Podcast

How Career Services Can Support Neurodivergent Students

Jackie Warner, the Assistant Director of the Center for Career Success at Thomas Jefferson University, shares how career services professionals can support neurodivergent students.

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Jackie Warner, the Assistant Director of the Center for Career Success at Thomas Jefferson University, shares how career services professionals can support neurodivergent students.

In this episode, Jackie talks about:

  • What neurodiversity is
  • What unique challenges neurodivergent students face when it comes to career development
  • What accommodations career services teams can make for neurodivergent students
  • How to advise students on whether or not they should disclose to an employer that they’re neurodivergent
  • How to make programming more inclusive for neurodivergent students
  • And more  

Jackie said the biggest thing career services professionals can do to better support neurodivergent students is to be an ally for all disabled students and to just be there for them. 

“If a student tells you, ‘Hey, I really need to take notes, can you please take a break in between talking or talk slowly or just let me write that down,’ or ‘I really need to edit this while you’re talking. So can you give me a moment to fix that?’ Or even, ‘Hey, I see you made notes on my resume. Could you email that to me?’ Those are really easy things that students might ask for,” Jackie said.

“And we might say, ‘Well, no, you’re an adult and that’s extra work for me.’ But we don’t know why they’re asking that. They could be asking that because they’re neurodiverse. They could be asking because they have anxiety. Maybe English is not their first language.

That’s an easy accommodation we can make for all of our students, is just listening to what they need and believing them.”

Resources from the episode:

Transcript

Meredith Metsker:

Hey everyone. Welcome back to the Career Everywhere podcast. I’m your host Meredith Metsker, and today I am joined by Jackie Warner. She’s the Assistant Director of the Center for Career Success at Thomas Jefferson University. Thank you for being here, Jackie.

Jackie Warner:

Thank you very much for having me.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I’m really excited to have you, and I’m excited to talk to you today about how career services can support neurodiverse students. I know this is a topic that you’re super passionate about and have a lot of experience in, and I also know this is super top of mind for a lot of career leaders out there right now.

Jackie Warner:

Absolutely.

Meredith Metsker:

So, yeah, so I’m excited to dig in and talk about best practices for supporting those students, chat through some of the barriers they face, and then talk through what can be done, what accommodations can be made, and so on.

Jackie Warner:

Yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. So that’s going to be a great conversation. Before I get into the rest of my questions, Jackie, is there anything else you’d like to add about yourself, your background or your role there at Thomas Jefferson?

Jackie Warner:

Sure. So I think it’s important to take note that I have not always been in career services. I actually used to be a special education teacher in the elementary setting, and I went straight through undergrad because I was really passionate about people with disabilities and I got my master’s in Severe Autism and Disabilities. So I started my career working out with people who mostly have more severe disabilities.

So when we think about a spectrum of things, we think about people who may be nonverbal, people who will be in a wheelchair, and just trying to make sure that they’re able to access the environment around them so that they can have the most normal and best life possible. And then with COVID and everything, I made the transition to higher education. So here I am and I’m trying to continue just being an advocate for people with disabilities and continuing to have that work. So it’s really exciting to me that so many people are interested in neurodiversity and want to talk about it because I can talk about it for hours.

Meredith Metsker:

That’s amazing. So I am curious what led you to career services then?

Jackie Warner:

That’s a really great question. So when I was in my master’s program, I actually worked in residence life and housing, and I was the graduate assistant for campus engagement at the University of Delaware. And they had a really great program and I really enjoyed being on campus and working with students. And I found that what I enjoyed the most was helping them reach goals. So instead of just planning fun events on their dorm or whatever, I actually really like talking to them about their career field and where they were going. And this job actually kind of was recommended to me from a friend, and I was like, “Oh, I don’t think I’m qualified for that.” And she was like, “You absolutely are qualified. It is mostly teaching and working with students and helping them get where they want to be.” So I gave it a shot and it’s been really great. I had a little bit of training in the beginning just so I’m caught up with everything, and I really enjoyed working here and working in career services.

Meredith Metsker:

I love that. It is always so interesting hearing how people get into the field because it’s like there’s no degree for career services, so everyone has their own path.

Jackie Warner:

Exactly. Yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay, great. Well, before I get into my more specific questions about our topic today, I want to kick us off with the question I ask all of our guests, and that’s, what does Career Everywhere mean to you?

Jackie Warner:

That’s a great question. I had to give this one a little bit of thought before our meeting here today, but I did come up with just access. A big part of my career and just my mission as a practitioner is letting people access information and knowledge. How many times have we heard a student say, “I never would’ve thought of that,” or, “Oh, I didn’t even know that before.” That’s what I think about when I think about Career Everywhere. Just accessing knowledge that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of or didn’t know before, so that you can help students access that too.

Meredith Metsker:

I love that. It’s a great answer. All right, so I think it’s time for us to dig into our topic today.

