it has on day-to-day functioning. I saw a quote recently that described ADHD as “being chronically overwhelmed” and this certainly sums it up for me. I often have so many thoughts dashing around my head (there’s that extra energy ADHD-ers are known for!) that I just cannot separate into individual thoughts and actions and feel as though they’re taking over everything (others might describe this as not being able to see the wood for the trees?). My strategy is to write lists, but also to have some silence and solitude to allow for me to sort through and process my thoughts. This explains why my difficulties have increased over the past nine years since I became a mum – silence and solitude are in short supply!!! When I am feeling like this, I find refuge in my work – the routines, the comfort of feeling competent (I often don’t as a mum!!) and having to concentrate on work and dampen down those ‘busy’ thoughts.

I do understand that others have similar difficulties, but the impact of these difficulties on me over the years, is not as fleeting as it is for many. I cannot simply have a one hour walk and reset; rather I will spend hours rehashing things, berating myself for not doing those many jobs, guilt for resting when I could have been doing jobs, internalising everything and feeling beaten and overwhelmed. I have 21 years (no, honestly! 😉 ) of feeling this way, and it has left many invisible scars.

Final thoughts…I like the idea that the reason life can be so difficult for those of us who are neurodiverse, is because we are having to function in a neurotypical world, which does not allow us to explore or utilise our strengths. We can hyperfocus on something that interests us – employers should tap into that, give us a project. We often need quiet, order and routine to help us to calm those busy thoughts – consider having defined workspaces and be aware that shared spaces don’t always work for us, as our attention isn’t lacking (deficit) but often so ‘on alert’ we are aware of absolutely everything around us. Allow us to work flexibly – we may be late, but when we get into something, we’ll work for hours past home time! I’m so lucky I made the move to Brainwave, who allow me to explore my strengths because they support me in those things that I find challenging.’