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:

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:

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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Samantha Jackson

community organizer / intersectional feminist / Take That & NKOTB fan / fashion enthusiast