Jackie Warner:

Absolutely.

Meredith Metsker:

And I think it would be helpful if we just started off with what is neurodiversity?

Jackie Warner:

That’s a great question, and I’ve had a lot of people ask me this. So neurodiversity is the infinite diversity in our brains in the way that we think and experience the world. People see colors a little bit differently. So it’s kind of like that. How do you function? How do you feel sensorily in the world? How do you interact with people, places, and things? So if you have something that is considered being on the neurodiversity spectrum, you are neurodivergent. So neurodivergent refers to one person, neurodiversity is the group of people who are neurodivergent, and neurodiverse is just talking about the infinite possibilities inside of our brains, which we honestly don’t even know all of the infinite possibilities yet.

A very common symbol for neurodiversity is the infinity symbol because brains are all so unique. Everyone is unique and everyone really is on the spectrum of neurodiversity. But when we think about neurodiversity and what kind of diagnoses may make you neurodivergent, we often think first of autism, but that’s not the only thing that can be in the neurodiversity sphere. It’s also ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, which is like dyslexia, but with math. Dysgraphia, which is difficulty writing. And there’s so many other things that people consider themselves to be neurodiverse. People with certain mental health disorders such as anxiety, OCD, things like that, maybe even PTSD may consider themselves to be neurodiverse. It’s really up to the person to decide, do I even want to claim that term? Do I consider myself part of this population? And everyone who is neurodiverse is different.

Meredith Metsker:

That was a great overview, and I know we kind of talked about this in our prep call a while back, but for those who are listening or watching and don’t know, I was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago as an adult. So this topic is also very near and dear to my heart. And I just having learned so much more about it since my diagnosis, it just makes so many things make sense, particularly some of my struggles in college in terms of studying, in terms of just learning. I realized I never really learned how to learn. And so that was a big struggle. So this is, I think, just such an important topic, and I’m really grateful that you’re here and that you gave such a great overview, so thank you.

Jackie Warner:

Yeah, absolutely. I also was recently diagnosed with ADHD. I suspected it for a little while, and something I’ll just throw out there that a lot of people are talking about right now in terms of neurodiversity is, oh, everyone’s getting diagnosed or everyone’s self diagnosing themselves. I think it’s important to do research, and if you think you might have something, definitely see a doctor. That’s the only way really to know for sure. And there are of course situations where you might want to second opinion as well. So definitely seek professionals. But how I realized I probably have ADHD is actually on TikTok, so I’m officially diagnosed.

Meredith Metsker:

Interesting.

Jackie Warner:

But I was watching TikTok and I was like, wow, that sounds exactly like me. And a lot of women just don’t get diagnosed because most of the things that we’re taught as educators is based on studies that are done by people who studied white boys. So women and people of color often do not get diagnosed.

Meredith Metsker:

I thought that was really interesting once I started learning more about it, because a lot of the behaviors that are typically associated with ADHD, I think come from studies of young boys like the hyperactivity or the distraction or whatever, when there are so many other symptoms.

Jackie Warner:

Yes. There very much are that I’m still learning about myself today too.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. Still, it’s an ongoing process, but even just having the diagnosis makes such a difference. Because its like, okay, there’s a reason my brain functions a little bit differently, or I just have some of these mannerisms. It personally allowed me to give myself a little more grace when struggles would come up.

Jackie Warner:

Yeah, absolutely. And I’m sitting here with all my fidgets and a fan. I have my own HVAC system behind me because I have a hard time processing temperatures. I’m like, now I know why.

Meredith Metsker:

It all makes sense now.

Jackie Warner:

Yes, exactly.

Meredith Metsker:

Well, kind of on this note, what are some of the barriers or the unique challenges that neurodiverse students face, especially in terms of career development?

Jackie Warner:

Absolutely. So we did kind of just touch on one, but it is not being diagnosed. My evaluation cost $450. So as a professional and an adult, I have been working for a while. So I do have that kind of money to spend on a doctor’s appointment, and it’s just one doctor’s appointment was that much. But when we think about most of our college students, they do not have that money or they do not have transportation access to see a doctor because they wanted me to go in person and take an in-person assessment. So that’s definitely a barrier because in order to receive accommodations in the United States and higher education, you have to have documentation of your disability. And just so we’re clear, being neurodiverse, having ADHD, having autism, all of it falls under the Americans with Disability Act. So I may refer to things as disabilities kind of interchangeably just from my own experience, but just putting that out there because not everyone who considers themselves neurodiverse, they don’t consider themselves disabled.

And that goes back to what I said in the beginning of everyone kind of decides their own labels and how they want to talk and feel about everything. So that’s definitely one barrier, not being able to access accommodations. Another thing that I found in my research that’s been really interesting specifically with people with autism is they may not want to identify themselves because it may make them feel like they may be socially isolated on campus. When we think about higher education, there’s so much of that social aspect, and they might not want to get special accommodations in class because then, oh, everyone knows that I have autism. And some people own it, and some people are not comfortable with that. And there’s so many reasons for that. And some of them can be having a bad experience in their school system before they got to higher education, having a bad experience with other peer groups or even doctors.

