NEURODIVERGENT IN BUSINESS
Hi, I’m Elle,
I am a multi-passionate creative, business engineer, dreamer, writer, speaker, and life-long entrepreneur.
My happy place is working with clients to sort out their business planning, digital strategies, and day-to-day operations so they can focus on doing the work they love.
I LOVE to reverse-engineer even the most audacious of goals, so you give me the vision and I’ll give you back the road-map to get there and travel with along to support you every step of the way.
Her business Rare Seed Agency cultivates purpose-led businesses and passion-driven entrepreneurs, by offering strategic direction and business operations support – allowing them to get back to the work they were born to do.
Elle’s Podcast: Neurodivergent in business
- Seeking a formal diagnosis and what to expect once you have it
- How boundaries can support a neurodivergent entrepreneur
- The most powerful realisations about yourself
- How being neurodivergent can be a superpower
Rowena Preddy Elle Roberts
What led you to seeking a formal diagnosis?
Yeah, I think it’s interesting. I think for a lot like for a lot of people, particularly women and particularly people that. Had some level of control over their career for a long time, COVID. While the transition was easier for me because I was already working from home, it was a big shock to the system and I was already really running at my absolute maximum capacity. And then COVID happened and then just that extra layer of juggling the kids at home all the time and I very privileged, very fortunate I’m in Queensland and we weren’t locked down. Or at home for very long. I did pull my kids out of school earlier and I kept them home longer, but still it was nothing compared to what people in Victoria and NSW experienced. that just started to be like the tipping point of like actually, I’m not coping. This is all too much and the initial feeling was I’m failing as a parent, I’m failing as a mother, I’m failing as a business owner, I’m failing as an adult. And thankfully, I was already connected to quite a few people online who’d started to have the conversation about ADHD and neurodiversity in general. Cherie, from the digital picnic, who I know has been featured in your magazine before, is definitely someone who I was picking up, and she was talking more about autism then, and not so much about ADHD, but some of what she was saying was starting to really land for me. And so I started following some other accounts and I started like sort of. Going down that rabbit hole on Instagram mostly. And then I found an Instagram account. I can’t even remember what they’re called, but I will find them because if anyone’s interested they’ve got a great self diagnosis tool. And it was their account that like every single thing that they posted, I was like Oh my goodness, I didn’t know anyone else experienced
that. But she’s inside my head like that is exactly what I’m going through. And so I was self diagnosed for about 2 years before I got the courage to. Seek formal diagnosis. COVID, risk was one too many things on my plate, and I hadn’t acknowledged how much I was struggling with day-to-day things. You know, I’d built a business that did really work for me and supported the way my brain worked. But then my children were home 24 hours a day and suddenly, I couldn’t just shut the door and have my space and my time. And it was those support structures that I’d put in place for myself. As soon as they were gone, I wasn’t coping. And that became really apparent really quickly. And that’s when I. Sought out more information, trying to figure out how I can be a better adult basically
So how did you feel afterwards after getting that official diagnosis, how did you feel afterwards and what things did it start to change your perception on?
