Neurodivergence in the Trades: Hollie's Story

January 24, 2024

Neurodivergence in the Trades: Hollie's Story

“The trades pander to every single aspect of my ADHD. ADHDers see and do things differently than neurotypical people, which is especially good in an industry that has been so samey for years.”

Neurodivergence in tradespeople is slowly entering the spotlight, with one landmark study finding that 52% of tradespeople identify as neurodivergent. The term “neurodivergence” is polarising. For some, it is a label that is liberally applied to everyone. For others, it is an explanation for years of sensory overwhelm, isolation, and masking.

Women are the minority in the trade industry, making the neurodivergent experience all the more isolating. But despite the barriers, many neurodivergent women enjoy successful careers, albeit with appropriate accommodations.

Hollie is a self-employed heating engineer who works all over Kent. She received her ADHD diagnosis two years ago at the age of 33. In this interview, we look through a retrospective lens to talk about some of the more common traits of ADHD, including rebelliousness, independence, and socialising.

What is your neurodiversity, if you’re comfortable sharing?

I was diagnosed with combined-type ADHD at the age of 33, and I’m 35 now, so I’ve only known for two years. I’ve also got some traits of autism, but I’ve not been diagnosed. I also have Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), so I’m not very good with hearing. That’s it for neurodiversity!

Has having ADHD influenced your journey to becoming a tradeswoman?

One side-effect of ADHD is rebelliousness. I’m a good girl, I’ve always been a good girl, and I try to do everything by the books. But at the same time, I don’t like being told what to do. I’ve got a bit of a, “Go away, I won’t do what you tell me to do” attitude.

In retrospect, I can see that I found it hard to be a team player in work settings. But at the time, I didn’t know I had ADHD. Perhaps I would have had a different experience if I’d known sooner.

“Now that I look back, neurodiversity has influenced my whole career choice. My impulsivity, my impatience, and my general ADHDness made it very hard to settle on a particular subject for a career.”

I knew I didn’t want a boss because I didn’t like being told what to do. I wanted to be on my own because I’m not very good at team playing, and I wanted to create my own schedule because mornings are terrible for me.

When this career choice came up I thought, “Wow, that’s a bit different, not many women do that.” I had tried everything else in careers, so I thought I’d try it. At least I’d be up and outside and moving. Most importantly, I wouldn’t be stuck in an office all the time.

Right now, my job gives me the novelty that I need. Just having that little relationship with a customer every year is so much more rewarding than trying to be with the same person or team of people day in and day out. I do struggle with fitting in within places like that.

That’s understandable. Now that you’re settled, do you think that having ADHD has influenced your day-to-day work on the job?

Of course it does, it’s part of my personality and it’s part of who I am.

The positives are that I’m very good at diagnosing problems. I’m very patient with problems because I like to get to the bottom of things. It’s a good challenge. It’s nice to be needed as well.

“People who have ADHD like to be helping, so a lot of ADHDers have a career in teaching or nursing, that sort of thing. We’re people who help others.”

I also think my sparkling personality keeps customers coming back. I’m not boring, put it that way.

But neurodiversity also has a negative impact on my day-to-day work. I get overwhelmed very easily, especially if the phone is ringing. Sometimes, I don’t get back to people as quickly as they might like.

It’s important for neurodivergent people to ask for support or, in your case as a business owner, to create their own accommodations. Do you have any experience with that?

I’ve had to make things up as I go along.

My accommodations are going to look slightly different from someone who is employed. It sounds funny, but I make the business pay for Audible so I can keep entertained while driving. I travel across the whole of Kent, so I do a lot of travelling.

I’ve also gone from being paper-based to digital-based. I store all the invoicing, oil boiler certificates, and servicing stuff on an app now. This accommodation is important to me because it streamlines the frustrating things.

The most important accommodation is the support of my partner. My partner joined my business as a Director two years ago, when I was completely overwhelmed with work and I didn’t know what to do.

“I’d rather lie in bed and disappoint people because it was all too overwhelming. There were too many things to do. I felt like I was constantly climbing up a mountain and it was really affecting my mental health.”

My partner takes a lot of the emotional strain for me. When I can’t decide who to see first and how to organise my day, he steps in. He also has access to my emails, which I find quite overwhelming.

It’s important to have someone there to spread the emotional burden of running a business. When I get too overwhelmed I shut down, which isn’t good for business.

I’m very privileged to have my partner. For other people, that might look like a friend or a relative.

Are there changes you want to see in the industry around neurodiversity awareness and support?

Just more awareness! The fact that I’m a woman in this industry is like me being a unicorn anyway. A woman with a neurodivergence… my God, I feel like I’m asking too much in terms of awareness!

Awareness is very important. People who have ADHD can get overwhelmed and might not reply as quickly as customers like. This can lead to people thinking we don’t care, or don’t take our jobs that seriously. We do care, we care very deeply.

Now that you are a successful self-employed heating engineer, what advice do you have for other neurodivergent people who want to pursue a career in the trades?

Do it! There are a lot of aspects of this job that cater to our neurodivergent traits, especially for people with ADHD.

I can only really talk about people with ADHD. Most of us need to be outside and working with our hands all the time rather than sitting down in an office. The trades are great because you are learning something every day.

“ADHDers tend to have busy minds. If we’re too stationary, we tend to struggle. Being a heating engineer really suits the busyness in my head.”

The only thing I recommend is to be kind to yourself, know your limits, and know that you can’t please everyone. ADHDers try to stretch themselves too thin and take on too much. It’s good to be aware of what you can and can’t do. Don’t be afraid to say to someone, “No I can’t do that. No, I need support because of X, Y, and Z. Do you mind helping me with this?”

That makes a lot of sense. Have you got any final thoughts?

The trade industry has been so samey for years. A fresh pair of eyes and a different perspective can really make a difference. Neurodivergent people can bridge that gap. We see things differently and do things differently than someone who is neurotypical.

Ultimately, I think that the trade industry can only be a good thing for neurodivergent people

Want to Learn More?

We also interviewed Rosie, a painter and decorator who has ADHD.

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