Neurodiverse people are those with different variations of the human brain, such as those with an autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, or ADHD. Though there isn’t yet one single medical definition of neurodiversity, the term reflects the concept that brain differences are normal and should be treated as strengths rather than defects or abnormalities.
As we all become more aware of the neurological differences among students, we can see that the neurologically different tend to face a lot more challenges in their lives than their neurotypical classmates. It’s not because they lack any particular skills or abilities, but because our society was developed around and functions for the neurotypical. As we look for ways to bridge the gap, we know that one thing we can do is frame these differences as variations of the human brain — simply as “differences” rather than “defects.”
Interestingly, many of these differences shake out to be assets at work. Neurodiversity means more of the following positive traits in the workplace:
- Strong attention to detail and a commitment to accuracy
- The ability to focus and concentrate
- High levels of energy and enthusiasm
- The ability to absorb and retain facts
- Strong visual learning skills
- Excellent long-term memory and recall
- Creativity and vivid imagination
- Strong leadership skills
- The ability to work alone
Neurodiverse students shouldn’t be put into a neurotypical box, not when it comes to play, education, or work. Encouraging students with brain variations to follow their dreams and build a fulfilling career is crucial to helping them leverage their strongest assets and develop independence throughout their lives. Here are some career ideas that take neurodiversity into account.
1. Working with Animals — People with ADHD, autism, and Asperger’s Syndrome often find comfort and companionship in animals, which may make this a viable career path. For example, students who have the hyperactivity component of ADHD find satisfaction in working with high-energy animals who love to run, play, swim, and jump. Additionally, studies have shown that interacting with pets brings benefits to people with autism, including greater social skills, so this career path could bring benefits that go far beyond earning a living wage.
2. Technology — One amazing thing about the tech industry is that it has been quite open to the neurodiverse, with many large companies — including Microsoft and SAP — kickstarting hiring programs specifically for people with autism spectrum disorders. Some of the most common traits of this family of brain types — strong ability to focus, close attention to detail, the ability to work well alone, etc. — are actually beneficial in tech jobs like development and design. Some great tech career paths for the neurodiverse include computer programming, engineering, and web and app design. Seeking out college scholarships, internships, and jobs for the neurodiverse in tech can help kickstart your career.
3. Mathematics or Economics — Many people on the autism spectrum have strengths like excellent long-term memory and recall. Coupled with analytics skills and the ability to identify patterns, these characteristics make many neurodiverse individuals adept at working in math or economics. These professionals do more than just teach, by the way! They can serve in roles such as data scientist, accountant, statistician, meteorologist, financial manager, or economist.
4. Helping Others — The helping careers often make great options for neurodiverse people. There are a slew of reasons why, but one of the most obvious is that people with differences know what it’s like to be different and tend to be more accepting and less judgmental of people who don’t fit into a certain definition or norm. As long as they are generally interested in improving the lives of others or helping their community, a giving career may be a good choice. Some options include working in a school or with a nonprofit organization.
5. Photography or Visual Art — Neurodiverse people who are strong visual learners may find fulfilling careers in photography, graphic design, or visual art. These career paths may also be excellent for people with dyslexia and other neurological differences that affect reading and writing. Like working with animals, working in the visual arts can bring some therapeutic benefits that may be helpful for adults who struggle with life outside of school and work.
6. Banking and Finance — Another industry that relies on a workforce with many positive qualities associated with the neurodiverse — namely the strong ability to focus, great memory skills, and the ability to look at things analytically — is banking and finance. Many of the biggest banks in the country have created programs specifically for hiring a neurodiverse workforce, from Freddie Mac’s Autism Internship Program to inclusive hiring programs by Capital One, Chase, and KeyBank.
7. Retail — Though many neurodiverse people have differences in social interaction and communication, they can still thrive in people-facing environments like retail stores. In fact, there are many retail companies that have supported neurodiverse hiring initiatives in the past several years. For example, Microsoft launched an inclusive hiring program that provides jobs for people with disabilities. It has a unique autism hiring program that promotes the hiring of neurodiverse candidates in Microsoft’s retail stores.
Choosing the Right Career
By its very definition, neurodiversity means not everyone is alike. The neurodiverse possess a huge range of distinct characteristics that make them unique from the neurotypical as well as one another. In other words, there’s no one-size-fits-all career path for the neurologically different but there are many good paying jobs that members of the neurodiverse community may be uniquely well suited for. Part of finding the right route is looking inward and creating a list of individual characteristics and traits, and then forging a suitable career from there.