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  • Mattia

AuDHD Misconceptions that Harm People in Work and Business

There are several common misconceptions about Autism and ADHD that can lead to exclusion and negative outcomes for us in the workplace. While we can't solve ableism on our own, knowing what people might think about us can help us decide whether or not to disclose our identities, as well as what we might need to do to address misconceptions if we do disclose.

AuDHD is barely recognized or spoken about in society as a whole.

Unfortunately, because this is a relatively new term with little research about it as a unique neurotype, people outside of the ND-internet-world have little understanding of it.

What this can cause is NTs combining the worst stereotypes about Autism and ADHD in their own heads. Again, it's not your job to solve all ableism, or to be solely responsible for educating everyone!

However, it's useful to know why you may get negative reactions if you disclose. If you choose to disclose, you may need to do quite a bit of education.

hammer and wrench on a wood background
it's a metaphor

Both Autistic and ADHD strengths are under-recognized.

Similar to the above misconception, AuDHD strengths are not widely known.

Even worse, some of our best strengths are separated out from our neurotype, and people talk about them as being strengths "despite" our neurodevelopmental "disorders."

For example, you may be both intensely creative and able to create and optimize systems-thinking. That's the lovely autistic pattern-seeking + creative thinking from both neurotypes. However, in a workplace, people may read all of your strengths as "normal" and all of your weaknesses as "AuDHD."

It's incredibly frustrating, and again may require you to educate others for them to even begin to understand your strengths.

group of professionally-dressed people in a coffee shop

We're "not team players."

The stereotype of Autistics being not empathetic persists, despite being widely debunked.

Because of the double empathy problem, we may struggle to communicate effectively with NT peers and coworkers.

We may also prefer to work alone on many tasks, because of our unique approach, and sometimes because we can work much faster alone.

However, this does not mean that we're bad on teams! This is yet another area where disclosing AuDHD may make managers assume we'll be problematic in a team setting, and we may need to actively educate about our own unique needs and strengths in this area.

For example, you may be very good at helping people feel included in a group, or at seeking genuine consensus, or at being the voice of truth and reason in a heated conversation. Whatever your strengths, it's worth leaning into strengths rather than trying to solve for weaknesses in your work.

Your unique thinking style and problem-solving abilities can actually enhance team performance and contribute to innovative solutions.

bearded person looking tired on the phone, looking at a laptop
it's true, sometimes it is annoying

We "can't handle" life as an entrepreneur.

Another misconception is the idea that Autistic folks in particular lack the ability to succeed as entrepreneurs. There are many known ADHD entrepreneurs, but autism acceptance is far behind.

It can be helpful to find successful Autistic and AuDHD entrepreneurs to follow and listen to. They're also good examples to show to anyone in your life who worries you can't handle the stress of starting and running a business.

It is true that there are unique stressors in entrepreneurship, but they are balanced by the sense of control over our schedule and life.

On the daily work side of things, we can harness hyperfocus, innovation, problem-solving, and our interest-based nervous systems to move things forward.

One reasonable concern here is if you don't have the support and structures to complete boring tasks completely under your own direction. Here's where having a business partner, a supportive neurodivergent community, or body-doubling or co-working can be enormously helpful.

It's also excellent to have formal support (such as a therapist or mentor) to help with the emotional regulation side of entrepreneurship. It's inevitable to experience some overwhelm and concerns around such a large and complex set of activities!

orange cat annoyed face
cat tired of hearing about functioning labels

You're too "functional" to be Autistic.

There's a reason the community has moved away from using functional labels! When I hear people use them, I immediately correct them to say high-masking and/or low support needs instead. (LSN is common in the UK.)

This misconception is a double-edged sword because it usually means that neither your strengths nor your concerns will be validated by that person.

We all have support needs! It can be difficult to identify and articulate what we need, let alone continue to argue for them when someone is shutting us down through something like the misconception above.

This set of stereotypes and stigma is one of the main reasons people are reluctant to disclose in the workplace, and that totally makes sense. It's okay to avoid disclosing to anyone who you don't have the energy to educate.

grinning person holding two fidget toys on a bright orange-yellow background

Unmasking makes us act weird: "Why are you acting so weird now? You were fine before."

When you start unmasking, it's common for people to react badly. This is especially disappointing when it's close friends, or even other neurodivergent people (yes, it happens).

"Masking" means hiding our neurodivergent traits in order to stay more safe. One person described masking as protecting the nervous systems of others at the expense of our own.

Unmasking is a process. It's a journey, not a destination. There may always be situations in which it's more safe to mask somewhat, and that's okay.

However, the misconception that we were "fine" before, and now we have demands and emotional problems is because now we're being honest, and not protecting everyone else's nervous systems at the expense of our own.

Masking can also make it difficult to build genuine relationships, or attract the right people in your work or business.

Do you want to make friends and connections based on your true self? Again, this is not a switch we turn on and off, but rather a complex series of behaviors that grows and changes over time.

It's safe to be weird and not okay as you're in the process of unmasking. It's also safe to keep some barriers up and only unmask when you're alone or with people you truly trust.

There is no right answer.

It's a personal choice!

rainbow of many colors of paper

AuDHD Misconceptions: Can't catch 'em all!

Truly, we can't fix ableism single-handedly. Even within our own work sphere, it's not our responsibility to address every stereotype, or correct every (micro)aggression.

It's okay if work feels like an impossible situation! It's complicated, and it requires quite a bit of labor to address.

Many AuDHD folks choose not to disclose, or to disclose only partly. For example, I simply used the "neurodivergent" label at most jobs, and only brought up ADHD if necessary. I've only been out as autistic from the beginning of one job, and that's in part because it was relevant to the position.

It's also possible to ask for what you need without framing it as a disability accommodation. While it may become necessary to bring in the legal force of actual ADA accommodations, sometimes it's not.

Deeply knowing your own strengths and being able to articulate them is very useful in all kinds of work! This gives you a way to talk about yourself and your neurotype without relying entirely on the negatives or concerns. It's also, by definition, educating others—because our strengths are so rarely spoken about!


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