Self employment for neurodivergent people

Written in January 2024

One aspect of the work I do is designing and delivering neurodiversity training for employers, businesses or any establishment that wants to do the right thing by neurodivergent employees, services users and clients. I identified this as a career after looking at my strengths, what my health reasonably allows me to do, and what job would give me career satisfaction.

My journey into this sort of work started by delivering neurodiversity workplace training for a national charity. After a reasonably long period out of work my confidence wasn't great and I wasn't sure I could create a course and market myself to get clients. Working for someone else seemed to be the best way to do the job I wanted to do, to use my skills, and still be a sustainable career. I wrote about this idea at the time (and I can report that I kept the yoga up pretty much daily, and am doing this year's 30 day challenge at the moment)


What I actually found that was working for someone else gave me little control over my work. I was delivering a presentation and a structure created by someone else which I had to fit my words around. On some projects last minute changes (without consultation) meant I suddenly had a lot more work to fit in and other people to diarise with. Changes to training material made it inaccessible to me, and it soon became clear that the amount of unexpected changes and lack of control I had through working for someone else meant that it wasn't sustainable for me.


I decided that I had to remove as much of the sources of uncertainty and change as I could, and ensure as much of my work was under my control as possible. This meant creating my own training courses – thereby using skills I have, but hadn't previously been able to exercise to my full potential. It meant psyching myself up to a potentially difficult conversation with the charity (I needn't have worried, they were very understanding about it and we have retained a good relationship). It means going solo.


I'm still not that convinced in my ability to get clients, because marketing oneself seems to me to be a peculiarly neurotypical skill. That said, my confidence has grown enough in my mask to at least try. My network has grown through being on LinkedIn, through being active in the area of neurodiversity awareness and the community, through my work with Autistic Radio and other channels I've carved out for myself.


The irony of the fact that my work, which I need to do as a freelancer, is to make employment accessible for neurodivergent people, something which it has not been for me, is fairly glaring. It seems like self employment suits a lot of neurodivergent people because we can set our own hours and work styles around our needs without having to sacrifice those needs and make ourselves unwell trying to fit into the neurotypical 9 to 5. It shouldn't be our only option. It might be my only option for paid work that generates a liveable income, but in doing this I can broaden the options for others in the neurodivergent community.


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