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TikTok: The Rising Star in Promoting Neurodiversity

In 2022, social media is nothing if not a paradox. With instant information loaded at the tap of a finger, self discoveries are at an all-time high—and we aren’t sure how we feel about it. Studies have shown that the breadth of access to information via social media is repeatedly leaving people clinically overwhelmed, insecure, with anxiety and burnout statistics high on the charts of internet fatigue. Especially post-Covid, with more and more people exhibiting signs of a “freeze” trauma response, apps like TikTok present a complex issue of information overload.

If you are Gen Z, there’s little-to-no chance that you aren’t aware of the seemingly psychic algorithmic abilities of TikTok’s “For You Page.” [For those that are newer to the TikTok scene, the “For You Page”, dubbed FYP, is the hubbub of content exposure and sharing on TikTok.] At times helpful, other times spooky, & nearly all times leaving you personally attacked with accuracy, TikTok’s algorithm is uniquely catered to each user’s interests, interactions, and overall TikTok footprint. There’s something akin to pure camaraderie in the comment section of TikToks that hit home just a little too closely for quite a few people. My FYP has shown me videos echoing personal thoughts not even 30 minutes after having them—without ever voicing said thoughts aloud. It does not take long to be on TikTok before you are having a similar experience. The FYP phenomenon can be overwhelming, but also informative. Two years ago, I had my own medical discovery prompted by TikTok that effectively changed my entire life. 

I was minding my business mid-pandemic & TikToks about undiagnosed ADHD in adults started filling my FYP. ADHD was something I had always associated with my hyperactive, quirky childhood best friend who struggled with her grades & was unable to sit still. What I now know as a common misunderstanding, I thought ADHD was a condition that you could outgrow with age. I was seeing TikToks about later-in-life ADHD diagnoses’, specifically in women; TikToks entitled, “5 Symptoms that Might Indicate You Have Undiagnosed ADHD”; TikToks that told me to put a finger down for each situation I had experienced, with the tagline that these were potentially indicative of undiagnosed, unmedicated ADHD – and I related to nearly all of them.

This triggered an identity crisis and deep-dig of ADHD and its medical history, including any information I could find regarding the drastic statistical gap in diagnoses’ for women. It turns out, similar to the last 30ish years discovery and overhaul on treating depression & anxiety (I highly recommend The Body Keeps the Score for more information), ADHD has been misunderstood & misdiagnosed for years, with some experts estimating that 75% of adults with ADHD remain undiagnosed. While hyperactivity and short attention span are symptoms perpetuated by stereotype, ADHD presents in a much wider, more complex breadth of symptoms and struggles for each individual. 

Fast-forward to being psychiatrically evaluated, and I was receiving an ADHD diagnosis at 23 years old. The most accurate reaction I can recount is feeling like I had just been dealt the most relieving gut punch. On the one hand, I finally knew why my brain worked the way it did. The disconnects I often felt in my relationships, my daily routines, and life scenarios had very real explanations. On the other hand, 23 is the age when people kind of start expecting you to have your life together. (Disclaimer: time is not linear and personal success is not determined by capitalistic metrics of achievement…but that’s a conversation for another day). People would ask me where I went to school (which I had dropped out of), where I was working now (as an actor in the pandemic) and what I had planned for the future (lol). Receiving an ADHD diagnosis was like I had been given the script for the movie of my first 23 years of life while the end credits were playing.

Much like receiving a late diagnosis, a tricky part of having ADHD is the paradoxes. Every ADHDer presents this differently, but the underlying experience is shared. For me, it looks like hating routines, but needing clear structure and guidelines to be successful; like being highly sensitive, but struggling at times with bluntness or lack of etiquette in my own communicative patterns. A common experience for ADHDers as a result of these paradoxes is overcompensating or “masking” our ADHD for the sake of fitting in and conforming to neurotypical society. This creates an inner paradoxical experience, as we live with a self that feels very much split between two realities. 

