Before heading back to school in 2012, I spent about seven years in the workforce. I was a real adult. I paid bills on time; bought and sold a car; and, rode public transportation. I had relationships. I lived in Houston, Texas on Cape Cod and in Boston — totally a real adult. Also, oh yeah, like I’ve told you all a thousand times before, I did all this while having adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which made everything just a little bit more difficult than it needed to be. I was honest at each of my places of work regarding my diagnosis. Though I had no formal accommodations, steps were made at times (intentionally or naturally) to make life a little easier for me (For Mental Illness, Should I Check the Disability Box?).
How the American’s with Disability Act Worked in the Workplace
My first job after graduating from Bryn Mawr brought me to Houston and The Monarch School. I was a teacher for students with neurological differences, aged 8-14. It was the best year of my life and my experiences there have a lot to do with my current path. My adult ADHD worked amazingly well in this setting. Since my co-teacher and I taught everything, and we made the schedule ourselves, we scheduled gym after the more brain-intensive classes. He and I took turns taking the students outside and running around with them. By the end of the day, we had each spent at least half an hour outside with the kiddos — perfection. When it came time to write up report cards, it was just the two of us in the classroom typing (aka “distraction reduced environment”). A natural accommodation for myself.
I worked some random jobs until I found a home for nearly five years at the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in Boston. Here, I worked to get my needs met. I was one of the few people on my floor who had to share an office. For two of my years there, it was just me and my pal, Linda, in a room in direct sight (and hearing range) of each other. When we moved to a different room, the UUA put up a six foot room divider to dampen the noise and end any ability for us to see each other.
The UUA was also amazing, because they were fine with me listening to music all day long. My supervisor didn’t mind waiting a second for me to take my headphones off when he came into the room. He knew I wasn’t goofing off; I was doing what I needed to do to focus.
Oh, and also, I made it a point to walk during my lunch break. I asked my supervisor at one point if he was okay with me eating at my desk during my work time and, then, going out during lunch to work off energy. He was okay with it. It made me less anxious having him know that I wasn’t taking my lunch break while I was eating at my desk, so I didn’t feel weird leaving the office later to go on my walk.
I think that’s the trick. Make sure your supervisor knows that X or Y is what you need to do your best work. It needs to be “reasonable” according to the American’s with Disability Act (ADA) and can’t be unfair to the organization. I had originally wanted my own office, but the UUA didn’t have the space. The room divider was the compromise and it was a good one. They just moved into a new space with an open floor plan and I wonder what they would do for me in this case. Who knows?
Have any of you had educational or work related accommodations made? Comment below. You can also read my post on Adult ADHD, School and the Americans with Disabilities Act.