Jobs for the Neurodivergent, with Dr. Nancy Doyle of A&E’s “The Employables” | EDB 180

Occupational psychologist Dr. Nancy Doyle discusses employment for the neurodiverse.

(25 minutes) Nancy is a Registered Occupational Psychologist with 20 years’ experience in neurodiversity, professional management coaching and welfare to work.  She is CEO and Founder of Genius Within CIC, a nonprofit located in both England and the United States. She is also featured on A&E’s “The Employables”, a show which she helped developed when it began on the BBC. Dr. Doyle discusses her diagnosis with ADHD, her definition of neurodiverse, and gives tips on how she thinks the neurodivergent can have successful job searches.

For more about Nancy, follow her on twitter: @NancyDoylePsych

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Continuing our conversation with Dr. Nancy Doyle 

HACKIE REITMAN (HR): Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman, and welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains, today we have returning to us from across the pond, Dr. Nancy Doyle coming to us from England. Dr. Nancy Doyle, welcome to Different Brains!  

NANCY DOYLE (ND): Hello!  

Defining neurodiversity

HR: What is your definition of neurodiversity at this time.  

ND: There’s two definitions- there’s a within person definition and a between person definition. So there’s a lot of overlap in conditions that we associate with neurodiversity. We tend to use neurodiversity to represent autism spectrum conditions, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia or developmental coordination disorder, dysgraphia, Tourette syndrome can often be included, and actually when you look up people’s profiles, those diagnoses in and of themselves are quite unreliable- you know, it’s an interpretation and a set of behavioral presentations, but what’s actually happening neurologically in the brain is not necessarily aligned to the label that that person has been given and there’s been some very recent studies that have been coming out of the University of Cambridge, where they’re comparing neuro-images to the diagnostic labels, and they’re comparing cognitive scores to diagnostic labels- we’re finding no correlation between the biological reality of that human and the label they’ve been given, and so, you know, we have to understand where to fish and where sands are shifting.

But what does tend to be true, and what is demonstrated with cognitive profile editing and neuro-imaging is that people who are- people that have diversity within their brain, within their cognitive ability, within their range of thinking skills, there is diversity. Where as somebody who is neurotypical, if you gave them a cognitive test, they might score around the same each area of the test, their visual abilities are likely to be similar to their verbal, similar to their memory, similar to their speed of rate of processing, where as somebody with a condition like ADHD, Autism, dyslexia is gonna have large disparities like the prospective business that I told you about, and the students, so there are some things that are extremely high, there are some things that are extremely low. So there’s diversity, then they’re thinking. And then there’s also the diversity between each other, so people who are neurodiverse are specialists, not generalists. People who neurodiversity covers the idea there is a natural range within human cognition in the same way that there is diversity in personality, the same way that there is diversity in our size and prosperity, and our ability to withstand pain, and in fact diversity is natural within our species.

Of course there would be differences between the human population, and when you think that the population prevalences- so you know, around four-where ever which area in the world you’re in- somewhere between 4 and 10% in the population have ADHD, around 2-5% population have autism, around 10% have dyslexia- in a human population, it makes sense that that many people to be specialists in that particular area. That hyper alert thing that I was just talking about, if we think, you know, between 4 and 10 % of the population have that hyper-alertness, in a human community, that’s great. You wouldn’t want everybody that hyper-alert, so it would be hectic, it would be like jumping, “Oh, oh, oh, oh!” but you would want a little group of people that are that hyper-alert, because we’re the night watchmen, we are the warriors, we hear the approaching tribe before anybody else; we’re the first into battle; We’re you know, so you want some with that specialist thinking skill. That’s the other point to positive assessment is to frame the condition around its evolutionary purpose, its purpose in our species. We have this variant for a reason and this is the reason we have it. We have it because of this skill that it brings. Does that make sense?  

Overlap and co-occurences in the neurodivergent

HR: It makes a lot of sense, and what I also find is that I think of it as maybe an intersection, but I count it as neurodiversity, is the- because none of this occurs in isolation, you can’t have ADHD without some anxiety; and then you bring things like PTSD, and you bring in depression, and they all get mixed up together. Do you hold them separate, or do you consider mental health part of neurodiversity; how do you dissect it in your mind?  

