To Disclose or Not to Disclose...

Feb. 12th, 2018

One of the more positive things about the ADHD populace is that, given the choice, most of us will choose to be honest. For one thing, we often don’t really have the memory necessary to uphold falsehoods. Sometimes it won’t even occur to us to lie, we just always want the truth to be known.

This tendency includes things like white lies or lying by omission. When we finally figure out what’s been going on with us all this time, when we receive our diagnosis, there can often be a strong instinct to share that news with the world. “Look!” We want to shout. “This is why I couldn’t do all those things!” The hope is that others will understand and take this explanation on board.

The problem is that often other people don’t react positively to any mental health diagnosis, let alone one with such a vast stigma and misinformation surrounding it. The world at large is beginning to understand and accept mental illness, but it’s a slow process, and certain acronyms still have the power to switch on prejudices and loud, and unfortunately incorrect, opinions.

So the choice of whether to reveal our ADHD diagnosis, and to whom, is deeply personal. Each of us must live with the consequences of speaking out or keeping silent. And whatever choice is made, it is one the rest of the community must respect, otherwise we are becoming part of the problem. Whether you see ADHD as a gift, a curse, or something in between, it is perfectly ok to talk about it or not, as you see fit.

There is a concept I’ve been forming, and sharing with clients, over the past few months. Put simply, it’s a way of disclosing without disclosing.

Imagine someone, diagnosed with ADHD, is sitting in a job interview, debating internally whether or not to tell their potential employer about their brain type. Because nine times out of ten it doesn’t matter what the individual themselves says, once the other person hears “ADHD” or “ADD” they automatically fill that box with whatever they know, or think they know, about it.

This is the real danger of disclosure: that the person being informed won’t accept the reality of ADHD, but will instead cling to the shape of what they previously had in their head about it. It doesn’t matter what scientific evidence is presented, they won’t be able to let go of “bad parenting”, “Big Pharma”, “lack of discipline”, “smartphones”, or whatever else they’ve picked up. “Didn’t a Harvard professor prove ADD is fake?” I heave a heavy sigh...

So this person, in the job interview, seems to have a choice: tell the potential employer about their diagnosis and roll the dice with what the person assumes and accept the consequences, including possibly being discounted for the job position, or hiding a fundamental aspect of themselves.

I’d like to offer a third option: tell the person, whoever it may be, about our specific ADHD, without the acronym label, rather than a blanket statement that can be misinterpreted.

For example, were I personally to employ this strategy in the job interview scenario, I might say “To ensure I remember what work I have to do, I will always write down assignments and tasks. I’m afraid my memory isn’t very good, so I’ve developed methods to compensate.” Or “When I received a task, I’ll usually be very detailed in asking about the execution and the steps. I like to have a clear path before me so I don’t waste time.” Or maybe “I work best in an atmosphere of focus, without conversations. In order to ensure my colleagues don’t inadvertently distract me from my task, I may listen to instrumental music at my desk, provided this doesn’t interfere with anyone else. I am most efficient and fast under these conditions.”

All three of those statements are describing an executive function I struggle with, and the means by which I shore up that deficiency, and the end result of such a technique on my productivity. Unless someone is particularly well educated on or familiar with ADHD, as it truly manifests, they won’t be likely to guess where these statements originate and just chalk it up to my individual makeup.

When we can be honest with people, we will feel better, and we will also be helping ourselves by communicating key information. The big question to ask is this:

“What do I really need this person to know?”

In the case of the job interview, the potential employer needs to know how the individual they are interviewing works and how they will behave in order to be most productive. When disclosing to a family member, the information needed will likely be very different. For a friend, it might be different again.

What circumstances have prompted this conundrum in your life?