Spare me a cape, my neurodiversity isn’t a superpower


My neurodiversity isn’t a superpower. I desperately want it to be and reading the copious blogs that arise each Neurodiversity Celebration Week, I wonder why, for me, my learning difficulty as it was labelled back at school, is less superpower and more Kryptonite.

I consider it a privilege to have a job I adore, but the everyday hurdles are overwhelming. Let’s start with the noise of a creative studio. That buzz that we celebrate as adland’s vibrancy, the one that makes it such an alluring industry to work in, is undeniable. But when concentration is such a challenge because you get distracted within minutes anyway, then the noise of the creative studio makes it a perilous place to be able to deliver your best work. Look around, does your office have easily accessible quiet spaces? Or is it open-plan with a carefully-curated soundtrack humming all day long to exude your agency vibe?

Then there’s the brutality of navigating our long-hours culture when certain tasks already take much longer, including the simple undertaking of reading through a brief. As a student, I was allocated added minutes in my exams, but there’s no extra time here. We all know about our industry’s problem with long hours, but for some of us, the average day is considerably longer. I know I could raise this, but the fear of being labelled slow, a word that tormented me across my school years, means I just crack on and pull the all-nighters. If you need tips on expensive eye cream to mask dark circles, I’ve tried them all.

I’ve also learnt to mask the panic when someone surprises me with budgets presented on a spreadsheet. I entered the creative industries to avoid having to look at numbers – they’ve never been static to me, diving and jiving all over those spreadsheets, turning themselves upside down. But with each promotion came the hell of Excel. If I mention this, does my career progression grind to a halt? I once started to confide in a boss, but at the mere mention, there was a suggestion that the work (and therefore the responsibility and seniority) would sit better with someone else.

Assumptions abound – yet I’ve slowly adopted hacks to prevent me from slipping up, often painstakingly checking each number back, over and over again. There’s also a stereotype for dyslexics around spelling, leading me to worry if I can still be my agency’s copy and content lead if I openly talk about my challenges?

While I’m yet to talk to my current team, perhaps they do all know. I don’t see anyone else around here that carries around the Pantone guide like Captain America carries his shield. But perhaps they all know how to articulate when blue and green meet, where pink ends and red starts. And perhaps former colleagues have known too. Those savage nicknames I invented for everyone came about accidentally, usually through reading something wrong, or spotting a word inside a name, usually backwards.

Yet I’m sure those same colleagues have also wondered why, someone who is seen as eloquent, often trips and struggles with some really basic words. Oh for the superpower of invisibility on those days, particularly crippling if it happens in a pitch situation.

We love to talk about bringing our whole selves to work and the past two years certainly gave us a chance to do that. I can’t deny that working from home was wonderfully freeing, being in a space entirely suited to me and my mind. My peers told me the work I produced across the pandemic was my best-to-date – it certainly takes pride of place in my portfolio.

So as offices reopen, I’m clinging desperately to the new hybrid way of working. I know it doesn’t suit all, but it might finally allow more neurodiverse minds like mine to thrive. And as we celebrate neurodiversity this week – which we absolutely must – let’s also keep it real and make space for those that are yet to own their superpowers. The post-pandemic return to the studio offers an ideal opportunity to rethink about our work environments and consider how inclusive they really are – for all creatives – caped or not.

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