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Neurodivergent Self Diagnosis In The Workplace: Understanding And Supporting Your Employees

Neurodivergent Self Diagnosis 5 Colour Brains

Neurodivergent self-diagnosis is about understanding the diversity in how human brains interpret and process information. Neurodivergent is a term that describes people whose brains function and process information in a way that is considered abnormal because of a developmental neurological condition.

With the rise of understanding and acceptance of human neurodiversity, there has also been a rise in the number of psychiatric diagnoses made. Psychiatry is a type of medical field that works with the diagnosis and treatment of mental conditions. Diagnosing these conditions is known as psychiatric diagnosis.

Neurodivergent people have always been here. However, with an increased acceptance and understanding of neurodiversity, you will be interacting with more openly neurodivergent people daily, especially in the workplace.

When understanding neurodiversity in the workplace, it is important to recognise that individuals who function and process information differently may need additional support. This can help better utilise different individuals’ strengths, boost employee morale, improve employee retention, increase creativity, productivity, quality of work and many more benefits.

However, the process of clinical psychiatric diagnosis is not a perfect one. There are many barriers and drawbacks that will be discussed throughout this article. As a result, some individuals who have additional support needs may not be diagnosed or may resort to the process of self-diagnosing, which comes with its own list of pros and cons to be considered.

Throughout this article, we will discuss what you need to understand about Neurodivergent self-diagnosis as an employer and employee. And, if you are considering self-diagnosing yourself, what are some of the key things you need to consider and understand before you lean too much into a label?

What is Neurodivergent self-diagnosis?

Neurodivergent self-diagnosis is the process of identifying a medical condition within oneself without official medical recognition. Self-diagnosis is not specific to mental conditions. However, the self-diagnosis of physical medical conditions has different pros and cons that will not be discussed in this article.

There is no standard method for self-diagnosing. However, there are methods of coming to these conclusions about your own health conditions that are more responsible and reliable than others.

What is clinical diagnosis, and where can I find more information on disorders?

Clinical diagnosis is the process of a medical condition being identified in you by a clinical or diagnostic professional.

There are many stages and methods to getting a clinical diagnosis for any medical condition, whether physical or psychiatric. For psychiatric diagnoses, all disorders, their symptoms, and their diagnostic criteria can be found in either the DSM 5 TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume 5, text revision) or the ICD-11 (International Classification of Diseases Volume 11). The DSM is preferred in the US and Canada, whereas the ICD is more widely used in European countries. In the UK, diagnostic professionals can choose between the DSM and the ICD.

What is the difference between Neurodivergent self-diagnosis and clinical diagnosis?

Neurodivergent self-diagnosis is less reliable, regulated and professionally informed than clinical diagnosis. In its simplest terms, self-diagnosis is diagnosing yourself, whereas clinical diagnosis is receiving a diagnosis from a professional.

Clinical diagnosis is officially recognised. If a diagnosed employee needs accommodations in the workplace, they must be provided by law as far as is reasonable for the employer. What is reasonable will be different for each individual.

Self-diagnosis has no official recognition. However, a person’s lack of diagnosis does not necessarily mean they are not protected under the 2010 Equalities Act. This can be further understood within the 2010 Equalities Act guidance for understanding disability

Why might an employee self-diagnose?

You might be thinking, “If self-diagnosis is unofficial, unrecognised, and unregulated, why would an employee do it instead of getting a clinical diagnosis?” There are a few reasons someone might self-diagnose.

Firstly, many people want to avoid the inequalities that often come with having a diagnosis of a mental condition, which may impact job opportunities and options for living and location.

Another factor is clinical diagnosis not always being accessible, for several reasons. For example, Geography and culture can be a significant barrier to accessing psychiatric medical care, especially diagnosis

Some countries, such as China and Japan, place a high value on reputation, meaning it is not uncommon to avoid seeking psychiatric support for fear of shame or discrimination. It also means fewer diagnostic professionals in those areas are willing to work with many mental conditions, particularly those less common or more stigmatised.

Even without specific cultural expectations, your staff may feel ashamed of having a mental condition. This stigmatisation is perpetuated throughout some cultures, within the media, within social groups and through the treatment of other disabled individuals. Anyone in any area can feel too ashamed to pursue an officially recognised diagnosis.

