‘ADHD is something I perceive as being, in the round, an asset to me at work.’: Charlotte’s Neurodiversity Story

11 mins read

Sharing our experiences of neurological differences and reflecting on our journeys helps us unpick how our environments can support us now and in the future. At Cognassist, we’re eager to learn how our neuro-different employees got where they are today and what they’d say to those who are finding out more about their own neuro-differences.

We talked to Charlotte, User Researcher at Cognassist, about how she navigated her ADHD diagnosis and what support strategies she has found most useful at work. 

Could you tell us about how and when you discovered / were diagnosed with ADHD? 

 I found out that I might have ADHD through work! The organisation I worked for at the time had an informal group for neuro-different employees, who ran an Ask Me Anything (AMA) about Neurodiversity. 

I keenly joined, just expecting to learn a bit more about something I had some personal experience of but didn’t know much about. However, when my female colleagues with ADHD talked about their experiences and how ADHD presented in them, something just clicked. I was sat there the whole time thinking “I thought everybody had problems with that?” 

That was the catalyst for about six months of researching ADHD. I bought a workbook called “Could It Be ADHD?” (which I’d recommend to anyone thinking about asking for an ADHD assessment). I also did just about every single online quiz for ADHD going (from both credible and completely illegitimate sources!) They were all pointing to the same thing. 

After six months I plucked up the courage to approach my GP, who fortunately was very supportive. I know this often isn’t the case. She put me forward for an NHS assessment, but after a year I was able to access a private assessment with some help from my employer at the time. 

The clinic who assessed me sent dozens of forms that took hours to fill in, both from myself and from loved ones who can provide a less subjective account. I sent those to the clinic ahead of my assessment appointment, which then took about an hour and a half. At the end, the psychiatrist confirmed that I had combined type ADHD.  

It was a bit of a cocktail of emotions. I felt relieved I hadn’t just made the whole thing up and I felt validated and vindicated. However, I also felt deeply sad, because ADHD isn’t fixable. The good news is that the reason ADHD isn’t fixable is because there isn’t anything wrong with us. We’re a bit different, and that’s not a bad thing. So, since my diagnosis I’ve put a lot of time and energy into exploring how I move from trying to fix myself to learning to both work with myself and (more crucially, I think) accepting myself. 


What adaptations have your made in your life to address any challenges that ADHD presents? 

 Working from home 

My ADHD journey took place during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, so I was able to see quite clearly that working from home worked much better for me, and then the ADHD diagnosis helped contextualise why. My output as a researcher doubled in the first year that I worked remotely, compared to the previous year. 

I work from my office every day and sit in here alone with the door closed to minimise distraction and help me to focus. 


I use a screen-reader for walls of text so I can see and read at the same time to help me concentrate. It also means I can get up and out of my seat or fidget while still absorbing the content. 

Task organisation 

I use Notion for personal/ home tasks and organise them in a Kanban style as I would my work in Product teams. I have a task section called ‘brain dump’ where I put in actions and tasks as they come in, so I don’t have to rely on my memory. All tasks have a deadline, so each morning I review that list and pick out what I need and want to do that day. 

Formal requests + review meetings 

The irony of ADHD is that we THRIVE under routine and process but find it hard to put in place and maintain. Because of this I massively benefit from working with others to create a formal request process for incoming work that’s more than a small ad hoc task. It helps me both remember and track tasks and projects and helps me to prioritise – all things that tend to be a little harder for ADHDers. Without a good process, I tend to just react to what seems most urgent and struggle to get started on tasks that don’t seem urgent/ aren’t interesting to me. 

AI writing (Notion or ChatGPT) 

I’m hyperverbal and can struggle with communicating succinctly. I now sometimes use AI to rewrite my stream of consciousness into something easier to understand, which saves me a lot of time trying to rewrite and edit messages, emails and presentations. 


What are some of the strengths or unique qualities your diagnosis / or ADHD as a whole brought to your life, inside and outside of work? 

ADHD is something I perceive as being, in the round, an asset to me at work. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve fallen into a job role that really well aligns with ADHD (you can read about that more here.

Working in tech startups is also a great environment for neurodivergent people in my personal experience. It’s mentally stimulating, a lot of the tools we use are great for the way I think, and a lot of agile processes and principles are really helpful if you have ADHD.  


Can you share any strategies or accommodations that you or your workplace have implemented to support you? 

I’ve been really fortunate to be working with a great ADHD coach for the last few months thanks to the Access to Work grant and we’ve identified some small changes to the way I work that have really helped me manage my energy. Here’s a few of them: 

Regular breaks: 

This sounds silly to a lot of people, but I never used to take breaks during the day, minus my lunch. Nowadays when I plan my day with a coffee when I get to my desk (also a new addition, the previous method being to arrive at work and just *react* until I went home!) I plan breaks into my day at fixed times, which I then also tell Alexa (other house robots available) to prompt me to take. 

The key here is that it must be both planned and externally prompted to really work 

Meeting rules: 

Meetings are really important to my role, but they can be a bit of a minefield for my ADHD symptoms. I’ve found that following some simple rules and asking others to do the same where possible has been helpful: 

  • No back-to-back meetings – I have 15-minute breaks after all regular meetings and add them in for anything ad-hoc, this gives me time to process and put actions into my to-do list.
  • Always agendas – Having an agenda gives me a good jumping-off point for meetings, means I don’t have to rely on my memory for why we’re meeting and gives me a format to follow to keep on topic. Colleagues including one helps me to avoid unnecessary worry and gives me time to think and prepare if needed so I can give prioritised information, rather than rely on what I can remember on the day. 
  • Meeting notes format – I use Notion for basically everything, for each day I have a meeting notes section with a template to use. It’s structured in a way to encourages me to use bullets and has a section specifically for actions which helps me get key points and items for my to-do list much more easily. 


