Different kinds of neurodiversity
What is neurodiversity? Neurodiversity refers to a way of absorbing, analyzing, and expressing information that differs from most. Neurodiverse individuals tend to follow the beat of their own drummer and think outside the box. Neurodiversity comes in many forms, for instance, Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and others. It is said that between 30% to 40% of the worlds population are neurodiverse in some form, many being either misdiagnosed or undiagnosed entirely. Relating to the world differently than neurotypicals can cause quite a bit of stress on both the neurodiverse individual and those who are neurotypical as both work so differently and tend to misunderstand one another. These differences can be found in both personal situations as well as work situations and can be particularly tough in a stressful, face-paced environment like the film industry.
Being neurodiverse while working in film
As a filmmaker, I can say that working in the film industry is tough in general! Add on top of that differences in processing and expressing, as well as differing needs and it can feel almost impossible at times. For myself, the biggest issue I have encountered is indirect communication and schedules changing without notice. This may not be the thing that bothers other neurodiverse filmmakers but they are the most stressful components for me.
I have worked in a variety of roles on set from actor to producer and everything in between, and I recall acting a scene with a prominent actor when the director came over to me and said “place your hand on his kind of like this”. I stared at the director, looked up at the actor, back at the director thinking to myself “… kind of like this? What does kind of mean? Do they want me to do exactly like that or do they want me to change it up but not too much?”. I was completely lost and no one understood the perplexed look on my face. This sort of direction would be easy to follow for a neurotypical actor, but any kind of indirect communication for an autistic actor causes us to freeze. We know we can’t ask as we look silly doing so and opt instead to wing it, stressing the entire time that we might have misunderstood and made the wrong decision on the action. I could hardly walk down the stairs and into my scene as my palms were sweating, and all because the director used the phrase “kind of”. Autistic actors can be incredibly talented but if we are given unclear directions, it is very difficult to proceed with the scene.
As a producer, I make sure to ask my team to communicate as clearly and openly with me as possible but sometimes things are still left unclear and I find myself in that awkward back and forth of having to spell out exactly what I was after and asking a million questions as to what they meant by this and that. With how much each department has to do, the couple of weeks before shooting starts can be stressful for everyone and I think most simply forget to communicate their needs or changes sometimes. Schedules and expectations change wildly following a shoot and that is often to do with last minute issues with weather, illnesses, travel difficulties, etc. Anything or everything can go wrong right before filming is to start and this can be particular tough on an autistic crew or cast member. Not only are we thrown into a situation we are not prepared for, but people forget to communicate entirely with each person they need to communicate with and a lot of times people are left in the dark to figure it out. Luckily, with experience, you can usually gather what is needed and learn to adapt to never knowing what is going to happen or what might come up to ruin your carefully laid plans. But it is best to inform those necessary of how important it is that they communicate clearly with you and chase them up when needed.
How can we make the film industry more inclusive for neurodiverse individuals?
The most important thing is to be already open for neurodiverse team members to approach you. It has been expressed to me many times in the past that just knowing that someone will not be judged for being neurodiverse makes those who are more likely to apply for positions on your team, more likely to share their accommodation needs or preferences, and less likely to feel stressed in their position on the team. How can you make your position attractive to someone who might be neurodiverse? Post a statement about inclusivity in your ad or on your website. Many companies do this already to include diverse ethnicities but forget to include neurodiversity in their statements. Simply add it to the list.
When you do have a neurodiverse team member on board, don’t assume that they will need certain accommodations. As each of us are different, we all have different needs and what one person cannot handle, another can handle better than most in the team. ASK, don’t assume. You will be surprised with your findings as many neurodiverse individuals don’t need any accommodation at all, some need very simple ones such as clear communications, and others might just need a quiet place to tune out in on their breaks. You never know unless you ask.
Make sure all expectations are clearly communicated to your team member and let them know they can to you with anything at all. Many of us will blow you away with how much value we can add to your productions as not only do we tend to be hard workers, but we also tend to excel at the tasks we carry out, leaving no stone unturned. You might just find yourself opting to bring on more neurodiverse team members once you work with us.
Should someone who is neurodiverse choose this career path?
There are a variety of different careers in the film industry and each one has it’s pros and cons. For those of us who can manage spinning a dozen plates at one time and don’t mind putting out fires left and right, producing or directing can be an amazing choice while for others this sort of situation would cause one to have to lock themselves in a quiet room for a month. In which case, something like film editing might be a great option. As a film editor, you still get to contribute to the overall vision but usually in the comfort of your own home and without the stress of being on set or dealing with so many different personalities. Other choices could include composing music for the film, doing sound design, visual effects, or even working in casting where you help to build a cast team. The possibilities are there for anyone who is truly interested but do keep in mind this is a difficult industry to get into. Thankfully, autistic individuals tend to have tunnel vision for their greatest interests and are more likely to stick to something they love, therefore slowly moving into their desired career path when others would have given up.
It may not be easy but with a few adjustments and being clear about what is expected, I manage to make it work for me. That being said, deciding to make a career in the film industry is the same process for a neurotypical as it would be for a neurodiverse individual — only you can know your strengths and weaknesses, what you can handle and what you cannot. It is important to do proper research into the field you are interested in and make an informed decision about what is best for YOU.
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