So there may be a variety of reasons people do not disclose or do not have accommodations when even we as career services practitioners are going to like, “Okay, you really would benefit from this,” but maybe they’re not comfortable or not able to get accommodations. Some of the other things that our students face specifically with career services is the frustration of just sitting down and doing it, making the resume, writing the cover letter. For some people who are neurodiverse. Especially those, when I’m thinking about dyslexia and dysgraphia, how difficult is that to read and to write and to just get it done? It’s so difficult. So specifically with those students, it can be really helpful to have them have that accommodation of verbally transcribing everything, which is easier to access now. It used to be like you needed a special computer system or a special pen.

So that’s definitely something. And it also can be that social communication. Some people who are neurodiverse have trouble reading social cues or sitting still. Or when I am in a meeting or doing something that doesn’t interest me, my body starts to physically shut down. And I know now that’s because I have inattentive type ADHD, and there’s things I can do to fix that about myself, but I fall asleep without wanting to because my brain just shuts off. It’s just like, ah, we’re not interested in this. So it’s very difficult to complete tasks that I don’t want to do. And sometimes that resume is something you don’t want to do.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah, I can totally relate to the whole body shutting down thing. It happens to me all the time on, this is interesting, on road trips when I’m a passenger.

Jackie Warner:

Yes.

Meredith Metsker:

There’s nothing to engage my brain just asleep every time.

Jackie Warner:

Yep, exactly. I get that way too.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. So knowing some of these unique challenges or these barriers, what can career services professionals do to support neurodiverse students?

Jackie Warner:

Absolutely. So I shared this with you and you found it on my LinkedIn as well, but I actually created a support toolkit for the National Association of Colleges and Employers because they did a presentation there earlier this summer in July. And one thing that I’ve heard from a lot of practitioners is like, I want things that I physically can do. I function really well with lists. I want to see it. I want to know exactly what it is. I don’t want the concept thrown around at me. So I’ve made a specific list of things that you can do. And Meredith, I know you said that you were planning on putting that in the show notes, which will be really helpful. It’s also on my LinkedIn if you’d like to connect with me there, but just the biggest thing that we can all do is be an ally for all disabled students and just be there for them.

If a student tells you, “Hey, I really need to take notes, can you please take a break in between talking or talk slowly or just let me write that down,” or “I really need to edit this while you’re talking. So can you give me a moment to fix that?” Or even, “Hey, I see you made notes on my resume. Could you email that to me?” Right. Those are really easy things that students might ask for. And we might say, “Well, no, you’re an adult and that’s extra work for me.” But we don’t know why they’re asking that. They could be asking that because they’re neurodiverse. They could be asking because they have anxiety. Maybe English is not their first language.

That’s an easy accommodation we can make for all of our students, is just listening to what they need and believing them. We don’t need to ask if they want us to talk more slowly, well, do you have an accommodation for that? We don’t need to put that out there. We can just talk more slowly. And I know sometimes it can be a pain and it can make appointments longer or students might need to make more appointments with us. But at the end of the day, our purpose is to help students, and that’s one of the best ways we can help them.

So another thing that I struggle with myself is providing direct feedback. So limiting the fluff in things. Don’t use synonyms or acronyms or things that maybe other people might not understand outside of the career services world or just in general. So in Philadelphia, we call everything Philly. It’s not Philadelphia, it’s Philly. So if I go to someone who is not from Philly and they’re like, “I don’t know where Philly is, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I’m like, “Oh yeah, I just got a job in Philly. I’m in Center city over by this, that, and the other.” That might be how someone feels when we’re talking about something related to career services, like a resume or a CV, what even is a CV? I don’t know what you’re talking about right now.

So that’s one way to do it as well. So an example that I used earlier in my presentation was, you need to edit this bullet for clarity versus, well, I feel like this bullet doesn’t make the most sense in the world. Maybe we can tighten it up or let’s get to the meat of things versus let’s talk about this section of your resume. So instead of using slang or things that you’re used to saying, just try to be as direct as possible because a lot of people who are neurodiverse may not understand what you’re trying to say. And people who are speaking English as a second language also might not understand what you’re trying to say. So again, it’s multiple populations that we’re assisting.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah, that’s a lot of really great advice. I especially appreciate that being direct part because sometimes it’s hard to, as the recipient of that feedback to sift through what do they actually mean? And then if you’re like me and you have anxiety as well, it’s like, oh my God, they hate me, or they think this is terrible.

Jackie Warner:

You’re too anxious to even ask.

Meredith Metsker:

Right, so it’s always nice when it’s direct and I can trust that, okay, they said what they meant. They had more constructive feedback, they would’ve offered it.