Other countries, such as South Africa and Mexico, lack adequate diagnostic and healthcare infrastructure needed for people to access diagnosis or effective support for their conditions.

This is also true of the UK, where major underfunding and neglect of healthcare systems, particularly in psychiatric sectors, has led to waitlists for psychiatric diagnosis and support services skyrocketing. Even for the most common neurodivergent conditions, like ADHD and Autism, waitlists from time of referral to time of seeing a diagnostic professional can be anywhere from months to years. Some diagnostic groups have closed their waiting lists so that no new patients can be referred for diagnosis due to extended wait times.

In many instances, employees may choose to seek private diagnostic services due to the lack of accessibility to public services. However, this is not always achievable for many people as private diagnostic services can cost between hundreds and thousands of pounds depending on age, type of assessment, and level of support. This means that for those without sufficient financial stability, private diagnosis is not an affordable or accessible option.

With these barriers associated with clinical and private diagnosis, someone may find self-diagnosing to be their only option, or it may act as a placeholder until they can receive a clinical diagnosis.

Pros and Cons of Neurodivergent self-diagnosis

It’s important to note that Neurodivergent self-diagnosing is not a perfect replacement for clinical diagnosis. But, with these barriers, it is understandable why an employee might do it. There are some important pros and cons that need to be considered before either unquestioningly accepting or immediately ignoring a self-diagnosis.

Pros of Self-diagnosis

There are many potential positives to self-diagnosing:

Neurodivergent self-diagnosis helps mitigate the aforementioned barriers to clinical diagnosis. If someone is unable to access clinical diagnosis, it provides an alternative.

Neurodivergent self-diagnosis can also be a useful first step towards clinical diagnosis. An employee may self-diagnose while waiting for a clinical diagnosis. They might also bring their self-diagnosis to a diagnostic professional as evidentiary support for the clinical diagnosis.

Without a clinical diagnosis, Neurodivergent self-diagnosis can also help your staff find language for their experiences and better understand their own ways of operating and functioning. Having labels and language to describe how they feel and why they may have certain experiences can help to feel less alone, increase self-esteem, find support and coping mechanisms, increase self-awareness, and many other benefits.

Having this language can also help your staff to contextualise the impact of their experiences. Additionally, it can help others who don’t know what they might be experiencing to gain a better understanding. For example, saying “eye contact feels overwhelming” often doesn’t convey the significance of that experience or the impact it can have on a person. However, saying, “I think I have autism, and I find making eye contact to be overwhelming”, provides additional context for the person on the other end of the conversation to understand the difference between not liking eye contact and being unable to cope with it because of a condition that causes that input to be processed differently in the brain.

Many neurodivergent and mentally ill people struggle with feelings of inadequacy and often blame themselves for not being good enough to succeed when they don’t know that they have a condition. Self-diagnosis helps give language to shift self-rhetoric from “I am broken” or “I’m not good enough”, to “I have a condition” or “I am not broken, I am just different” or “I just need to do things differently to succeed”.

Self-diagnosis offers a sensible opportunity for finding more specific support, either through research, support forums, or social or therapeutic support. For example, searching “how to manage ADHD” will yield more valuable results than searching “how to focus better”.

Although a non-diagnostic professional (such as a therapist) cannot diagnose, they can unofficially suggest a client may have a particular condition and help develop more specific support methods. This would not be an official diagnosis but could be considered a self-diagnosis with the support of a non-diagnostic professional.

Cons of Self-diagnosis

Neurodivergent self-diagnosis is not perfect. It is unregulated, meaning that there is no consistent understanding as to how to self-diagnose or ensure it is accurate. Although, there are methods that are more likely to be accurate than others. Self-diagnosis comes with a significant list of cons that should be considered before applying a label to yourself.

Self-diagnosis without professional or trained input can easily be inaccurate for several reasons. We are all neurodiverse, and we will all likely experience some symptoms of most conditions at some point in our lives. That does not mean that we have these conditions.

Neurodivergent Diagnosis is nuanced. There is a reason why a minimum number of criteria needs to be met, external circumstances need to be considered, as well as timeframes for a diagnosis to be made. Without an adequate understanding of the specifics of the condition or what is involved in the diagnostic process, someone may inaccurately self-diagnose.

Additionally, without knowledge or awareness of different conditions, it is possible to conclude that you have a particular condition when it is, in fact, something else.

