guest post by Karen Sampson Hoffman, MA
When computer hackers revealed that Olympic gold medalist
Simone Biles had tested positive for Ritalin, she was upfront and unabashed
about her diagnosis.
“I have ADHD, and I have taken medicine for it since I was a
kid,” she wrote in a Facebook post to her fans. “Having ADHD, and taking
medicine for it, is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that I’m afraid to
let people know.”
The president of USA Gymnastics supported her with a
statement that Biles received therapeutic use exemptions for her prescription
medications from the International Gymnastics Federation, the US Olympic
Committee, and the US and World Anti-Doping Associations—and that there was no
Biles won four gold medals and one bronze medal at the Rio
2016 Olympic Games this summer. She had
previously chosen not to disclose her ADHD but did so earlier this week because
her medical information, along with that of other top Team USA Olympians, was
published online without her consent.
Her situation is a familiar concern for many people who have
decided to keep their ADHD diagnosis to themselves, says Matt Cohen, JD, a
member of CHADD’s public policy committee.
“People have the right to make their own decision about the
privacy they maintain and to what degree,” he says.
It can become necessary to discuss your diagnosis when
someone else shares your information without your consent, just as Biles
experienced. Cohen says that it’s not very often, however, that another person
will reveal someone’s ADHD diagnosis, either at work or among friends.
“I deal with many people with ADHD who tell me their stories,”
he says. “The circumstances where there are unwanted disclosures are relatively
rare. But the potential consequences can be so great that it can be invasive
and damaging to the person involved.”
If a colleague discloses your diagnosis, addressing it
directly is often helpful, says Cohen. This may be with your supervisor or
human resources manager. If possible, talking with the colleague about the
disclosure can bring a positive resolution, since most people don’t disclose with
intent to cause harm. Even an accidental disclosure can have negative results,
Accidental disclosure can put people in a difficult
situation, Cohen says. “Do they ignore it? Do they talk to their employer to
resolve it? Do they take it to the person and try to resolve it? If it leads to
your being stigmatized or discriminated against, that leads to a hostile
environment,” he says. “The employer needs to take action in this case, or the
employee may have legal grounds for action. There are very good protections for
employees on paper. But in daily life, once the information is out there,
people may find ways to harass someone that you can’t prove are
In Cohen’s experience, most people voluntarily disclose
their diagnosis to the human resources department or their supervisor and have
good experiences, particularly when it comes to receiving workplace
accommodations to enable them to be successful employees. However, he adds, it
is risky for some employees to make that disclosure, and so they need to
carefully consider the possible consequences.
“I have lots of respect for the desire for privacy and not
to disclose,” he says. “But the flip side is, I have a number of clients who are
reluctant to disclose and then don’t disclose until things are going badly in
When the disclosure is made among family and friends, Cohen
says it can be just as problematic because of lingering stigma related to ADHD
and mental health. Taking a proactive approach often works best.
“I think it’s important for people to advocate for
themselves,” he says. “It’s often useful to try to provide education about the
disorder and how it affects you. I think there’s still an enormous amount of
misleading information about ADHD and prejudice about it. The more that can be
done to undo those misconceptions, the better.”
Biles’ response to the computer hackers’ disclosure was a
good way to handle the situation, Cohen says. Her Olympic success can help
to dispel some of the lingering myths about ADHD and how it might impede
someone in work or school.
“Simone Biles is a positive example of someone who can be
affected by the disorder in her life and still be successful,” says Cohen.
“People have the right to make their own decision about the privacy they
maintain and to what degree. She is an example that you have a right to
privacy, but ADHD is not something to be ashamed of. I hope she can be an
inspiration for other people who have ADHD.”
Karen Sampson Hoffman, MA, is a senior health information specialist at CHADD’s National Resource Center on ADHD and editor of its weekly e-newsletter.