It’s definitely been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for me. I got formal diagnosis, and then because I do live in Townsville, while we didn’t have COVID, we also have terrible mental health facilities available to us. So I finally got formal diagnosis. I got a a 22 report from my therapist, and then it took me another 12 months to get medication because of waiting lists, to get in to see a psychiatrist and things like that. it was absolutely a roller coaster. So the initial feeling, getting that official diagnosis was relief. As I said, I’ve been self diagnosed for some time before that, so I’d already done a lot of reading. I’d already done a lot of building those better structures for myself in and around my family and my work life so that I was better functioning and better supported in my personal way of functioning. But still the the diagnosis was a huge relief, it felt like. Not like a get out of jail free card or anything, but it it did give me a huge. Ability to be kinder to myself. And that’s the thing that I’ve described to most women in particular who talk about late diagnosis and like, I’m sure I’m ADHD, but is it worth doing something about it? For me, it was absolutely this permission slip to stop beating myself up about the things that I wasn’t doing well or that I wasn’t doing by the book. And if I have to do it a different way, that’s OK, and it’s better that I do it and be happy than try to do it the way I feel like I should. For it to be a grown up there was definitely some grieving. So it was like a huge relief. It was a lot more kindness. I’m still like much more kind to myself and it’s still a work in progress for sure. Then I used to be I stopped calling myself lazy and I started reflecting on well, if I can’t get out of bed today, what have I done to get to such an overwhelmed state and how do I, you know, recover from that and be kind to myself and rest in the way that I need to or reduce the stimulation. In my office or whatever to. So it was all this like back and forth of like just being really curious about myself rather than being really unkind to myself. But then there was definitely a period of grieving and frustration and like looking back at, you know, know, year old me and 12 year old me and even 21 year old me and think gosh, how different would she feel about things if she just knew then there was some anger towards my parents and that didn’t last long because you know, you do the best you can with the information that you have at the time. And I’m really lucky that I think high school was easy for me because my mum just parented the kid that I was and didn’t need a diagnosis to make decisions around how best to support me. But then I went to uni and I and like uni was really hard because I didn’t have that body double that mum used to give me and I didn’t have someone holding my hand through prioritising work and looking at deadlines and all of that stuff that she used to do for me. And I didn’t have the language to say why it was hard. so there was definitely some grief and frustration and then it comes back around to like. But now I know and I can do better for my kids, who are all neurodiverse as well. And I can certainly. continue to be kinder to myself as I go forward and unpack some of the things that I feel like I’ve failed out my whole life
I have a son who I had to become as advocate. I swear to God, they do not prepare you for parenthood. Like yes, they do. The you know, this is how you’re going to give birth and this is how to look after a baby. But there should be a class for how to advocate for your children
everyone tells you how to give birth and tells you how hard it’s going to be in that first 12 months. And there’s all these mothers groups and support networks and you know like everyone in the family cooks your meals because you’ve got a new baby and isn’t that tough and and all of that is great. And I’m not suggesting that any of that isn’t needed because those first 12 months aren’t tough. But what I found really tough was when I had a 9 year old and. Twin 3 year olds and working from home and COVID and a partner with a mental health situation that was making life really hard for him. And I was like when someone gonna cook me dinner cause I’m not OK and there’s like there’s nowhere to go and say I know I had my babies three years ago but I’m currently not OK the first five months I was at home and I was just looking after the babies and now I’m trying to juggle all these things and that’s when I’m not coping. And again the official diagnosis gave me the courage. To reach out to my support networks more so and be like, I’m not great at asking for help, but I know I need it now. And can you please do this for me? Or can you just give me an hour without the kids today so that I can set myself up for next week and those sorts of things that I just wasn’t asking for beforehand because it made me feel like I was a bad mom or. About adult and and I just needed to suck it up and do better.
Well, I realized how much of that had been onto my son. So he was diagnosed with ADHD, with not the hyperactive side of things. It was a focused side of things, but going alongside with that. He also had huge social anxiety and being a person that was diagnosed with anxiety later in life, but with the reflection. That I’d actually had it. Since I was eight, I’d been having panic attacks and never knew what they were. I just thought everyone had there. I just thought that everyone lived with this constant fear and this heightened level of what if and all of these things. And to see it coming through and my son. And just knowing how that at that moment it was up to me to make as much of a difference as I possibly could and give him every tool possible and and seek that diagnosis. It took us five years to. To work through everything. And it was huge. I know for what I went through with my anxiety, how much freedom it gave me afterwards to realize I had a toolbox of things to pull from. It’s the same with him now. I can just see that there’s this. This is kind of relief. Like, definitely. Relief is a huge part. But then also he has this contentment with who he is so much earlier than I ever had.