Jackie Warner:

Yeah, exactly. And going off of the anxiety thing too, one great thing that we’ve tried at Jefferson and only one student used it, but we helped one student was a career fair quiet room, and we’re going to try this again in the fall for our fall career fair. But essentially it’s just making a space at the career fair, hopefully a room with a door so you can close the door, but a place where the lights are off, either there’s lo-fi music or white noise or no sound at all. And it’s just quiet. It’s just a place where you can go collect your thoughts, take a deep breath, review your notes about employers. You can go before you talk to employers in the middle, take a break. You go after when you’re like, oh my gosh, that was so much. I need to decompress before I go back to my roommate or my entire freshman floor, and they’re all going to want to talk to me.

So having a quiet room can be really, really helpful to so many of our students, not just those who are neurodiverse, but people who are neurodiverse can get overwhelmed more easily than other people. And how overwhelming is a career fair? Especially as a student. You walk in and there’s people everywhere. Everyone is talking, the lights are bright, so much is going on. As someone with ADHD, sometimes I find myself getting really distracted when I’m trying to talk to one person at a career fair.

So I find it to be helpful too, to just go in and say, Hey, I’m going to talk to this one person and I’m really going to focus on what they’re saying and write every single thing down even if I didn’t need to. So that’s just a strategy I use personally. But having that space for them to be in a quiet, calm down, decompress area is really helpful. And another thing that’s really helpful is having the map available to students ahead of time. Show them where each employer will be, because chances are if you’re having a general career fair, they’re not going to want to talk to every single employer. And instead of having to walk around the overwhelming situation to find them, they just go directly to who they want to talk to and leave. That way, they limit their time in the overwhelming situation.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah, I know. Trying to think back to if I was going to a career fair, I think I would want to talk to one employer, maybe go to that quiet room, take my notes, debrief with myself, go to another employer, come back.

Jackie Warner:

Keep going like that. Yeah,

Meredith Metsker:

It’d be nice to have that option for sure.

Jackie Warner:

Yeah, absolutely.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. So that’s some really great ideas for how career leaders can support neurodiverse students. I am curious, what advice do you have for career counselors who are working one-on-one? That’s a great question. In an advising session with a neurodiverse student?

Jackie Warner:

So two disclaimers here, one, a student may disclose to you and not to the accommodations department or to their professors or friends. So if a student says, “Hey, I have ADHD,” or, “Hey, I’m neurodiverse,” that is private information, and treat it as if it’s confidential. So they might tell you that so that you have a better appointment. So don’t tell the accommodations department. Trust that they will as needed, and there might be a reason they haven’t if they haven’t. So a lot of students who are neurodiverse don’t even need classroom accommodations because they are so incredibly smart and good at their field, but they need accommodations for preparing for an interview.

So with that being said, the other thing that you should do if a student discloses is thank them. So some language you could use might sound like, “Oh, thank you for telling me. Is there anything I can do to make this appointment better?” Or “Oh, thank you so much.” And if you’re neurodiverse, you can even say like, “Me too.” I’ve connected with a lot of students that way. But just thank them and ask, is there anything I can do? Because they’re probably telling you for a reason, but it can be difficult for them to find the language to say, I really need help with knowing what to say in an interview, or I really need you to slow down, or I need you to write things down for me or let me write things down. So prompting them with that open-ended question can be really helpful. And they might say no. They might just want you to know that in case they have ticks or social things that they’re doing, that might be kind of weird. They might just be giving a disclaimer.

So that would be the first thing. So with career counselors, the other thing that you can do is having the information easily accessible. So after the meeting, if they don’t remember what you said or they remember part of it or not all of it, having multiple methods of students being able to access templates or examples, things like that on your website, on Canvas, on Handshake, whatever you’re using, that can be really helpful. The other thing that you’re probably already doing post-COVID or post COVID, I don’t know which one I should even say anymore, but is having multiple methods of meetings. So some people are really going to prefer in person, I’m an in-person type of girl, but I know a lot of people prefer Zoom, and that might just be because in Zoom they can control the entire environment.

I know personally, I’m really sensitive to smell and I don’t know what’s going on when I walk into somebody’s office, they could have an air freshener that gives me a migraine, or maybe they had tuna for lunch, and that’s really bothering me. And when are you going to say, don’t eat the tuna? Right? It’s their office. So Zoom can be really helpful for that, but also just for that social communication. Some people find it difficult to make eye contact and it’s easier to look like you are without making eye contact on Zoom. Things like that can be really helpful for Zoom. Some people prefer phone. With the phone meetings, some people will prefer that because of the social cues that they feel like they have trouble reading social cues, body language, facial expressions. It’s just easier to hear the words and not even have to worry about, oh, what does somebody look like right now? Are they angry with me? Are they not angry? I can’t really tell. Are they feeling frustrated?

