13 years later, after a job loss during the recession I was trying to figure out what would be the best career change for me. Journalism was my college major, and was a good fit for my verbal and social skills, but the spelling issues and grammar recall challenges, due to my dysgraphia, left me concerned about my sustainability and marketability in the field of journalism and other heavy writing professions. Plus, the technology changes in the media industry were making it a harder option field to make a living. I knew I was dependent on how each of my editors felt about correcting my errors, and many would not be supportive in such a competitive field. Often I am able to proofread my own errors, but do need to set some time aside to do that, which proved challenging in the time-frame of constant impending deadlines. I felt if I attempted to stay in the field that was otherwise a strength and passion of mine, I may have a long road of firings ahead of me in my career. I figured I needed to make a change. To do that I looked into getting neuropsych tested again, as well as taking a vocational assessment to see what career options were the best fit for my talents, interests, abilities, and education. I also wanted an answer to a question I had my whole like: “What do I have?”
Neuropsych testing is an intense experience. It was an 8 hour day spent with the neuropsychologist one-on-one. The nature of the testing was not new to me since I had done so many times throughout my public school years. I was pretty confident I did not have ADD and dyslexia didn’t seem to make much sense. Neither did autism. I felt so different from anyone I had known, including people with these other diagnoses.
“Her visuospatial and fine motor skills were uniformly limited” the evaluation states. Yep, I can confirm. “Despite her limitations, I believe that she shows significant potential for future employment and other endeavors.”
Ouch! “Despite her limitations…” even ten years later it is hard to see the first part of that sentence. Since childhood I have wanted to do work for and be a voice regarding the “real-ness” of neurodivergent conditions. I want to help neurotypical people (that is all of you without these types of diagnoses!) to know that although you can not often see our challenges, they are there affecting the way we need to live our lives. At the same time, I want to advocate for the fact that neurodiverse people, like myself, are also capable, “normal” (Although that’s really only the setting on a dryer), and important people in the workplace, social circles, and the future of progress of our societies. The word “limitations” hurts when I assign it to myself. I do identify as having limitations that I need to respect to be successful, but I do not see myself at all as a “limited” person. I don’t want others to see me and my neurodivergent brothers, sisters, and siblings around the world as “limited people.”
But there are only so many words you can use to describe symptoms of conditions and the neuropsychologist had a specific job to do. Present my skills and weaknesses, diagnosis me, and present some ideas on how it could be managed to obtain and retain employment.
Reading through the document 10 years into diagnosis, I still disagree with parts of the recommendations. It talks about how I should avoid multitasking. I honestly could not find any jobs 10 years ago, that I could be confident before I applied and accepted, that did not require multitasking. I feel my work as an employment specialist in community mental health, especially when I worked as a supported employment manager, called for a pretty significant level of multitasking. I think I was successful with that aspect of the work. It did take a moderate amount of energy for me to jump between tasks at times and start back up where I was interrupted, but it was manageable, and more manageable then other aspects of employment and my NVLD.
Another sentence I don’t fully agree with: “It appeared that the jobs in which she was most successful were ones where she had a certain amount of autonomy but also considerable structure.” I very much agree with the statement of autonomy, but I feel I have succeeded significantly in jobs with (and management that allowed for) high levels of creativity and minimal need for structure.
As a newspaper reporter and supported employment specialist in community mental health, two of my past jobs where I found significant success while working under the right management, I was provided with freedom. I was given the freedom to create my own work flow and use my own creative flare and ideas to do the job. I think if a job has more rules and specifics of how things need to be done, I will need a structured work environment to be able to learn those processes, but I don’t feel structure itself makes a job a strong fit for me. I think having structure is more of what has allowed me to have success in roles I would have otherwise NOT had success. The most important thing I want to express here is it is important for the person themselves to decide which challenges they are best able to incorporate into their lives, and which challenges they need to avoid. I can handle a career with multitasking if I make sure to limit time spent in my life on other areas of challenge for me. I make choices in my life to allow for success in the things that are important for me and that often changes with the evolving progress through life.
I feel the most important takeaway is that the individual needs to be educated in their own ability profile and assisted in how to use that information to decide for themselves what is best for them. I am glad I didn’t follow those recommendations about structure and multitasking. I would have missed out on the amazing six years I spent in the community mental health system helping people with diagnosis of severe mental illness obtain and retain employment and develop careers. I enjoyed significant success and praise during my work in that field.
Stay tuned for part 3!
Anna has dreamed about making the world a better place for people who think differently her whole life. She has worked as a newspaper reporter and in supported employment within community mental health to achieve these goals. When not writing her blog, This NVLD Life, she enjoys going on adventures with her husband and their cat, Mia. Anna is a Project Social Ambassador for The NVLD Project.Share your own story