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April 18, 2024

ADHD and autism in media: How to help neurodivergent colleagues thrive

Autistic and ADHD brains can be perfect for careers in media if people are given the right support.

By Dr Nancy Doyle

ADHD and autism are being covered in the media due to the skyrocketing numbers of people being diagnosed. This isn’t an epidemic, it’s a better public understanding of neurological diversity, the extent to which we differ in our sensory perception, concentration, emotional regulation, literacy ability and more.

Difference doesn’t need to be framed as negative. We’ve historically done this because our education systems are still set up for Jacks of All Trades, with rigid conventions on spelling, sitting still for hours and putting up with loud noisy environments. But the technology revolution is changing all that and creating space for us to tap into the purpose and potential of neurodivergent minds.

According to the World Economic Forum, the 21st-century workforce will need creativity, innovation, problem-solving and entrepreneurial flair. These are the skills of the ADHD and autistic brain. Studies have repeatedly shown higher levels of starting businesses, scientific breakthroughs and problem-solving for neurodivergent thinkers. However, increasingly we are finding that neurodivergent people seek careers in creative industries like journalism, design, media.

The ADHD brain is uniquely wired to respond quickly. Their levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenaline have a lower baseline, which means they seek stimulation and function at their best in fast-paced environments. This is great for the newsroom or live production.

The autistic brain has an eye and an ear for detail. They literally have higher levels of electrical activity in their sensory cortex, meaning that colours are more nuanced, sound is louder and more complex. This can easily be transferred to a career in design, editing and continuity, leading to sophisticated and accurate finished products.

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If you want your neurodivergent colleagues to thrive, a key thing to remember is that to get these skills, you will need to buffer the challenges. Thinking clearly in chaos is a strength, but chaos every day is a straight line to burnout.

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ADHDers work best in bursts, and need to be supported to rest and re-regulate their nervous systems. Similarly, the autistic hyper-perceiver cannot filter relevant noise, so is overstimulated on the commute and in the open-plan office and needs time to decompress.

Flexible hours, quiet spaces and flexibility on location make all the difference when it comes to sustainability. Burnout is more common for neurodivergent people for these reasons.

Research I conducted with the Centre for Neurodiversity Research at Work last year found that the provision of adjustments such as flexible hours and quiet concentration space reduced employee intentions to leave from 75% to less than 30%. Specialist coaching provision leads to managers rating performance 50% higher and employees reporting a 75% improvement in wellbeing.

It’s easy to create the right conditions for neurodivergent potential to thrive if you intentional about allowing people to personalise their working conditions and flow.

Managers ask me at every talk I give “how do I raise it with an employee if I think they might be dyslexic?” My answer is always the same, don’t. Focus on what they do well, and what they need to develop, in balance, and be prepared to make adjustments. You can safely discuss the difficulties in reading pace or email communication without turning it into a drama.

“I’ve noticed that it takes you quite a while to get through the meeting preparation reports, have you tried assistive technology? Do you want to spend a couple of hours on Thursday working from home if it is easier to concentrate there? How can we support you to work at your best?” These are the conversations to have if you want to encourage positive change.

The future of work is neurodiverse, it is designed around the natural variations of human neurocognition, which allows more of us to work at our best, more of the time.

More from Press Gazette on neurodiversity in the media:

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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