So using that direct language again, but also providing multiple methods of meeting. One thing we’re working on with our virtual office slowly but surely is providing different methodologies of accessing information as well. So maybe we have a document explaining things. Maybe we have a fun graphic explaining things. Maybe we also have a video, maybe there’s also a tutorial where we just walk through it without our faces in the video and just talking or kind of like a podcast format. We’re trying to make everything as accessible as possible in as many different ways as possible. That way all students in all whatever they need can access everything.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Sounds like there’s a lot that career counselors can do and it just starts with asking, what can I do?

Jackie Warner:

Yeah, absolutely. The other thing that I have gotten a question on is, what should you do when you’re in an appointment and you can tell that the student is becoming frustrated? Or you can tell maybe they’re not getting it or you’re suspecting something. Don’t ask. If they haven’t told you that they’re neurodiverse or have a disability, there’s probably a reason, they don’t want you to know or they’re not comfortable with you. Maybe if they make another appointment, they’ll tell you. And if they tell you, don’t say like, “Oh yeah, I figured.” Just say, “Thank you.” And then the other thing with that is do what you would do for any other student.

If there was any student in your office getting really visibly frustrated, take a break. Maybe you make an excuse, say, “Hey, I need to refill my water.” Or, “Hey, I need to go to the bathroom. I’ll be back in two minutes. If you need anything, help yourself. There’s water fountains,” whatever. Make an excuse if you’re not comfortable just saying, “Hey, do we want to take a break right now?” Or commiserate with them. Just say, “This is really hard.” I’ve had to say this to a lot of students, this is not normal. Writing a resume is very difficult. Being in an interview situation is very stressful. Just acknowledge their feelings and that’s helpful for most people in this situation because it is a weird and hard thing that they’re doing.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, it is. And typically they’re preparing to do it multiple times, multiple resumes, multiple cover letters, maybe multiple interviews. It’s a lot.

Jackie Warner:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. I’m curious if let’s say a career counselor is meeting with a student, they have disclosed that they are neurodiverse, maybe they ask for advice on should I disclose in an interview process or at a new job? What advice do you have for career counselors as they navigate that question?

Jackie Warner:

Absolutely, and that’s a very hot topic in the disability world. And I think that it’s important with all of our students, to be honest. If they have something that may qualify as an invisible disability, so that means maybe they wouldn’t notice right away that you have ADHD during the interview process or dyslexia or what have you, you may benefit from not disclosing. Just because when you disclose, you’re bringing in the possibility of bias, conscious or unconscious. The interviewer or recruiter may not even realize that they are not choosing that person because they have disclosed. So sometimes I’ve talked to recruiters about how I’m a really big advocate for people who are neurodiverse, and they’ll say, “What is that? I’ve never heard of that before.” So if a candidate came up to them and said, I’m neurodiverse, and all they’ve got is Google, what kind of things are they going to find online?

We’re not in control of that. So if you are in a situation where you need to ask for accommodations, it is their legal right to do so. But one of the greatest resources I have found is the Job Accommodation Network. It’s a government run website and it has templates and examples of letters to ask for an accommodation. So let’s say you had an initial phone screening and are going into the interview, but you need the interview questions ahead of time. You can show students a Job Accommodation Network and help them write a letter to that employer saying, I have this and I need this.

Some students will need to request accommodations. And this kind of goes for all students with disabilities. When I recently attended at the Philadelphia Neurodiversity Employment Network, so a little bit of a mouthful, sorry. But we actually got to listen to a panel of students and they said the biggest thing that they wish is that employers would give them a chance because they’re probably going to be really good at their job. And we had professors there who had employed students at their university who are neurodiverse, and they were like, “Yeah, they got the work done and two weeks, we thought it was going to take all summer. We had to find other things for them to do.” So I think if there are any recruiters listening to this, give them a chance because they’re probably going to be really great at their job. People who are neurodiverse typically have special interests and will go into related fields, and they’re going to be really passionate and really good at their job if you let them.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, that was me when I was in journalism and now too, but I majored in journalism and I could tell when I switched my major to journalism, I was sitting in my first class and I got butterflies just listening to the syllabus, and I was like, yes, this is what I’m passionate about. And it was the first time that I was ever in a class and I wanted to read the textbook. I was able to read the textbook because I was so interested in the subject matter.

Jackie Warner:

Yeah, exactly. It’s like finding your niche when you’re neurodiverse can be so powerful. And then you just have to figure out, how do I talk about it? How do I show someone that I can do this? And actually one thing that we’re seeing more of in the interview process in general, but this is a really great accommodation for students who are neurodiverse to ask for, is maybe I’m not great at interviewing, but let’s say I’m doing computer programming. When am I going to have to have an hour long conversation with people during the day? Realistically, not very often, but maybe I can show them some things I’ve programmed, bring your portfolio, have an E-portfolio, send it, bring it to the interview.