My brain dump list 

I’ve mentioned Notion already, I love it. I have a list in there where I just add everything. I have a shortcut on my phone home screen, and I always have it open in a tab on my laptop. Whenever I have an action, it goes in there, with a deadline. Because it’s always accessible, I can add to it anytime, which is handy as I have a habit of remembering things while I’m walking the dog or cooking dinner. 

That list also then shows in my daily planner, so I can just drag the tasks I need to do each day. I see them on a calendar so it’s both visual and already prioritised.  


Are there any further changes that you’ve noticed in your own working style or approach to teamwork as someone with ADHD? 

I’ve discovered that I really thrive in environments where I have a clear and defined role as it helps me to hyperfocus and avoid distraction. 

As an example, I’ve been fortunate enough to do quite a lot of workshop facilitation over the years, including a few GV-style design sprints. I think these types of sessions play to some of the strengths that typically come with ADHD like verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning and pattern recognition

Fast-paced of sessions like this suit me and having a clear role and, often, a framework I need to follow can help curb some of the less helpful elements of being an ADHDer like veering off-topic!  

I’d also say that recognising the fact that while I love working in a team and being with people I do my best work solo has been particularly helpful for me. Trying to do the deep analytical work of qualitative research as a team sport or in a noisy environment is really hard! I’ve found working from home and working out the right process to communicate what I’m doing and learning as I’m going while maintaining boundaries to protect my focus has been a game-changer for the quality of work I’m able to produce. 


What advice would you give to colleagues or teams who may be working with individuals with ADHD? Are there any misconceptions you would like to dispel? 

I think the most obvious, but also most important thing to say is don’t assume you know much about someone just because you know they have ADHD. 

I’m sure it’s not surprising to anyone, but if you’ve met one person with ADHD, you’ve met one person with ADHD. We’re all different.  

Something I do wish more people did with me when I met them at work (and I think we should be doing this with all people we work closely with, not just anyone neurodivergent) is asking about how I like to work and communicate. Do you prefer to just hop on a call or work with comments in a doc? Do you prefer scheduled meetings or are you happy for me just to call you? How do you track/ capture tasks? Is there a way I allocate you tasks that fit into that process more easily?  

All this stuff varies from person to person, and it helps us all to know and work with people individually, rather than making assumptions.  


In your opinion, how can workplaces become more inclusive and supportive for employees with ADHD, and what role do they play in creating such an environment? 

Something I feel passionate about within ED&I is decision-makers and managers going beyond “What would help you?”. We need to pay more attention to what colleagues do, not just what they say. We also need to stop assuming that because someone isn’t telling you that they need something specific, that this means that they don’t need anything and that they aren’t struggling.  

A lot of neurodivergent folks have learned not to be forth-coming with needs and preferences for fear of being too much, too demanding, too bossy, too extra, too high-maintenance, too sensitive. All accusations many of us have had levelled at us repeatedly since childhood. That takes a toll and often leads people to choose silence and safety over confrontation and uncertainty.  

Instead, for those of us lucky enough to discover how we work best, we’ll build structures and processes that work for us and compensate for our undesirable environment, which you could try to work with too.  

If you see your colleague, always using a certain meeting agenda framework when they schedule a meeting, start using it yourself and encourage colleagues to do the same. If you notice someone else has a specific process for capturing their actions, why not ask how you can input into that directly, or amend your process to better align with it? Or better yet, is it something you could roll out to the whole team if it works well?  

Non-inclusive environments thrive because, we assume other people’s needs match our own, so the way we work goes unscrutinised. Inclusion often comes at little cost to us, and in fact often benefits the whole team. For example, having a list of actions sent after a meeting will benefit everyone who was in that meeting, but for your colleague with ADHD, it might be the difference between them being able to do their job and not! 

I’d encourage team leaders to actively explore opportunities for inclusion by doing a little research on how your team works and what everyone has in common, rather than assuming your current processes work for everyone.  


Some tips from Charlotte on the Access to Work process: 

  • Complete the Access to Work application on the gov.uk website: https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work.  
  • You’ll be allocated a case worker at the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) who will call you to discuss your application. If, like me, you have a pathological fear of phone calls, they’ll always send a follow-up email and you can then schedule a call time. 
  • You’ll discuss your application, at which time they’ll ask if there’s anything specific you want to ask for, or check if you’d like a needs assessment. For me, I went with the latter. 
  • Someone from a partner organisation (for me that was Maximus) will get in contact by phone and email to organise your needs assessment. 
  • The needs assessment takes about an hour and a half and you cover what challenges you’re facing at work and how your condition or disability impacts you. 
  • It took about a month for my needs assessment to be sent to my case worker, although I was told it should take 10 days. They then send it to you to read and review. 
  • The assessment contains recommendations and costs associated. If you’re happy with what’s suggested, your case worker will send this to your employer and submit your claim. 
  • After 3-4 weeks, I received a letter confirming my claim had been approved. This is also sent to your employer.
  • In the approval letter, instructions are included to set up an account on their online claims portal, here you’ll submit receipts for the adjustments you need a refund for. 


If you’d like to learn more about ADHD or how to support it as a manager, check out our free online course – ‘Manager Responsibilities for Reasonable Adjustments: ADHD‘.

Every employee is different.

Ask us how we can help your employees learn more about themselves like Charlotte.