Well, I think one of the biggest things for me when it comes to parenting neurodiverse kids has just been the language, has just been the words to put around the things that are going on internally, the anxiety, the like. This smell is making me so angry. I want to punch the wall. I just went through my whole life telling myself, well, I’m a crazy person because no one gets that upset over a smell and and I just would try and like push all of my feelings down. Because they didn’t seem socially appropriate and I just was pretending I wasn’t having them and that’s where so much of my anxiety and self loathing and extra weight of things comes from. Whereas my kids come to me and say mum, that dinner smells so disgusting, I need to go outside and can you stop cooking it? And I don’t dismiss that. I don’t say, well, I’m cooking this dinner and you just have to deal with the smell. It’s like, yeah, because I know how that feels. And that you do feel it on a visceral level. And if you’re feeling angry and wound up and over stimulated because of a smell in the house, we can fix that. We can solve that problem rather than getting to the point where everyone’s having a tantrum and I’m yelling at them to do better or sending them off to their room and making them feel like they’re not doing the kid stuff very well. And
it like we just have a language now that we Didn’t used to have. My daughter is not diagnosed yet, but I’m sure is autistic and ADHD and her biggest challenge at the moment is emotional regulation and she just has these tantrums that I’ve never experienced in a toddler, let alone a 5 year old and I didn’t know how to deal with them. But going through this process for myself and understanding neurodiversity so much more has just given me a better way of dealing with her. And one of the things that we do now is, you know she’ll do something naughty. You’ll climb on the bench and throw something at me while I’m in the kitchen, or she’ll throw something in the lounge room in the in the direction of the television. And there’s still absolutely discipline and, responsibility for those actions. But instead of having the situation escalate with me yelling and her crying and me yelling more and her crying more, now I say to her, OK, you’re not acting appropriately. I can’t tell what the problem is because you’re not speaking to me properly. Why don’t I set the timer for 2 minutes? And you wobble it out. And I put the timer, and she loves watching the timer go down, and she stands on her wobble board and she shakes the **** out of her body. And then she can come and talk to me differently. Because the energy that’s building up inside of her gets to a point where she can’t communicate. And if I’m disciplining her, she can’t hear me. And if I’m trying to tell her to behave responsibly and act appropriately, I mean it’s just nonsense because she’s in such a state of overwhelm that it’s just falling on deaf ears. Whereas I can say to her, go and spend 2 minutes. Here’s the timer. You watch that you wobble as much as you want and then when you’re ready, you can come and have a conversation and we’ll talk about the things that you did that you shouldn’t have done and how to deal with it better. And like growing up, my mum and dad did the best that they could, and as I said, my mum supported me really well, but we just didn’t have the language to say. My body is feeling like it’s going to explode. And we didn’t know how to communicate that and that’s so helpful as a parent.
you’ve already mentioned that you put a work environment in place prior to diagnosis that worked with you, what are some of those things that you put in place for you personally And since getting diagnosis, what have you done more of?