And then on the recruiting side, one thing I would recommend is for all candidates, especially in technical fields, have a problem you’ve previously solved. So we don’t want to accidentally be stealing people’s ideas or labor, but a problem you’ve previously solved that was tricky and could be solved in a week or two, or just have a start to the solution, send it to candidates and say, what would you do in this situation? Or What ideas could you see coming from this? And that can be a really powerful way to see who can think outside of the box, who’s creative, who maybe would bring somebody to the table that your current team wouldn’t. And that can be a really good way to find out who’s going to be the most valuable asset. And it’s also a really great way to find those people who are neurodiverse that have really great ideas and just are not very good at verbalizing them.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, it’s like who can make those connections that maybe you never would’ve made yourself.

Jackie Warner:

Exactly.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. Okay. I think we’ve talked about a lot of great ideas for how career leaders can support neurodiverse students in those one-on-ones, maybe at career fairs. I’m curious if you have any advice about adapting programming or presentations or things like that to be more inclusive or more easy to digest for folks who are neurodiverse?

Jackie Warner:

Absolutely. One big thing is providing the slides ahead of time, and I would say, even maybe having some paper copies at a presentation. So personally, I really like printing the slides when they’re like, one half is the slide and then the other half is that note section. That way you’re taking notes on the specific slides, so you’re not reiterating everything, but you can build off of the bullets. That’s how my brain works. So providing the slides ahead of time online or printing them would allow someone to do that. It also would allow someone to think about, okay, what information am I about to be presented? And do I have questions that I’m going to need to ask? And how would I word that question? Because some people may need more time than others to think about questions, and they may need to build the confidence or practice wording things before they get there.

So they might have a question they want to ask, but they needed more time than you gave for the question and answer section to ask it. The other thing is generally for accessibility, make sure that you are using large fonts and easy to read fonts. Funnily enough, one of the best fonts readable with low vision is actually Comic Sans. But some other good ones are like Aerial, Calibri, Times New Roman. And when I say low vision, I also am including people who are getting older and start using readers. Both of my parents are in that camp. I know one day I probably will be too. Right now, I’m really nearsighted, so I can’t wait for bifocals. But with that, that can help so many people in the audience that you might not even think of, make sure you’re using contrasting colors. And so that means light background, dark text, dark background, light color text.

But one thing that we found with people who are neurodivergent and people specifically who may have PTSD or anxiety is do not use flashing lights, those big flashy fun slides, but where they like, boom, drop in or make a loud noise, try not to use sound effects that are loud or could be alarming. I saw a presentation recently where they did a laser beam, but immediately I was like, that sounded like pew pews. You know what I mean? And that was really alarming to me, and I just had generalized anxiety, and I was like, I cannot imagine someone who’s been in a situation that caused them PTSD. I would feel awful if they were in this room right now. So be very mindful of what you’re using as far as sound effects and use intentional photos. I do this all the time. I’m opening and closing slides to get the students engaged.

I’ll put a meme in, but on the other slides, try to use graphics, photos, images that are intentional. So they are furthering your point, not distracting people, because when we’re talking about cover letters and then we use a GIF of that cat typing on the keyboard, then in my brain, I’m thinking about my cat, I’m thinking about all the things I need to write. I’m thinking about, oh, maybe I should google a GIF and see if I can find another one of that cat that’s really funny. Or thinking about a TikTok I saw earlier, and I did not hear what you just said. So using things intentionally and being aware of, they might be triggering to people.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah. I’m curious, what about those presentations where it’s just largely, maybe you just have to speak the whole time. It’s mostly just you talking at the students. Is there anything that career leaders can do to make it more engaging or make those mostly talking presentations more engaging for neurodivergent students?

Jackie Warner:

Absolutely. Again, providing the slides, but also if you’re planning on just lecturing, having notes available or maybe an outline. And the other thing that you can be doing is providing closed captioning where possible, or even an ASL interpreter where possible. A lot of students that need those things will have them already with them or capabilities to have them already with them. But make sure that you have those things if you can have them. I know teams in Zoom right now, do both have closed captioning that you can provide.

And the other thing that I always recommend to everyone ever is if there’s a microphone, please use it. Because a lot of people may have trouble hearing you and are afraid to speak up, because how embarrassing is that? To have the person in the room who says, I’m a loud speaker, I don’t need that. And someone in the back actually does need you to use it, but now you’ve said that and they’re thinking, oh, I can’t ask, or I can’t say anything, and they just miss everything that you’ve just said, or they might as well not even be there. So if there’s a mic, use the mic.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Especially I know for me, I have some auditory processing issues. It’s a little bit of a delay, so it’s helpful if I can definitely hear the speaker. Or for example, when I watch TV, I’m watching with subtitles, even though I can hear just fine, I watch with subtitles because I don’t always catch the dialogue the first time around.