If ADHD were a bad joke, the punchline is that one of the biggest gaslighters of ADHD today is…people who don’t know they have ADHD. In a capitalist society that wants you to conform—and adding patriarchal structures to the mix—it feels unmeasurably easier to present as a neurotypical person externally, than to live freely in your neurodivergence. Frankly, it makes sense: masking, coping, and adapting is the only perspective of the world an undiagnosed individual has ever experienced. As a result, undiagnosed ADHDers unknowingly perpetuate this societal paradox through a lifetime of meticulously adapting to the neurotypical world.

            The statistics of individuals potentially living with undiagnosed ADHD are daunting. With this in mind, it’s critical to consider how these numbers are affecting our society at large. It means that people with ADHD are not the exception, they are another valid part to the whole of society. We need to be having conversations about how we can create more inclusive spaces for neurodivergent folks now. The neurodivergent community does not stop at ADHD, but asking questions is a good stepping stone to learning more. So, how can a workplace collaborate with ADHDers, (likely some of the highest achieving on the team) to make the workplace a more accommodating environment for all employees?

Be clear with expectations. This is generally a good habit, but there is no such thing as too much communication when it comes to establishing structure for someone with ADHD. Along with this, verbal affirmations are hugely important to reassuring people with ADHD that they are on the right track.

Be intentional about connecting. Typically, coworkers enjoy socializing for the sake of socializing; employees with ADHD (especially the extroverts) need it for the sake of dopamine. Our brains are hardwired to process dopamine at a deficit from the neurotypical brain. Getting moments of connecting with other people is essential to maintaining dopamine throughout the day.

Connection creates healthy accountability. While ADHDers need structure, we can also struggle with feeling trapped by routines. When I have a manager who is consistent with checking in on me (to genuinely connect), I am significantly more motivated in my work, and I am also getting dopamine from feeling valued as a person.

Be conscious and accepting of different working habits. People with ADHD can often struggle with a typical 9-5 work schedule. There can be a multitude of reasons for this – take time to get to know what works best for someone with ADHD and be open-minded to a non-conventional working structure.

A key struggle of living with ADHD is burnout – while burnout is a human experience, much more common post-COVID, ADHDers are statistically more likely to experience burnout, per a plethora of reasons. If you know an ADHD employee, it is essential to recognize the signs of burnout & allow them space to move through it (the only way for anyone to truly recover from burnout). We will come out on the other side even more motivated and ready to re-invigorate the team with our natural enthusiasm.

Let’s get one thing straight – I come from a privileged perspective; as a cis-gender, able-bodied, white woman, all of these privileges (among others) contributed along the way to me receiving a diagnosis, even if later in life. To share about my diagnosis, and what I’ve learned, is to also account for those privileges, and acknowledge that for non-white, non-able-bodied, non-cis neurodivergent folks, the same privileges do not exist. Even with my privileges, getting a diagnosis started entirely by chance through an app—if this was my story, what are marginalized neurodivergent folks missing out on or excluded from in their own experiences?

This brings me back to TikTok – the collateral damage caused by information overload is real, as anyone with a TikTok knows the feeling of a mushy brain from mindless scrolling. Yet, I also owe it to TikTok for my ADHD diagnosis. TikTok was the launchpad to me finding answers to lifelong questions, to me finally having a shot at constructing my own version of adulthood. It’s an opportunity for marginalized communities to access information and opportunities that they might otherwise have been excluded from. With the potential for such critical personal discovery at our fingertips, TikTok’s excess of information is certainly worth more than an immediate write-off. The disadvantages of social media are tangibly felt by our society, but the benefits provide substantial food for thought, too. 

Jane Greene
Jane is currently Executive Assistant at JUV Consulting. When not at JUV, she is romanticizing life on the west coast, enjoying iced coffee out of a wine glass, and daily mourning that she has never been shushed by Lorde. You can follow Jane on Instagram @deycallmejane.