Confirmation bias can also impact Neurodivergent self-diagnosis. This is the tendency to search for, interpret or value information that aligns with what we already believe. It is a largely unintentional method of decision-making but often leads to ignoring information that does not align with our existing beliefs. Confirmation bias may result in someone believing they have a particular condition and focusing on research that confirms this belief without adequately considering information that disputes it.

Self-diagnosis also does not provide any level of medical or professional support. A self-diagnosed person can take their belief to a professional to help gain a diagnosis and find support methods. However, they cannot access the same resources that a clinical diagnosis brings, such as medication or specific support schemes and treatment methods, until they have received that diagnosis.

Link to “how to responsibly self-diagnose”

Pros and Cons of Clinical Diagnosis.

Clinical diagnosis is always preferred over self-diagnosis. However, the clinical diagnostic processes aren’t perfect either, and some important pros and cons of need to be understood.

Pros of Clinical Diagnosis

Clinical diagnosis is carried out by psychiatrists and licensed diagnostic professionals. This means that it is more likely to be accurate than self-diagnosis, as those carrying out the diagnostic process have a greater medical understanding of these conditions and what is needed to be diagnosed with them.

Diagnostic professionals also often have a more objective view when assessing patient experiences and understanding whether they align with a particular condition’s symptoms. This means they are less likely to be influenced by confirmation biases.

A clinical diagnosis allows patients to access more support measures, such as medications, medical support and certain support services that may be provided through diagnostic groups.

Some of the pros of Neurodivergent self-diagnosis also apply to clinical diagnosis, particularly gaining the language to identify experiences and better understand your own ways of functioning.

As stated previously, having this language allows staff to explain experiences to others better, increases self-esteem and reduces feelings of inadequacy. Gaining this understanding through clinical diagnosis may have a more significant impact due to the increased credibility and accuracy of a professional diagnosis, allowing for more confidence in that knowledge.

Cons of Clinical Diagnosis

Clinical diagnosis is not always accessible. As stated earlier in this article, there are many barriers to gaining a professional diagnosis for a mental condition.

Clinical diagnosis is not always reliable. While it may be more informed than self-diagnosis, there is not a perfect method of diagnosing.

For many mental conditions, clinical diagnosis does not involve scans or objective medical tests such as blood tests (although some do). Instead, methods are usually more subjective, using patient interviews, self-assessment forms, peer assessment forms, observation of behaviour and other similar methods of gathering information to inform a diagnostic decision. This can lead to people being assessed by one diagnostic professional as having a condition based on their knowledge and experience but by other professionals as not.

Misdiagnosis is also common within clinical diagnosis for several reasons, such as a lack of understanding or knowledge by diagnostic professionals in particular areas, or inadequate diagnostic services. For example, people with Dissociative Identity Disorder are often misdiagnosed with personality or psychotic disorders first. Adults with ADHD often receive diagnoses of anxiety or depression first. Both are common symptoms of ADHD.

Clinical diagnosis often doesn’t consider cultural differences in behaviour. For example, a common symptom of autism is avoidance of eye contact. However, in Chinese culture, it is impolite for children to make direct eye contact with adults. This is just one example of a behavioural difference that diagnostic criteria suggest is an indicator of autism but could be alternatively explained by cultural differences.

Neurodivergent diagnostic measures are often criticised for having a very Westernised view of “normal” and “abnormal” behaviour. This means that staff from different cultures may be misdiagnosed or overlooked based on a culturally biased understanding of what different mental conditions look like.

Culture is not the only aspect of identity that may result in patients being overlooked in the diagnostic process. Gender can play a role in how someone is diagnosed. There are many criticisms of how women are considered in understanding different conditions, regularly being underdiagnosed as well as underrepresented in research.

The clinical understanding of many mental conditions is also heavily criticised for ignoring the input and experiences of people who have them. The diagnostic criteria regularly describes behavioural differences as “deficits” and ignores the benefits that alternative ways of functioning may bring.

While mental conditions do often make life more difficult, many conditions do have positives that are overlooked by diagnostic understandings. This means there may be common experiences that people with particular conditions have that are not understood by clinical diagnostic groups. However, new research is constantly being done that changes the professional understanding of what these conditions look like and entail.

How to responsibly self-diagnose

Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational purposes only. You should always seek professional advice and opinions and acknowledge that your self-diagnosis is not the same as a professional one.

