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Insights Neurodiversity Celebration Week: Being yourself is being brilliant

My name is Courtney, and I've been at AtkinsRéalis since September 2021. I'm an Assistant Environmental Scientist in the Water Management Consultancy (WMC). I have a diagnosis of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which was diagnosed about five years ago after seeing a psychiatrist for OCD. These two are often coexisting conditions.

My ADHD is the inattentive or overfocused type.

This means that while I have hyperactivity, it mainly affects my attention regulation. I'm either too focused on those I find interesting or not focused on things I don't! I also experience forgetfulness, losing things, restlessness—the list goes on. This has impacted all facets of my life since I was a child. However, it means I'm extremely passionate and understanding and love to learn new information and skills!

Photo of Courtney amid greenery

I'm good in high-pressure situations.

People with ADHD often work best under high-pressure and high-stress environments. That's not to say that it is not stressful or overwhelming. But as our lives are so chaotic and most things are done at the last minute, high-risk and tight time frames are often second nature. So, I've learned to get things done efficiently in my everyday life and at work. I can manage tight client deadlines and keep within project time margins.

"I have many thought streams running through my mind at all times, so I often come up with spontaneous solutions, which helps with complex challenges, like creating new designs or finding new ways to present information."
—Courtney, Assistant Environmental Scientist on the Water Management team

I thrive on continuous learning.

As ADHD has issues with dopamine regulation (motivational reward chemicals), learning new information is extremely fun for me. This means I thrive on learning new skills, being involved in new projects, and working with new team members. I pick up things pretty quickly, and my passion for my job helps with this!

Photo of Courtney standing in the snow

But don't romanticize neurodiversity.

It is important to recognize that while neurodiverse conditions can have 'beneficial qualities and advantages,' they should also be recognized as hindrances. Many of the ways that my neurodiverse strengths are beneficial are only because they have previously caused issues, and I have had to find coping strategies to deal with them. For example, hyperfocus is useful when you have work that you find interesting. You can get it done well and efficiently. However, it can be hard to snap out of the hyperfocus when you have other deadlines, switch tasks, or need to eat lunch!

"While neurodiverse people in the workplace achieve success due to their conditions, it has come due to resilience and working harder to overcome the challenges of living in a neurotypical world."

How AtkinsRéalis fosters a neuro-inclusive environment.

AtkinsRéalis has many positive initiatives, including training modules and tailored support for employees, line managers, and HR. We have value moments in many of our bigger team meetings. These allow people to give short educational talks around different challenges, like neurodiversity and how to implement useful strategies.

AtkinsRéalis promotes a supportive culture.

I have come across limited judgment in sharing my condition, and most of the colleagues I work with ask questions about how they can best support me when I disclose my ADHD. For example, emailing me follow-ups after meetings so I can focus on processing the content of meetings instead of scribbling down notes to remember what was discussed.

ENABLE, our ERG for and by neurodiverse colleagues.

There is a neurodiversity committee, which has regular talks and a support forum. This helps people new to neurodiversity learn more in a safe space or for like-minded people to discuss their conditions. It's beneficial to seek advice from people who understand how neurodiversity can cause work-life issues and how to solve them. I've also seen people use the community to get help seeking a diagnosis or advice on structuring routines!

How we're making team events more inclusive.

Photo of Courtney smiling with her team in a marathon

Neuro-inclusive work culture does not think that employees are rude for not wanting to attend after-work events. It acknowledges that not everyone can focus on enjoying every work event. Neurodiverse colleagues may have already used all of their masking energy navigating the neurotypical world of work at meetings, speaking to new people, and in overstimulating environments.

People should feel welcomed and included

It's finding ways to socialize that aren't draining on autistic/ADHD colleagues' social batteries—and ensuring all team events have an inclusive atmosphere. Loud bars or pubs can be overwhelming if you have sensory issues or struggle to focus on conversations when you have a lot of brain traffic. In a neuro-inclusive work culture, socials wouldn't revolve around alcohol. For example, I don't drink because of the medication I use to reduce my ADHD symptoms. It can feel exclusive to have people asking why you are not drinking.

What I would improve...

Reasonable adjustments are in place at the company, but only if you ask for them or know what to ask for. These could be more clearly communicated from the start. I knew they existed only by hearing about and talking to individuals who had them provided. These include software on computers, noise-canceling headphones, flexible work hours, or having focused time where we can turn off distractions.

How we keep the conversation going #InsideAtkinsRéalis.

I feel my voice is heard in AtkinsRéalis. I'm asked to do interviews, talks, and written pieces like this. It means people want to understand their neurodivergent colleagues' lived experiences and our challenges. And want to ensure each individual can perform at their highest potential and thrive as they deserve.

Discover more about Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion inside AtkinsRéalis.