What are the Life and Career Options of those of us with ADHD, Autism and other forms of Neuro-divergency

Sylvia Clare

Are you a parent with a school leaver coming up? Do they have cognitive neuro-divergency — or perhaps not? Are they just non-conformists? There are no easy answers but there are ways of exploring the question.

So often at school those with cognitive neurodiversity issues, especially ADHD or Autism, are left feeling there is nothing they are much good at. This is so very very wrong. People who do not fit into convenient boxes are so often alienated from the rest of life.

It is one of the huge failings of most western academic systems, that that cater for such a narrow band of people in life, and in the process ignores vast oceans of potential that could seriously benefit humankind in many more imaginative ways. But most people are channeled into employment fodder roles for those who ‘create jobs’ so that they can make themselves rich from the effort of others. Many of these roles are relatively impossible for people with ADHD,Autism etc., if not downright abusive. We need lots of variety, stimulation and usually a fair bit of physical activity thrown in to burn off our excessive energy. We also need to play to our own individual strengths as it is more or less impossible to force someone with ADHD into the wrong shaped hole. They can be amazingly great but they cannot shape shift so easily.

So these are the kinds of questions we need to be asking young people who are thinking about their future. The other people who need to consider these questions are parents, carers and all those involved with teaching and offering skills for life to these youngsters too. Otherwise we undermine them before they can even get started.

What are your strengths? CAn you hyperfocus, are you obsessive about details or very good at sseeing the bigger picture but not the detail?

What are you good at?

People with ADHD often say 'nothing' because that is how they have been made to feel, especially in school. But can they make people laugh, can they be fun, do they show artistic skills or interesting ways of looking at life?

No one has nothing they are good at.

Then consider what excites you, what are you drawn towards that is positive in life. It can be absolutely anything at all to start with, and then brainstorm around that quality, skill, or activity.

Making lists of reasons might make your future more challenging, are part of your challenge to do something different. Life is not supposed to be too easy — we grow through challenge and find out who we are through struggle.

I once worked with a wonderful sculptor who made amazing sculptures out of scrap metal — stunning they were — he had the same list ADHD Dyslexia and some social shyness. He worked alone but was married. His creativity and welding skills were amazing.

My list is ADHD, PTSD and yet I managed to find a life as a writer, (articles like this, books and poetry) and mindfulness teacher, after trying teaching academia. But I had to get out of academia when they turned it into accountancy exercises rather than sharing a love of your chosen subject. I can earn money from teaching and writing both. I have many income streams that reflect my various skills and talents.

I also am a beekeeper and a gardener, and a parent and now grandparent. I can make money from honey and selling excess bees. The latter two are more roles in life. My husband says in twenty-three years he has never once been bored in our relationship. That is quite an achievement. Boredom kills many long-term relationships. But both beekeeping and gardening feed my need for nature and physical activity and masses of variety.

Some of our best comics and people in the arts generally are also introverts and have ADHD or distinct traits of it. Think of Robin Williams, Lee Mack, Jim Carey, Whoopie Goldberg. The comedian Rory Bremner shared his heart breaking struggle with ADHD on air in this documentary BBC Two — Horizon, 2017, ADHD and Me with Rory Bremner, What’s it like to be inside Rory Bremner’s brain? . Yet he is such a successful adult in his own life in so many other ways.

And this clip shows how hard it can be to concentrate BBC Two — Horizon, 2017, ADHD and Me with Rory Bremner, Trail — ADHD and Me with Rory Bremner

One of the best qualities many people with ADHD have is to think outside the box. Try brainstorming a few of the things you do like and see where it takes you. This is one of the observations made in this documentary.

ADHD can also be truly amazing in a crisis as we cope with the additional stimulation easily and can often respond at our optimum functioning level in jobs that require mnaging emergencies - like ambulance and medical emergency staff, fire workers etc.

Someone I know has a moderately severe son with autism who is a editor on BBC films and programmesbecasue his eye for details is so precise. How glamourous is that? Well actually not that much but he enjoys his work and is doing what he wantd to do.

So how do you guide a young person where to go in their future life?

Try asking questions of yourself. Which do you prefer best — indoors or outdoors, active or sedentary, with people or not with other people i.e. do they distract you.

Though I am able to mix those sets of contradictions up, not everyone can do this successfully.

But I have found myself being hounded out of jobs due to changes in policy that made it impossible for people with ADHD. I loved teaching when it was about inspiring young people but had to leave when it turned into accountancy exercises.

I had to stop thinking about jobs as such, career paths and destinies and learn to respond to life as it evolved around me and think about situations where I felt better. I had to find my own places of power and move towards them even thought they put me in all sorts of conflicted situations.

Another thing is to look at skills that seem to be specific or enhanced in people with ADHD, ASD or others neurodiversities. Can you hyperfocus? I was able to use this faculty of mine to write about things that interested me, but I was equally useless in writing academic papers etc as that was dry and uninspiring so even though my IQ suggested I should walk it, I just couldn’t manage to express that in a way that academia would value. I struggled through my MSc and had a breakdown from PTSD during my PhD. Academia and I were certainly not happy bedfellows and most people with ADHD would not even bother.

My sons were able to hyperfocus on computer games and both thought about being games testers — they are both ADHD /dyslexic too but they ended up going into very different lines of work. Building has called to one of them, or rather that is where he ended up as he also liked architecture and wood so is a carpenter and building site worker. My other was interested in mental health and very good with people, so went into community health work. But he has to write his reports at home as an office environment would cause him too much distraction and he would not be efficient in his work. Neither of those would have been that obvious choices but they are both middle aged now and happy enough in their lives. Good days and bad days, ups and downs, but that is life.

There are all sorts of alternative ways to live a good life and when you have ADHD or other neurocognitive differences it is important to explore that creatively, but as we are all also individuals there is no special recipe for answering this question, just to explore it and use some of that ADHD alternative thinking to power you through.

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I write about my lived experiences of relationships, mindfulness, spiritual experiences and aging as a feminist, woman and someone with mental health issues. Happiness in life matters more than anything but how we find happiness is often one of our greatest struggles in life. I have degrees in psychology and prefer to base my writing in verifiable data whenever possible.


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