With all these cons of Neurodivergent self-diagnosis, particularly the strong possibility of inaccuracy, it is important to make sure that you are doing as much as possible to educate and inform your understanding of the labels you are considering. There are some things you can do to go about self-diagnosing in a more responsible way. Use a combination of the suggestions mentioned below, along with any additional resources you are able to access.

If you are considering self-diagnosing, it is important to keep an open mind and accept that your self-diagnosis may be completely wrong, even if you are pretty confident you are correct.

Clinical diagnosis should always be the go-to method of obtaining a diagnosis. Self-diagnosis should only be considered if you have already looked into getting a clinical diagnosis and it is either not possible or there is a barrier to obtaining one, such as those suggested earlier in this article.

Research

It is important to make sure that you are doing adequate and continuous research into the experiences you are having and what conditions they could be related to. It is also important to make sure you are researching the conditions you are considering. This includes looking into common symptoms, experiences, and criteria of the condition as much as possible to help avoid coming to inaccurate conclusions based on inadequate information.

For example, some people with OCD keep things organised. Seeing this may lead you to inaccurately think that you have OCD because you like to be organised too.

This conclusion may be inaccurate and can also undermine the severity and experiences of having that disorder. Researching more into the symptoms and experiences of OCD will show you that it is not about being organised. Instead, there are more complex symptoms, such as debilitating intrusive thoughts, that cause people to carry out certain behaviours. For some, this may include organisation. This is one example of why gaining a more in-depth understanding of symptoms and experiences is important to avoid using labels inaccurately.

Clinical diagnostic resources

Medical resources, such as the DSM or ICD, are great for learning about what these conditions may look like and what criteria need to be met in order for someone to have them. These often include diagnostic criteria and more specific explanations of the things that need to be considered and identified before giving diagnoses, as well as some diagnostic methods or resources that may be used by professionals. This will not be the case for every condition.

Scientific journals and articles

Scientific research papers, articles and documentaries identifying and assessing various conditions and their symptoms can be found online. It is important to check sources and ensure information is coming from a credible resource, as well as through informed scientific methods, before relying on online research. Looking at more sources will provide more accurate and informed understandings.

Lived experience learning

Listening to the lived experiences of people who have been diagnosed with conditions can be a useful way to learn about the reality of living with a mental condition. Medical classifications and scientific descriptions often miss the nuances of what it is like to have a particular condition on a day-to-day basis. Lived experience learning can provide more detailed explanations and allow you to ask questions to gain more in-depth insight.

Community

Lived experience learning often comes from the people around you. If you have friends or family with particular diagnoses, speaking to them about their experiences can help to better understand yourself and gain more personal insights into the condition.

Social media allows us to connect, form communities with and learn from a wide variety of people. Many people with mental conditions share their experiences through social media, whether by making videos or podcasts, using forums and chatrooms, posting blogs and many other methods of sharing.

Social media is not just a place to gain information about these experiences. It creates more awareness and wider social acceptance of different types of people who would previously have been ostracized by society. Learning that others may have similar experiences and struggles to yourself can help feel less alone, as well as helping you to accept your differences and reduce feelings of inadequacy.

Social media has also allowed for the development of community. People of all kinds, such as professionals, diagnosed and undiagnosed individuals, can ask questions and share ideas, knowledge and resources.

However, there are some important things to keep in mind, when it comes to utilising social media. Social media is an unregulated space. Most of the time, people are able to post whatever they want without it having to be fact-checked or assessed for credibility. This can result in people lying, exaggerating information or just getting things wrong.

You should always check your sources of information. Look to see who is posting the information and if they have any credibility. Some pages are verified to be run by professional researchers, psychiatrists, coaches and educators. Others are just people with these conditions sharing their experiences. It is important to keep in mind that these kinds of accounts, while they can be accurate and a great insight into someone’s lived experiences of a condition, are very personalised to that individual. These accounts often focus on that person’s experiences and interpretation of their own diagnosis. Looking at multiple social media profiles/accounts will help to gain a more well-rounded view of these experiences. It is also important to remember that everyone is different, even if they have the same conditions.