ND: Well I’ve published a guidance for the British Psychological Society, in which I included mental health in neurodiversity. Because again, it has a prevalence in our human species that would indicate that it’s not quite abnormal. It’s pretty typical for us to experience anxiety and depression, for those that most humans will experience that at some point in their lives, so we have to ask what purpose it serves, and you know having people who are- anxiety is a protective quality- it means that you hyper-focus on risk depression leads to rumination and deep thinking, and these are purposeful; these are useful. You know, it’s useful to do those things; it’s not useful to feel isolated and hopeless as a result of those things, but their process and their pattern is- is- is completely useful.

But you know, in terms of the overlap, and a lot of people with neurodiverse conditions will experience more anxiety, more depression, PTSD, and that isn’t necessarily a feature of the conditions. Sometimes it’s a specific – that hypersensitivity, that hyper-alertness, but sometimes it happens because that person has been excluded, and so it’s a natural response to feeling excluded from the workplace, or from education, or from feeling that no one values you, and when its an exclusion based response, well that’s a different matter, you know that’s no longer- when it is purposeful, because what it lets you know is that you need some connection and then people should reach out to you and that people should start valuing you, it tells you what you need to have happen.

But you know, that’s where a lot of things get overlapped- I mean I didn’t have my ADHD diagnosis until I was in my 30s, but as a teen I experienced anxiety, depression, eating disorders, to the extent of needing psychiatric and hospitalized treatment, so you know I honestly believed to this day if someone would’ve given me the right diagnosis, I would’ve been absolutely fine. But my- my difficulties were pathologized, and I didn’t go to high school, I had a 20% attendance record in High School; I used to go in on Mondays, and ask my teachers what they wanted me to do, then I’d go home and do it, because I could concentrate there. But I was diagnosed with school phobia- I wasn’t just frightened of school, I just couldn’t work there.  

HR: Interesting  

ND: You know? So a lot of my, what I consider quite natural normal behaviors, that have allowed me to be an entrepreneur, that have allowed me to be creative, that have allowed me to work and achieve what I wanted to do in life. A lot of those behaviors were pathologized because they simply didn’t fit the norm. We’ve decided what’s normal in the education system is to be literate, to be numeric, to be able sit down and concentrate for hours and hours at a time, to be able to be comfortable in large groups of people, and to focus when there are large groups people, and to be able to be sociable with large groups of people that are very different to us; and if you think about those skills, anyone that can’t do that is going to come through the education system feeling that they are broken and disabled, and not having any value. But those particular skills are a little bit weird. 200 years ago they were necessary, 200 years ago if you wanted to have a career as a blacksmith or a furrier, or a seamstress, or a teacher, you wouldn’t have to work in that way. You wouldn’t have to go through these hoops we have to go through- the training for Engineering is based on work, but engineering is about Building things, you know? The training is so far removed from reality, it doesn’t actually reflect the work anymore, education is not a good reflection of the skills you need in day-to-day life, and that’s where that pathologization comes from.

So the fact that I couldn’t sit still and concentrate for eight hours at a time, in that environment, and when I’m really concentrating on my own, made my behavior seem strange. But really, I don’t think it’s strange. I don’t think it’s strange to not want to sit for eight hours at a time. I think it’s strange that people do, actually. So there you go, and I also think that this is going to change- we’re in the middle of a huge transition with technology, you know. So these days, by the power of my little phone here, I can answer emails while being on a train, while moving through London, while still in a Taxi cab, going from one meeting to another, while still in a cafe between meetings or bookings. I can get on my phone, I can answer an email, I can attach a file from an online storage system- I don’t need to be sitting at my desk to do my job anymore at all.  

HR: Well there’s no longer rewards for focus and long term attention; you’re rewarded more if you’re able to be nimble and move quickly.  

ND: Which may play into the hands of people with certain neurodiverse conditions, it’s perfectly possible that in fifty years, we’ll have flipped this, and people who aren’t as nimble are going to struggle. You know if you think about the reading and writing thing, dyslexia was discovered in 1895, which is around the same time main stream education became standard in industrial economies, and you know that’s a pretty specialist skill to- we certainly- there’s no part of the brain that’s responsible for reading and writing, it’s a complex activity based on lots and lots of different parts of the brain, and you only really need one or two of those to be functioning slightly differently for the skill not to be learned. But reading and writing may well end up being a transition technology. Because we all now have technology as part of our day to day activity that will speak for us, that will write for us, you know I can talk into my phone and it types what I’m saying; I can- I can take a picture with it- there are some apps that have been created lately, where you can take a picture of anything, which converts into words and will read it out to you. Soon reading and writing might be unnecessary.  

