Neurodiversity, Disability, and the Future of Work (And What it Means)

I have been a neurodiverse job seeker for as long as I can remember, and I have learned a lot of things along the way. People with disabilities want to work just like everybody else; in fact, we’re often even more passionate about finding meaningful employment because we know it can be challenging for us to find good jobs (especially ones we enjoy!).

If you are neurotypical, you might be asking yourself, “What’s a neurodiverse job seeker?” The word “neurodiversity” is made up of two parts: “neuro” means having to do with the brain or nervous system; and “diversity” means diverse. On their own, these words don’t mean much. But combined, they give us a model for thinking about different types of strengths that individuals might have in unique ways. Neurodiversity means having or relating to a central nervous system that works in ways that are non-neurotypical, this can range from ADD and ADHD to learning difficulties, mental illnesses, or problems such as dyslexia.

There are so many things that can make it hard to get a job as someone who is neurodiverse — and they’re not all related to our disability.

For example:

  • You might have trouble with some of the interview questions (like “tell me about yourself”) because you have no idea how to answer them.
  • You might get nervous when you meet new people at work and don’t know how to act around them or even if they’re interested in being friends with you after work hours.
  • You might even be worried about missing out on specific opportunities because you don’t have the technical skills that other applicants have.
  • And then there’s the actual interview itself. What questions should I expect? Should I volunteer information about my disability? Will they even want to hire someone like me?

 

While there are plenty of challenges for those with disabilities or neurodiverse conditions, there’s a lot to be said about the way these individuals can think and approach problems differently from those without disabilities. For example, people who are deaf often have more refined senses than others because they need additional information without being able to hear it through sound (which means they can make better decisions based on touch/taste/smell). People who are neurodiverse are often more open-minded and understanding, and approach problems and solutions differently. For example, sometimes employers will ask questions in different ways or request taks in different formats so that everyone feels comfortable — and these differences might make it easier for someone who is neurodiverse to understand what’s being asked.

The good news is that there are many steps you can take to make your job search more successful. The bad news is that there are a lot of people who will try to help you and not all of them have your best interests at heart!

Here are some tips for making sure your job search goes smoothly:

  • If a company promises they’ll only hire people with autism or ADHD, run away! Companies are not allowed to discriminate against people with disabilities, so if they say they’re only hiring people with a certain disability, they’re probably breaking the law.
  • Make sure you have an up-to-date resume and cover letter ready before starting your search so you can apply right away when you find companies hiring for positions that might be suitable for you.
  • Make sure you’re ready for the job market. Even if you have an awesome resume and cover letter, if you don’t have any experience or education in your desired field, it’s going to be really hard to get an interview. Get some training and build up your skills so that when someone looks at your resume, they see exactly how qualified you are for the position.
  • Come up with some possible answers for questions you might get asked during an interview or on paper (like an application). Practice saying them out loud until they feel natural for you! If possible, practice interviewing with someone else beforehand so that you can get some feedback on how well your answers sound and flow together.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help! It’s easy to feel embarrassed or ashamed when we’re struggling with something out of our control, but there are so many people out there who want to help you succeed — if only you’ll let them! Reach out to friends who know what they’re doing, or go online and find some support groups where people understand what it’s like being neurodiverse in today’s workplace. The more people who know about what you need and how much effort it takes for someone like you to succeed in their field (or just get through their day), the better off everyone will be!
  • I recommend creating your own opportunity; know when and where job fairs are and show up early, put yourself out there, meet people. This may feel awkward at first, but embracing discomfort is often necessary for growth.

 

When it comes to a job search, “impossible” and “neurotypical” are not synonyms. Our brain wiring is no barrier to success with the right tools and techniques. Neurodiversity, in addition to the social justice implications of the term, is about acceptance and inclusiveness, as well as recognizing that not every person wants to fit into a neat little box. We may just have to figure out what works well for us at work and find the right “neurodiverse-friendly” positions for ourselves. In a lot of ways, the workplace is similar to the classroom: there are best practices and protocols, as well as established expectations for how things are done. This can be both a blessing and a curse to neurodiverse individuals: we’re forced to fit into a mold that doesn’t necessarily suit our differences, but we also have access to resources that many others don’t. As for me, I don’t think this is a barrier to loving to work. My disability has always been part of me and I’m not going to let it hold me back from experiencing life to the fullest. Overall, my disability has been an asset in my professional life. It has forced me to learn how to work independently, set and achieve goals, adapt to unpredictable environments, and work with little supervision. In a job search, these are all invaluable traits to have.

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