Jackie Warner:

Especially when it’s like a British show. I don’t know what it is, but I find their accent very distracting, and then I’m like, wait, I didn’t know. What did they say? So if I can read also, and it’s really just UK shows for me, I don’t know what that’s about. Maybe that’s just a me thing. I don’t even know if it’s whatever.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, maybe it’s just trying to decipher the accent and decipher the dialogue all at the same time.

Jackie Warner:

Yeah, exactly. Or I do the thing where you ask me a question, I say, what? And then I start answering it right away because my brain just needed another minute.

Meredith Metsker:

Yep. I do the exact same thing. Is there anything about the career center that career leaders can do to make it more inviting, more inclusive for neurodivergent students?

Jackie Warner:

Absolutely. So having all of your information online, that virtual office, that website, making sure that it’s easy to find. Where are you on campus? When are you available for students to come in or drop in hours or how do you make an appointment? But beyond that, make sure that your office is accessible. And if it’s not, bring it up to either the accommodations office or leadership, because if it is not accessible, you are excluding students. And what I mean by accessible is physically accessible. If you were in a wheelchair, could you roll into your office? Could you roll into the bathroom? Could you use the bathroom? We have been focusing a lot on our campus on single stalls or gender inclusive bathrooms. So we have those. But what I realized are the gender inclusive bathrooms on our floor are really small, and I’m not sure that they’re accessible, but it’s really difficult to make them bigger.

So how can we be gender inclusive in our building and work with people who may have a physical disability? Also, having those gender inclusive bathrooms, the single stall ones are actually really great for people who are neurodiverse. You might be self-conscious, you might need to take a break from a meeting and just calm down, but it’s hard to do that if other people are in the bathroom talking or on their phone or whatever it may be. So that’s another great thing to have for everyone. But beyond that, just make sure that you have signage. Is your office easy to find? And beyond that, do you have handouts, pamphlets, things in your office? On my desk where I can sit with students, I can turn my big monitor and they can see, I’ll show like, Hey, this is my LinkedIn and here’s what I did. Because a lot of students benefit from that visual, but I also have printed out my LinkedIn checklist.

So do you have this? You have this? Do you have this? And they can take it with them if they want. And there’s also one uploaded to our Canvas site. So either way they have access to it, and if they can’t get to Canvas, I can email it to them. It’s those little things that you might not think of. So providing paper copies and virtually showing people things, and just generally having places for students to sit. One great thing that I saw actually when I was in the residence hall was a lot of our residence directors had fidgets on the table for students to use. I loved that. That’s a really great thing you can have too.

Meredith Metsker:

Where can career leaders find those? Just like on Amazon?

Jackie Warner:

Yeah, I got some really good ones on Amazon. There are some that are really cheap actually. There’s like this little dude, this is probably not the best example, but he’s a little cat bear thing. I don’t know, his eyes are missing, but I think a pack of 40 of them was $10. So you can have one on your desks, you can give them out to students. We give them out. We have stress balls and snack events on campus just to make sure students know we’re here at orientation and things like that. So we’ll give them out then. And then students hopefully will remember us, and then they can get one if they come in too.

Meredith Metsker:

Nice. Okay. Yeah, so if you’re watching or listening, just Google fidgets and you’ll probably find lots of options.

Jackie Warner:

Yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Well, we’ve talked a lot about a lot of different accommodations and things like that, but are there any other accommodations that career leaders can make to better support neurodiverse students?

Jackie Warner:

Sure. I think one thing that is a good idea for everyone, for all of our students, period, is work for a strength based approach. So that would look like identifying student’s strengths and finding, okay, you’re studying education or you’re studying computer science. In that realm, where do you best fit? What kind of positions will you be most comfortable in? And where are you going to thrive? And you might already be doing that and not even realize it. If you’ve used StrengthsFinder, if you’ve used the Strong Interest Inventory or even the Myers-Briggs, you already are kind of getting at that, right? So you’re helping students identify their strengths, you’re helping to give them the language to talk about themselves in an interview. And that’s what some people who are neurodiverse really just need. They need someone to say like, “Wow, you’re a really good problem solver. You think outside the box.”

And they might not have ever thought of themselves in that way. And then you’re giving them language to talk about themselves on a cover letter and in an interview. So those kinds of things can be really vital. And just helping them find their comfort career, the place where they’re the most comfortable, where they’re going to thrive, where they’re going to be successful for a long term. And that can be the most challenging thing, but it’s kind of at that point, walking through the job description, going through the interview process saying, what kind of vibes did you get? What was your gut feeling? Do you feel like you could work with that person every single day? I think that that’s something that we can do with all of our students, but it will especially benefit our neurodiverse students.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. I love that. That’s some great advice. And on that note, you’ve already offered a lot of great pieces of advice, but is there any other advice that you would have for career services leaders who want to better support their neurodiverse students?