I definitely just turn the dial up on everything since diagnosis and really embraced who I am and how my brain functions. Like I didn’t even realize I wasn’t doing that until I saw how much I could do that. And that’s been a huge benefit to me over the last few years. But some of the things that I was doing, even pre diagnosis, were like chasing the dopamine. I’m really good at doing the stuff that I love doing. And if I’m working on a project that I enjoy, enjoy, hours can go by and I haven’t used the bathroom or how to drink the water because I’m just so immersed in the project. But you know when I’ve got to do my reconciliations. And zero. Or when I’ve got a, you know, do a whole bunch of data entry. Like I just can put off those little tiny jobs that aren’t hard for months and months and months until they get hard. And then I like work myself up in this anxiety snowball about how much I haven’t done it and how much I really should do it. And I better go and do it, but I’m not going to do it because I don’t want to do it. I think that’s the thing. So just working out a routine that worked like a reward system, like if I just do minutes of my account, then I can allow myself 3 hours on this project that I love. And often, once I start the 10 minutes, I’d actually just do an hour and finish the accounts. But I’m just committing to doing 10 minutes so that it’s not too overwhelming a task to start. The other thing was my asana is very visual. Like I love Asana, I love task management, I love not having to hold all those things in my head. But most people, you log into their asana and it’s lots of lists. And I would do that and just like I you can feel it switch off. I’m just like my eyes would glaze over and my brain would turn off and I’m like no thank you. So I thought asana or any task management system that I had tried was not for me until I was like actually I’m going to throw the rule book out the window and like, mine is sticky notes. And I spend a bit of time in Canva making like pictures that go with the tasks that are pretty. So then when I log into my asana, there’s lots of colour and there’s lots of visual aspect and I used to teach. Classes on, you know, Asana for the creative entrepreneur, because I thought it was that creative side of me that was really driving that. And I now understand that it’s much more about the dopamine for me. And you know, like the pretty colours actually allow my brain to turn on and I can do the tasks better. The other thing is like the whole rhetoric around how to be a successful entrepreneur, rich people or successful people get up at 4:00 o’clock in the morning and they spend an hour doing things for them. And they don’t be reactive. And one of the major pushes in all of that nonsense is don’t check your e-mail first thing in the morning because then your day is reactive and I get all of that on a logical level. But for me not checking my e-mail first is just anxiety inducing. Like even if I go for a walk in the morning, the whole time I’m going for a walk I’m like what am I going to go home to like how am I going to have to rearrange my day if something’s tragic or someone’s websites? Done, and I’ve gotta do 4 hours of work that I wasn’t expecting and so I would build myself up into this Overwhelmed state of all of the things that were catastrophe in my inbox. And then I would get home and there would be nothing or there would be like, hey, can you send me this thing? It’ll take you 20 minutes. And I was like, oh, if I just knew that before I went for the walk, I’d have actually enjoyed my walk a whole lot better. just being curious and aware of yourself. And it’s not just for neurodiverse people, it’s for anyone. like I said, if you’ve got anxiety or whatever it is that however you best function, I just think, say. ****** off to all of the rules and just be really curious and really aware of how. Things are making you feel and things are making you react and how productive you are this day versus that day and what was different about and one of like one of the things for me is hydration. I’m much better at my job if I drink lots of water and I have the added joy of suffering from fibromyalgia and so I am better at the end of the week and I’m in less pain if I’m well hydrated. But I don’t get up and go and get myself a glass of water several times. Like I said, said, hours can go by and I won’t have even noticed. So I have two two litre water bottles that live on my desk and They get in the way and sometimes the condensation is all over the desk and they’re really annoying, but they’re there and they’re full before I start my work day so that if I forget to do anything else I do pick them up regularly and take a sip and so I won’t even eat, but at least I’m drinking water. Whereas if I just demand it off myself that I get up every 20 minutes and get a glass of water, I’m not gonna do it. Even if I set a timer. I just go thanks timer, and ignore it and keep doing what I’m doing. That’s a silly stuff like that. It’s like, why did I argue with myself for years about having to get up and get a glass of water when that routine doesn’t work for my brain?
as a fellow creative and a fellow designer, I am a huge fan of shortcuts. Like if I have to go up into the top of my computer for a certain thing, I create a shortcut basically. And I completely agree. I’ve started creating shortcuts in my business life that ensure that I am working to my optimal. And it comes down to awareness again, And I remember when I went to my. Psychologist. When I was diagnosed with anxiety, she taught me how my body felt in certain situations. I’m very much like, you know, how you were talking about when you’re doing reconciliations and you can just feel like everything shut down. I’m like that with web, right? I’m like that with different things. And I’ve started to figure out I don’t actually need to push through it, that I can outsource I know for a fact I’m more creative. In the mornings, cool. And I do all my really fun creative stuff in the morning. And then if I’m sprawled on my bed with my laptop and a cup of coffee or out in the sunshine doing something like that, I can create an environment that means that I almost feel like I’m cheating the system. I’m getting some sunshine and doing some work. You I’ve been known on a Friday afternoon to have a wine at 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon, because if that means I get through doing something. Boring. That has to be done. Cool, it works.