HR: I’ll take it a step further to say that if I’m a teenager today, and I do not develop and rewire my brain to have some ADHD, I’m going to be a social outcast. Because I have to be able to play a video game, answer a text, listen to my mother and have a phone conversation all of the same time.  

ND: Yes. Yeah. Exactly, that hyperalertness is becoming the norm. But we are not training that in the education system yet. So the people that are emerging from the education system are very often feeling broken, worthless, unable to contribute- not because they can’t handle modern life or modern workplaces, but because their experience has not trained them for that.  

Tips for finding a job

HR: Well, that’s very well said. Now, for our Different Brains audience- I’m having trouble finding work. What do I do?  

ND: Okay. So this is very important, right? So many people get this wrong. I’ll tell you what you don’t do, don’t apply for jobs that have been advertised. That’s the last thing you do. The first thing you do is you have to think about the kind of environments you want to work in what kind of job you want to do, Maynard of birth person I’m having trouble finding work what do I do okay so this is very important how many people that’s the last thing you did the first thing you do have a think about the kind of environments you want to work in, the kind of job you want to do, and you approach those companies speculatively. You try and get yourself a shadowing opportunity, you call somebody that has a company that does something that you’re interested in, and you say, “Hi, I’m really interested in becoming a welder. Would you mind if I came and shadowed you for a couple of hours and just see how it works, and you call and you call and you network, because the way employers approach employment is completely different to the way people looking for work approach it.

So I’m an employer, right? So let’s say I have a vacancy. The first thing I do, is I look around and see who I already have. You could move into that job, alright? I might have someone whose been a temp, I might have someone who I can promote, I might have somebody who is part time that I can make full time if they wanted to, that’s the first thing I can do, because it costs me nothing and I don’t have to do much training for that, right? Second thing I do if that doesn’t fail, is I ask around. I go friends and family, I go, “employees do you know anybody?” I start thinking about people who are not currently in the company that I could bring in, and again the reason I do that because it costs me nothing, and if I’m getting a recommendation, or somebody from my network, I already have a sense of trust rapport with that person. I’m gonna have a sense of their values. The third thing I do, is I look to see who has approached me speculatively. So I get resumes sent to me all the time, resumes all the time, and I always keep them, and I have them in different filing boxes: You know, north of England, West-post america, I have all these resume files and when I have a vacancy that comes up, I go to those resume files, to see if there’s anyone suitable in there. And the reason I go there first, again, because it costs me nothing to do that. If someone has sent me a resume, I know something about that person that I can’t necessarily get from a job application process. I know they want to work with us specifically. Not just a job, they are genuinely interested in my company, they have taken the time to approach me speculatively. That means that they are genuinely interested in my business. It also means they are proactive and are a self-starter, they have some sense of independence and that tells me something, perhaps about their work ethic.

The last thing I do is advertise the job. I might advertise it with an agency before I put it out on a newspaper or a website, but that’s the last thing I do. When I do that it costs me money, not just in placing the ad, but also in the time it takes to sift through the resumes that come out, to then create the process. So there’s a statistic out there, which is 70% of the vacancies available at any one time are never advertised, and it’s called the “hidden job market”, and the way that you can LeapFrog into the hidden job market is by doing work shadowing, you know, getting to know people, going out, talking to people, approaching them speculatively, you can access the hidden job market that way, and when you access the hidden job market, there’s less competition, and you’re more likely to find the right thing. And people with neurodiverse conditions, neurodiverse differences, the work trial environment is less pressurized in interview, it’s less pressurized in an application where you have to follow all the rules, and da da da da da… So you’re just having an informal chat with that person and it’s gonna be easier for you to build a rapport and show what you can do, they might let you have a little go. You know, “oh, I’m really interested in video editing, mind if I shadowed you for a day?” The trouble with that approach is for every thirty people you call, probably only one will say yes. So you have to be prepared for a lot of rejection, you know?  

HR: And it’s also tough if we’re a little bit socially awkward too.  

