Posted 08 September 2022

Square Hole podcast’s co-creators on how neurodivergent creatives can thrive in the industry

A freelance photographer and art director and an illustrator and educator respectively, Lorna Allan and Jhinuk Sarkar are veterans of access within the creative industries. The neurodivergent duo work on social projects that feed into their creative practice. With the understanding that the industry can still be quite hostile to neurodivergent creatives, they set out to create the Square Hole podcast, to understand and demystify accessibility to jobs for such creatives. Here, Lorna and Jhinuk share key findings and insights from the podcast, before sharing some timely tips and resources for neurodivergent creatives starting out.

The start of Square Hole
After discussing our own experiences in the industry as neurodivergents – diagnosed much later in life – we began unearthing some of the difficulties we encountered when looking for work. We talked about how we could share what we wish we knew about working as neurodivergents in the creative industries as widely as possible. True to our own nature of processing, our idea grew – eventually developing into a podcast called Square Hole.

Over several episodes, listeners are taken on a journey through various individual diagnoses and awareness; exploring the barriers experienced by neurodivergents when looking for work, while sharing expert insights and personal experiences from the likes of neuroscientist Dr Jessica Eccles, illustrator Lily Ash Sakula and creative director Fraser Muggeridge.

From working on the podcast, here are our key findings:

There are lots of neurodivergent creatives in the creative industries
A recent report by the UK government on the impact of Covid-19 on neurodivergent people working in the creative economy estimates that over 20% of the creative labour force are neurodivergent.

It found that graduates have the same probability as their neurotypical peers of being employed in the sector. However, they are more likely to be employed on a temporary or freelance basis.

The report also said that large numbers of neurodivergent people are never formally diagnosed. While they are often extremely successful, when unable to use coping strategies, they may be disproportionately disorientated.

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Square Hole podcast

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Misconceptions about hiring neurodivergent employees exist widely
While there is certainly more awareness about reasonable adjustments in the creative industry, it’s surprising to see that many employers appear to be worried to employ a person who identifies as neurodivergent.

Many of them wonder: “will it take too many resources? How can we be truly inclusive in a team with varying individual access needs?” For creatives, in most cases, it starts with an open conversation with your employer.

Advice and resources to thrive as a neurodivergent creative

With Square Hole, we set out to expose experiences in the creative sector, in the hope that listeners will feel empowered. But the first thing you should know is that it’s not essential to disclose your condition to anyone!

It can be a very personal detail to share, so only share what you feel is important to you. Every individual has to do what feels right for them. Know that you do not have to navigate the system alone if you don’t want to, but that if you need the support, help is available.

“Your condition can be a very personal detail to share, so only disclose what is important to you.”

🔍 Identify your needs

It’s important to understand your own condition – it’s what makes you unique and can be a part of what drives your creative process! It may be useful to pay attention to how you work best, and what you feel you would need to thrive in your role.

Some things to note could be:

  • What time of day are you most productive?
  • When do you know to stop working on something and to take a break?
  • Do you know when you get tired and what overwhelms you when working?
  • How do you cultivate what inspires you?
  • What kinds of practical adjustments make a difference to your productivity, and provide clarity on what is being asked of you in your work? (For example, could receiving scripts beforehand or requesting specific fonts for documents be helpful?)

🔨 Make use of online tools to guide you

There are many free online tools available that can help you with work, such as:

  • Hemingway, an online editing tool that works like a spellchecker, but for style. It makes sure that a reader will ”focus on your message, not your prose”.
  • Grammarly, an online, AI-powered writing assistant that highlights things like grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors.

Another way is to make a claim for Access to Work, a UK government scheme that supports deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people to do their work. Take a look at this guide on making use of Access to Work for self-employed or freelance creatives.

Be sure to try a range of resources to find the right ones for you. If some require paid subscriptions, explore the options with your employer and request that they pay for the resources, or explore the possibility of adding it to a project budget you are delivering to a client.

🙋 Ask for help

As employees, we may worry about appearing inept or incapable of doing our work. But as neurodivergent creatives, we are always brilliant at offering solutions and ideas that haven’t been explored.

If an employer, commissioner or client hasn’t offered an option that would better suit your needs, offer it to them or ask. Personally, we have often been positively surprised by their response and will to adapt.

Create an access document
When you start working on a project for a new client or organisation, consider creating an access document which outlines your disability access needs. This lets them know what you need them to facilitate to make sure you have equal access to work. Access Docs for Artists offer lots of great tips to help with this.

Ask about access support
For those thinking of putting together an Arts Council application, there is also a budget you can apply to for a paid support assistant if you request it as part of your access needs.

Resources to help employers

Employers can also do their bit to better understand how best to support neurodivergent team members or colleagues. Here are a few resources to check out:

  • Exceptional Individuals, which provides neurodiversity consulting, recruitment and employment support to employers and individuals with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism.

  • Dandelion Careers, a specialist consultancy offering support for employers to reap the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce by developing policies and practices to support neuroinclusion.
  • A document by the Association of Illustrators on working with disabled illustrators.

🤝 Find a support network

Having a community that can help you troubleshoot areas of work you struggle with is vital. There are many out there that specialise in different types and industries. For example:

  • The Royal College of Art’s Student Neurodiverse Society is exemplary in showing positive examples of neurodivergent pathways of thinking.
  • Every Brain network is an online and Manchester-based community that works to platform and support professional neurodivergent creatives.
  • The Hart Club in London runs a creative space to champion the works of neurodivergent creatives, as well as advise and encourage creative endeavours.
  • Swan is a network specifically for autistic women to meet and share experiences and to have open discussions.
  • And there is the UK Adult ADHD network, who have created a section of resources on their website dedicated to creatives with ADHD.

❤️ Look after yourself

As a neurodiverse creative, you need to make sure to look after your mental health as you progress professionally in the industry. Think about how to manage and balance tasks so that you’re not overwhelmed with work-related pressures.

Traditionally, the creative industries are highly competitive and fast-paced environments that don’t normally cultivate space to nurture creative thought. As we heard in our episode with former students of the Brixton Finishing School, however, new creatives entering the industry are keen to move away from productivity as a measure of success.

If more people are willing to challenge such harmful stereotypes of the creative industries, then rest and play as part of the creative process could start to manifest more often and translate into exciting creative output!

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Square Hole podcast is available on Apple Podcasts and Amazon Music.

Written by Creative Lives in Progress
Mention Lorna Allan