Cover Image - What We Lose When We Make Them Choose: To Self-identify Or Not?

Neurodiverse In The Open: To Self-Identify Or Not?

By Cris Brady, M.Ed.

Neurodiversity and Self-Identification

We’ve all seen the failures of the one-size fits all approach to policy, education and workplace design. As we learn more about neuroscience, and best practices for learning and producing, it’s become increasingly obvious that our systems are too large, awkward, and set in their ways to effect substantive change in a reasonable amount of time. As a result, we often rely on reactionary solutions, but with every solution comes a new problem. One of the biggest has been our reliance on forcing people to self-identify in order to receive accommodations.

The Cons of Self-Identification

Why would anyone choose to NOT self-identify and get the accommodations they need?

Although self-identifying provides access to much needed services, there are several reasons people choose to go without:

  • They may want to shed a label they’ve been forced to carry their whole lives;
  • They’re looking prove to themselves that they can accomplish something (e.g. college) without help;
  • They’re tired of inaccurate stigmas and/or misinformation, that masks their abilities;
  • They don’t have any actual proof (e.g. an official assessment) required to get accommodations;
  • They’re afraid they might lose their job;
  • They simply don’t want to be treated differently, and/or;
  • They aren’t even aware they even have a learning disability.

Education and Self-Identification

We can’t force people to self-identify, but if schools and workplaces don’t receive a formal diagnosis, they aren’t required to provide accommodations. This is a huge problem.

At younger stages, it’s the responsibility of school administration to make sure children with learning disabilities are assessed and identified, regardless of each student’s want for confidentiality. At college and workplaces levels, it’s completely up to the individual to self-identify. Over 94% of high school students with learning disabilities receive assistance; colleges will see less than 17% access the same services.

Additionally, those college students who do self-identify often don’t come forward until it’s too late. A huge influx happens right before exam times, when students’ grades and mental health have already been greatly affected. And misinformation surrounding neurodevelopmental disabilities is so rampant that people feel more comfortable to suffer a stigma than be accommodated at all.

Employment and Self-identification

Further on in life, fear of losing your job results in being unable to get the help you need, but not getting the accommodations means not being able to do the job to the best of your ability. You can’t fully access your skills if you’re constantly worried about being “found out”.

What We Lose When We Make People Choose


  • People waste time and energy hiding when they could be honing their skills;
  • Companies lose out on divergent talent;
  • We miss the opportunity to learn from people’s differences and inform environmental and instructional design, and;
  • We assume that accommodations are only helpful to the people they are diagnosed for and requested by.

Forcing people to self-identify in order to receive accommodations also maintains the illusion that our systems are working fine, and it maintains the notion that the person must change because they are the problem, the disability, and the deficit.

The Solutions

Several companies encourage self-identification through disability training, accessible websites and the use of inclusive language in hiring practices. This is great progress, but too many people are still falling through the cracks; as a society, we’re still losing.

People still feel forced to hide their talent and potential behind what society considers to be “desirable behaviors”: eye contact, sitting still, and the appearance of concentration.

The time has come for systems to be altered. But how do we do this without causing chaos for the masses? The answer is simple – we need to look to commonalities rather than differences.

People share many overlapping difficulties. People with ADHD, for example, share many sensory and executive functioning difficulties as people with autism, people with TBI (traumatic brain injuries), and people with anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

At the college level, the two most common accommodations requested regardless of diagnosis are longer times for testing, and a quiet place during testing. These are accommodations that are not only inexpensive (essentially, they cost nothing), but can easily be applied within the larger classroom setting, which means there would be no need for many students to self-identify.

Workplaces can do the same thing. Anonymous surveys are a great way to gather information about common difficulties employees have within workplace environments. In this way, accommodations are then seen as a benchmark for how well your system is working, and we begin to rely on the feedback from our divergent thinkers rather than fear it or have them fear speaking their truth.



“The Self-(un)Identification of Disability in Higher Education”


I’m Cris Brady and for over 15 years, I’ve been developing college and military programs that teach transitioning, concentration, focus and improved retention. I’m an international speaker, educator, award-winning learning strategist and the founder of LYV Educational Consulting. I’ve helped thousands of families to understand their child’s view of the world and to learn from it. I’ve fined tuned the Create the Calm system over these years and now use it on my own four kiddos, 2 of which are creative, divergent thinkers.