25 September 2023
It used to be that whenever someone said ‘ADHD’, we pictured a school age child, usually male, who couldn’t sit still. Maybe for youth workers it was a 13-year-old who on a residential would suddenly become hyper chatty when their meds wore off in the evening.
But how familiar is the youth worker whose job has overflowed into their life? Their desk is a mess, their car is filled with craft materials, board games and other tat vaguely referred to as ‘resources’, and whilst everyone knows they are excellent at working with young people, they seem to be plagued by an inability to show up to a meeting on time that has them branded as unreliable.
I hope we’ve moved past these stereotypes. However, seeking and receiving an official diagnosis of ADHD as an adult, still left me with plenty of questions and things to reflect on!
Suddenly, years of struggling to keep up with “professional” expectations had an answer, but as I did more research, so did a lot of strengths that I’d been able to bring to my different roles. I was good at making connections and finding resources, observing behaviour and patterns others didn’t notice, and I had honed ‘winging it’ with session planning to a fine art. I’d even had young people comment that, although I was still making the resource at the start of the session, the content and the activities were always interesting, and they got a lot out of the conversations we would have. ADHD wasn’t a problem for me when I had a supportive work environment, but I still had so much unlearning to do around the way I motivated myself in order to have a healthier work/life balance.
Neurodiversity takes many forms, and it isn’t something that ‘goes away with age’. We absolutely want to make sure young people are celebrated and supported for who they are, we also need to do this with our teams. There are loads of simple adjustments that could help a youth worker with ADHD to avoid labels such as ‘unreliable’, and building a more accessible work environment for all kinds of difference and disability only benefits everyone.
Want to be part of the conversation? Join London Youth as we explore what neurodiversity in youth work looks like, and how we can all continue to develop our practice!
During this National Inclusion Week, we also host an Inclusion Network. We’ll focus on supporting young people, staff and volunteers who are neurodivergent. Come along to share practice and work together to make youth work more accessible. Find out more and register
— Ruth Virgo, Membership Development Officer (Sector Development)