Non-diagnostic professionals

If you are unable to access psychiatric services, you may still be able to speak to non-diagnostic professionals, such as therapists. A therapist will work with you to identify the underlying causes of problems you may be having and develop strategies for coping and functioning more effectively, whether based on a particular diagnosis or not. Some therapists specialise in working with particular conditions and types of people, so you may want to look for someone who aligns with your experiences.

A therapist may also be able to help you identify aspects of your functioning and behaviour that may or may not indicate the presence of a condition. While therapists cannot diagnose, they can recommend seeking particular diagnoses and identify if your experiences align with their knowledge of the condition. Other non-diagnostic professionals, such as general practitioners, can also provide similar types of support or advice.

Self-assessment tests

There are many self-assessment resources online that can suggest the likelihood of having particular conditions. Taking quizzes and tests that assess the likelihood of having a condition can be useful for self-diagnosis. It is important to remember social media and other self-assessment resources are not always credible or accurate.

There are some that are more widely accepted for accuracy. For example, to self-assess for Autism, the Embrace Autism website has several professionally developed tests. Each has a description of where the test has come from, who it is for, what it is assessing, updates, useful information, and descriptions of what your result may mean. Embrace Autism also has some assessment resources for ADHD self-assessment.

Clinical partners are a trusted partner of the NHS, providing psychiatric services, including diagnostic services. They also provide a wide variety of resources, including tests for anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, eating disorders and others. As stated on their website, these tests are not designed to conclusively tell you if you have a condition or not, but they can help identify the likelihood.

It is important to understand that, even if you use accredited assessment tools, they may not provide accurate results. Some are designed to be used in conjunction with other assessment methods by professionals. Again, using multiple methods of assessment will increase the likelihood of accuracy.

Seeking clinical diagnosis

If you think you may have a mental condition, you should always try to seek a clinical diagnosis or professional opinion before self-diagnosing. There are a few steps you can take to get a professional diagnosis.

If possible, speak to a trusted person in your life, such as a friend or family member. They may be able to help advocate for you to get the services you need and be able to support you through the process.

    • Utilise some of the Neurodivergent self-diagnostic tools found in this blog as a reference point.
    • Speak to a medical or mental health professional. Your general practitioner is usually the person responsible for referring patients to the relevant diagnostic services. However, you may also be able to consult with other medical or mental health professionals to receive further advice, direction or support. If you feel as though you need urgent or emergency support in the United Kingdom, contact 999, 111 or go to an accident and emergency centre for further help.
    • Ask for a referral to a psychiatrist.
    • Await a Neurodivergent diagnosis. Once you have been referred, most diagnostic groups will let you know how long you may be expecting to wait for an assessment or first appointment. Depending on the type of assessment, the wait times may vary. Often, there is little contact between the patient and the diagnostic services during waiting periods unless additional information is needed before the appointment. Closer to the appointment time, you may be asked to complete some forms and tests in advance of your appointment, such as self-assessment tests, peer-assessment forms, relevant medical history or relevant physical health information.

    Reasonable adjustments

    Reasonable adjustments are changes that are made in the workplace to help better accommodate employee’s needs. It is important to understand that just because someone doesn’t have a diagnosis, does not mean that they are not experiencing symptoms that may have an impact on day-to-day functioning.

    It can be useful to ask your staff what they need in order to be more comfortable at work. Everyone is different, so everyone will have different needs for achieving the best results at work. A reasonable adjustment may include:

    • Providing a specific working space
    • Giving information in particular ways
    • Providing assistive technology such as text readers or grammar checkers
    • Flexible working hours
    • Or many other methods of accommodation.

    This will depend on what the individual needs and what is reasonable for the employer to provide.

    Neurodivergent Self-diagnosis takeaways

    It is becoming increasingly clear that there are countless different ways of interacting with the world. In addition to countless different methods of working that will support different individuals, whether diagnosed or not. It is important to keep open lines of communication and speak to your staff about how they are feeling.

    Accepting neurodiversity allows us to better utilise different employee’s strengths and create a more effective working environment for many different types of people. Understanding the barriers that come with obtaining a professional diagnosis means you can better support undiagnosed individuals who may be struggling.

    For more information, contact Mission Diverse for our neurodiversity training and consulting support, where we provide you with the best methods for ways in which you can support neurodivergent colleagues and create a more inclusive workplace.

    Neurodivergent Self Diagnosis In The Workplace: Understanding And Supporting Your Employees
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