I’m in and I think that that cheating the system even embracing that and really that was another thing that my diagnosis changed for me was I’ve always been an advocate of work smarter, not harder. But then there’s this like rhetoric or like people that are trustworthy, work hard and like you’ve got to do it the right way, not the easy way. like the Aussie battler rhetoric as well. I always and finding shortcuts or waiters to automate the business or ways to like skip the step. That was really ****** for me. But then I would internalise like I’m so lazy, like who am I to do things differently than everyone else does them. And like why couldn’t I just get up and get the glass of water like all the other grown-ups? so then I would I would put the drink bottle on my table instead of a glass. But then I would have this internal dialogue about how I need a drink bottle because I’m so **** at life. And instead of just saying, well, that was an easy hack and isn’t life easier now that I have a drink bottle on the table? And it’s just that being aware of that internal monologue as well, because we are ridiculously unkind to ourselves and cheating the system is phenomenal. And if you can do it, do it. I mean, obviously. We want to be good people. And you know, I wouldn’t talk about cheating the tax office or anything, but just hacking, hacking your life and making things easier is not being a less functional adult. It’s not being less of a grown up. It’s just being aware of yourself and working to the way that your brain operates, neurodiverse or not, you know, it’s the same like having canned emails instead of like writing the same e-mail every time or, and I think the other thing too about outsourcing, like there’s a lot of like outsource. Things do not go out or outsource the things you don’t enjoy. And there’s a lot of small business time that that’s not cash flow appropriate. So then it’s like, hack it the best that you can and it’s like do 10 minutes of accounts instead of trying to do all of your accounts in one hour. Or like you said, do it with a glass of wine or do it in the sunshine on a Friday afternoon. I mean, the amount of times I’ve done crappy jobs like that from the back of my car while I’m sitting at my son’s soccer training for the same reason it’s like. I can’t do the big creative work because I can’t really get into it. But I don’t really wanna watch soccer because that doesn’t light me up either. So, like the best alternative is to do some of the crappy jobs and to feel like I’ve had a productive hour and to go home feeling like, whoa, I did some work while I sat there and couldn’t have done anything else. And it’s just like finding those little hats that work for your lifestyle and your family situation and your routine, but more so than anything, your own vibe and feelings and headspace.
One of my favorite things that I’ve been coming up with for my clients because I feel like, done is better than perfect is a big saying, but I actually find that we get ourselves so tied up in knots that my new saying is done is better than none. just get it done, just do the things and with that same thought process in mind, obviously, you can hack things for the positive during the day, but there’s obviously still things that are going to be triggers for us and in day-to-day life and boundaries is this word that has just been thrown around in business recently And again, it’s one of those situations where they say put this boundary in place, it’s like that boundary might not be the right boundary for me. And again, it comes down to that. We had us So what boundaries have you put in place in your business? That support how you work and support how you work best.