Jackie Warner:

Yeah, I mean, I do think that I actually got to everything I was thinking of, but I’m available to be reached on LinkedIn. I’m always happy to talk to people about neurodiversity. So anyone listening, if you want to find me and message me a quick question or set up a 20 minute Zoom call, I’m very open to that. Always. That’s something that I love talking about and always happy to support people.

Meredith Metsker:

Great. And for those of you who are watching or listening, I’ll be sure to include a link to Jackie’s LinkedIn page so you can easily go and find that. And Jackie, if people want to learn more about Neurodiversity, do you have any resources or recommendations of places they can go to learn more?

Jackie Warner:

Yeah, that’s a really great question. One thing that I recommend is doing research on LinkedIn, actually finding some top creators who have ADHD, autism, who are dyslexic, who have disabilities, who are neurodiverse. And then another thing that you can do is go to the Neurodiversity resource hub. This is created at Queens College, and it is something you have to request access to. But I spoke with the creator and she is really great, and she was like, if any educators want to request to join, they’re welcome to. It’s a compilation from CUNY of research data, just general suggestions of how to work with college students who are neurodiverse. That has been a huge help in my research. And also just learning more myself.

There’s also the Neurodiversity Hub and neurodiversity in business, which are both, I believe, UK based, but they still have some really great resources. And one thing that I love is any Neurodiversity Employment Network, Autism at Work, anything along those lines that you can find near you, they will have business partners where you can see, okay, that company is neurodiverse friendly because they’re attending these meetings or they’re attending trainings, or they’re certified through them. So for example, I’m a member of the Neurodiverse Employment Network in Philadelphia, so I can look easily at their website and tell students, this is a list of Philly area neurodiverse friendly places that you can apply.

And that makes me feel better as a career services practitioner. I know I’m not sending them off to the wilds with nothing. So any kind of online organization or association near you that you can find can be really helpful. Autism at Work is also a great place to look. I know Dell, the computer company is a huge partner with them, and so is PlayStation, I believe, which is pretty neat. And the Yukon, they have a really, really great network of people who are interested in neurodiversity and employment. They meet, I think either annually or semi-annually, or maybe quarterly, one of those three. But they do have frequent meetings every few months where you can connect with other career services practitioners and talk about neurodiversity.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Those are great resources, and again, I’ll be sure to include those links in the show notes so folks can go and check those out for themselves.

Jackie Warner:

Absolutely.

Meredith Metsker:

All right, well Jackie, unless there’s anything else you want to add?

Jackie Warner:

I don’t think so. No, I think that’s good.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. I say we’ve covered a lot, so I’ll probably go ahead and kind of start wrapping us up. But at the end of every interview, I like to do this, answer a question, leave a question thing. So I’ll ask you a question that our last guest left for you, and then you will leave a question for the next guest. So our last guest was Kristen Garcia of Strayer University, and she left this question for you. What’s one thing that people would be shocked to learn about you?

Jackie Warner:

That’s a great question. I had to really think about this one too. And I think that the biggest thing people would be shocked to learn about me is that I have an invisible disability beyond being neurodiverse. And that’s something that I really like to share because I think a lot of people think about disability and they have a very, one picture of someone in a wheelchair or someone who’s an amputee in their brain. I have a neurological disorder that you will never be able to see, but I feel it every single day and it sometimes can interfere with my work, but for the most part, I’ve got some good coping mechanisms and a nice care team that’s taking care of me. So I think it’s just a nice thing to share, especially at the end. So it’s like, oh, I didn’t realize that. So maybe people can think differently about what people look like when they have disabilities.

Meredith Metsker:

Oh yeah. Thank you for sharing that.

Jackie Warner:

Yeah, absolutely.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I wouldn’t have guessed.

Jackie Warner:

Yeah, it’s crazy. You never know what’s going on inside someone.

Meredith Metsker:

Yes. What’s that saying? Always treat people with kindness because you never know what’s going on in their lives.

Jackie Warner:

Yeah, absolutely.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Well, what question would you like to leave for the next guest?

Jackie Warner:

So I am on social media way too much, and I’ve been seeing life pro tips. So my question would be, what is your biggest life pro tips? What is something you do that you’re like, this makes my life so much easier and not a lot of people know about?

Meredith Metsker:

Oh, okay. I like that. I think we’ll all learn something from that one.

Jackie Warner:

Yeah, I’ll be tuning in.

Meredith Metsker:

All right, well that’s great Jackie. And just thank you so much for taking the time to join me on the podcast today. This was a really fun conversation. And just personally, I learned a ton about what career leaders can do to support neurodiverse students, and I know our audience is going to get a ton of value from this. So thank you so much again.

Jackie Warner:

Absolutely. I’m very happy to share all of that for your show notes and we’re excited and all that good stuff.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, we’ll make sure that everyone has access to those resources and that they know how to contact you if they have more questions.

Jackie Warner:

Perfect.

Meredith Metsker:

So yeah, thank you very much again, and have a good rest of your week.

Jackie Warner:

Thank you very much for having me.

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