ND: yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Socially awkward tends to go by the friends and family route first. You know you want to practice this skill, you don’t want to go straight in- if you know the company you really really want to work for, don’t go straight in there, just go into the other companies first, do some hanging out with people in your network. But 33% of people who use their network find work that way. 70% of people who do speculative cold calling and resume sending, offering work shadowing find work that way. But only 5% who respond to job ads work that way.  

The role of ADHD in Dr. Doyle’s life

HR: What role has ADHD played in your life?  

ND:I could answer that in so many ways! So many different ways that I could answer that- well it’s two sides of a coin, isn’t it? I could tell you some stories that are not pleasant, you know it wasn’t pleasant being 14 year old with anxiety and eating disorders, that was not fun at all. But you know what it was very pleasant getting my PhD in a subject that I really believe in, and its very pleasant working with people who have significant barriers in their life from being able to relate to those people and say I know where you’re coming from and feeling authentic in the advice that I’m giving and the support that I’m offering, because I’ve developed my own journey, and I you know, thats very useful and I enjoy that connection and that sense of authentic integrity. So, so that works for me, you know, and I also, I studied full time, I worked full time, I’ve achieved a lot. You know, I’ve done a lot of things-  

HR: But Nancy, what do you want to be when you grow up?  

ND: A cat.  

HR: (laughs) You have done it all, and it’s- thank you so much for sharing, you know what I mean, to be everything, to be to be a mom, to be -to do all help all the people you’ve helped and do everything, and this is something why I call mothers like you in my Aspertools book, “angels with the Pitbull mentality”, because you won’t give up and you’re in there pitching, and helping a lot of people and you’re going a mile a minute.  

ND: My- I’ve got an employee who says I’m a mama bear, because I- so when I’ve got an employee whose struggling in forming, I’m totally I’m kind of coaching that employee, but the second something happens where one of my clients is negatively effected by a piece of work that didn’t go so well, she says then you turn into a mama bear. She says “Don’t ever upset our clients, because Nancy’s a mama bear when that happens.” You know, and it’s true, you know, I do.  

Making change in hiring practices

HR: Is there anything we at can do to help you achieve all of your worthy goals?  

ND: You know, I think there probably is, and maybe we should continue this conversation. I think there needs to be an awareness of what’s available in the- so I feel like in the USA there’s an awakening happening in employment, in human resources, strategic human resources. But there’s a lack of awareness as to how to make it work. I went to an international label organization meeting in Washington DC in 2016, and you know, the CEO of Tommy Hilfiger was there, and a sea level executive from Boeing was there, and you know, lots of AT&T were there, lots of big employers were there, kind of interested in the talent advantage of disability inclusion- I feel like we’ve won that argument, we’ve won the argument, people get it, there’s an assumption of talent.

But where we haven’t done enough work yet is at the hiring manager level and at the supervisor level, because the hiring managers still don’t know how to accommodate anxiety, inter-personal skill difficulty in standard interview processes and standard recruitment processes- the hiring managers still don’t know how to make accommodations and how to give people advance notice of what will happen, and to make sure people have got the right level of description of how to get bases, so that people don’t arrive late and flustered and a mess for the interview, and we’re still not there with supervisors. Supervisors are still thinking well do I really want to employ someone with this disability? Because they’re going to be really difficult to manage.

They might be difficult to manage, they might well, they might also do something that none of your other employees are capable of. No, I have neurodiverse staff, obviously, I spent this morning in fact doing a three hour meeting , a mediation between three senior managers in my company- one of whom has autism, is autistic, however whichever preference you have for self-identification, and her manager, and they’ve gone into a spiral of misunderstanding, and I spent three hours of my time working it through, tracking it back, “okay what actually happened? Okay, so that had that impact on you, and you started getting concerned about working through-” and that took me a lot of time, and that’s the kind of investment that I make, and that’s what supervisors are frightened of, supervisors are frightened of having to do that sort of thing. You know what? That woman, every single one of her contracts is on budget, every single one of her contracts is on performance, it’s exceeding performance, it’s worth my time.  

HR: Well on that note I think that’s such a positive note, thank you so much for being with us here again, coming all the way the United Kingdom, an hour south of London and the sharing with us all that you do for those of us with different brains. Thank you so much!  

ND: My pleasure.