I honestly think the biggest one is not listening to the BS there’s a lot of people in the creative entrepreneur space that are neurodiverse. if you start going down that rabbit hole on Instagram, for example, then all of a sudden 85% the accounts that you’re following are autistic or 80HD or a combination. And so it’s actually really easy to forget that about 5% of population are neurodiverse and the rest are neurotypical. And that might be underrepresented, but it’s not going to be underrepresented. 50% anything like that. So the world is still really built for neurotypical people. And a lot of the business advice out there is. And and a lot of the business advice that I sprouted as a coach and consultant for years before I knew better is like a regurgitation of stuff that works for neurotypical brains and neurotypical people and people without crippling levels of anxiety and people without chronic illness. That means they’re in bed three days a week. And I think the biggest boundary. For me is actually like, I’ll I’ll listen to the advice and I’ll learn from the advice. And people like Cherie, who are neurodiverse, obviously they have more to offer, but I’ll just let it wash over me and then I’ll forget it and I’ll do things my way. Because what works for someone else, including Cherie, who is autistic and ADHD, is not going to necessarily be what works for me That was a boundary that I’d started to set because the first several years of my business, I was a single mum. people that have a partner who’s also working a corporate job, what works for them is not going to work for me. So I’d sort of already had that boundary in place, but it definitely, like the force field went up a whole other level after my diagnosis. And the other big boundary is just being aware of my own sort of energy levels and being, like I said about hacking your day and and being OK with doing things the smart way instead of the hard way like I nap. Regularly because the worst part of my day is one or two o’clock in the afternoon. And again I’m just used to berate myself about how lazy I was or how like most adults can get through an 8 hour day without needing a nap, but I actually get up at 4:00 o’clock in the morning so I I need a nap by 2:00 o’clock so I don’t have work meetings after 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon. I just took them out of my calendar and I don’t nap everyday but I’m when I need a nap. Know what time of the day it’s gonna be. So why be setting client meetings for that time of the day and then showing up to those client meetings feeling a bit crappy and then like spending my afternoon snapping at the kids because I’m really tired when I actually know that I need a nap. Or even if I don’t sleep, I need to lay down on the couch and decompress for half an hour. So just blocking those two hours out of my client calendar was a huge boundary, and it was really hard and it felt really uncomfortable. But it changed the game for me when I just admitted that. That’s one of the things that I needed to get on with my day well, and I’m a better parent for it. I cook dinner with a smile on my face instead of yelling at everyone life’s allowed to be easier than we make it for ourselves. I walk capable like as a badge of honour. But it was also the biggest punishment I would put on myself. elk can handle anything so I just would handle anything and say well. But I’m not coping. I’m not thriving. I’m not happy. Like maybe I could stop trying to handle everything and ask for some help in some areas, or just not have client meetings at 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon. And then I can actually do most of the things or of the things and not be highly strong and stressed out and anxious all the time and angry all the time.
Now on the flip of that, you know, we’ve talked about how to make the small changes in our day-to-day and the boundaries we can put in place in the level of awareness. This question I feel like is one that. It flips the thinking a little bit. What would you say is your neurodiverse superpower?
It took me 10 months to get an appointment with my psychiatrist, but it took me a year to ring up and make that appointment because I was terrified that medication would take away my superpowers. And I think a huge part of my personality is my ADHD autistic superpower. I actually think neurodiversity in general is a superpower. The reason we still have to pathologise it and get diagnosis and be advocates for our. Children is because we still live in a neurotypical, focused world. My biggest superpower is absolutely. interest led, hyperfocus, the ability to juggle so many thoughts at once. If there are things that I care about, like at the moment, I do about five hours a week volunteering for the Greens local branch. I do about four hours a week volunteering for the multiple birth association. I’m doing a lot of local advocacy around access to abortion rights and domestic violence staff. And I operate my business part time, and I have a part time job. Gonna have three children that do lots of sport and all the things like our timetable is packed to the brim. I love that. Like I love being busy and I’m happy when I’m busy. But I’m really aware that of where the level of like busy and functional and like thriving on that like dopamine chasing energy driving and where else tipping into overwhelming and it’s all too much. I mean that’s another thing that I’m really aware of. It’s actually a really fine line for me. It’s like I want to do more and more. More ohh ****. I need to take a step back and it’s hard. the kids will get sick and that blew everything out because everything’s right at the edge. But I like living at the edge. I like the chaos, I like the frantic energy of my life, but I’ve learnt like but I also need a nap in the afternoon or I need to spend Sundays not on the laptop and outside in the sunshine and swimming so that I’m ready for Monday to start again rather than tipping myself all the way into burnout. that’s how life is fun for me. lots of balls in the air all the time, lots of things on the go and just really when there’s something that I care about, I can lose 3 days and not know that time has passed at all. And I love that. And I think that’s a big part of what makes me good at my job.
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