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4 Tips on How to get an Internship as a Teenager with Autism and ADHD

Featuring a personal journey of navigating the job-finding process as a Neurodivergent

For neurodivergents like myself, career opportunities seem to come and go as frequently as social media trends. It can seem almost impossible to find an internship that feels like the “right” fit, especially when searching for accommodation-friendly choices that cater to a neurodivergent brain. 


Luckily in my current internship, my unique neurodivergent traits are valued in a way that was often overlooked in school. While it’s hard to find, it doesn’t mean those opportunities aren’t out there. Here are some things you can do while you’re still in school to set yourself up to land your dream internship.

1. Find ways to apply your special interests 


Special interests are those ‘fixations’ or intense hobbies that often make you, you. While people often think those 'fixations' are essentially arbitrary and lacking in any real meaning or context, those traits can lead you to become highly successful at a job in the same field. This is because, as neurodivergents, we have remarkable focus and dedication when interacting with our special interests. 

For my brain and a lot of neurodivergents, we tend to struggle with the lack or surplus of dopamine (a neurotransmitter associated with reward-based functioning). Personally, this presents through the lack of motivation and often can lead to severe episodes of executive dysfunction in most areas, except for the topics that really get us excited.


Here are some examples of how you could apply your special interests:


Aircraft and transportation - go online and look for fun projects that use data analysis, data science, and data visualization techniques to solve optimization problems, map out routes, or test different software that applies your love for aircrafts and transportation. Some examples of projects you could work on in supply chain and data science are linked here.




Pets can be calming and often do not present socially complex relationships. Find a local pet store and ask if you can work part-time hours caring for the animals. You could also go to a local foster care facility and take care of an animal for a week at a time. 





Creative interests such as writing, music, and art are common. Devote some time every day committed to your creative pursuit. Create an online portfolio where you can share your work (e.g. take pictures of your art pieces and describe your thought process for creating each piece of work).



Social issues may be attractive for neurodivergents due to a strong sense of morality and social responsibility. Look up organizations committed to a cause you want to serve, and find public service opportunities online or in your local area where you can learn how to be an advocate for these social issues. Some examples of topics you can get involved with include Climate Change advocacy and Generational advocacy.


By diving into your special interests consistently, you can demonstrate your passion for a variety of fields, build a portfolio of work, and do research to find opportunities to work in a field that you genuinely love. By taking advantage of a skill set that comes naturally, you will further gain success within your endeavors. 


As part of my neurodiversity, I’ve always been curious and would spend hours and hours in my local bookstore. Today, I’ve translated that curiosity towards doing research ‘deep dives’ where I spend hours reading about neurodivergent advocates and understanding their career journey and life story before reaching out to collaborate with them!


2. Get Involved in clubs and communities around you


You don’t have to wait for an internship to utilize your skill sets. Getting involved with your local community not only lets you spend more time learning and working on things you already love,  but will additionally contribute to building your resume. This will help make you more desirable to future employers.

If you’re in college or high school, look up community events, organizations, or clubs to get involved. Create a list of such opportunities that interest you, and do some digging to find a contact email from the organization to reach out to. I like to consolidate names and emails on a Google Spreadsheet. 


After consolidating your list of organizations to contact, you can write a sincere message which includes:

1. Introducing who you are and how you learned about the organization 

2. Your passion or interest in the field and excitement to get involved

3. In alignment with Tip 3, link to a portfolio or project that demonstrates your special interest in this field

4. If the email is to the organization, ask for the right person to connect with to get more involved

5. Ask if they might be open to chatting over the phone or a zoom call


Here's a template:

In addition to this message, you can also apply directly on the organization’s website if there is an opportunity to do so! This way, you are maximizing the chances that someone will see your application and respond to you to set up some time!


Sometimes, there may not be an open door for the opportunity; hence, it might be up to you to self-create these opportunities by demonstrating your intense passion for the field and willingness to learn and get involved in any capacity.

This is what happened to me, after feeling victim to society’s lack of understanding regarding neurodiversity, I made it my personal mission to combat the stereotypical stigma surrounding individuals like myself. I underwent somewhat of a self-reflective process during the summer of 2021; I realized that I wanted to focus on education and advocacy for neurodivergents. Not seeing an organization already filling this space, I founded DiverseNeuro to help spread awareness and education surrounding neurodiversity.


3. Seek out meaningful connections in your ecosystem and build a network


For us neurodivergents, stepping into the unknown isn’t an easy feat… and to be honest, it was something that I deeply struggled with. Finding people who share the same special interest, and have been successful in that field, allowed me to look for mentors, ask questions, and find a space to grow as an individual. If you can find someone who shares the same interests and goals as you, they might be interested in putting in the same amount of work as you to learn and collaborate!


After sending out emails and not hearing back, months and days later, the internal discomfort only grew. Was I not on the right track? Did I do something wrong? 


This was until I found the Stanford Neurodiversity Project for high schoolers, where I eventually became a subcommittee leader for the NNEA (Network for K-12 Advocacy and Education) which enabled me to find validation within an online network of neurodivergents; it was my community. From here, I came together with others and shared ideas in a collaborative space allowing for natural growth amongst other like-minded individuals. Talking about shared experiences with fellow self-advocates in high school and college helped me gain clarity on myself and helped me build confidence and mental stamina – especially when entering the “adulting” stages of life. 

If you are not able to find others to collaborate with, please do not get discouraged. This does not determine how successful your initiative will be. A potential resource whether you are struggling to find your community or not is the “Mentraverse”. In the Mentraverse, you can connect with other individuals with similar listed interests in their account profiles. Similar to me, you can find comfort in knowing that you are not alone in these struggles.


4. Consolidate your projects to showcase your work to employers and find a job!


Once you’ve completed the steps above, you can consolidate these projects in a centralized place: the Mentra Profile! It’s better than a resume because the Mentra Profile goes so much deeper into understanding your multi-dimensional strengths and demonstrates the value of your neurodivergence to inclusive employers.

 

While the most popular job-finding tools today are LinkedIn and Indeed, they are often built for neurotypicals by neurotypicals and therefore fail to offer an accessible solution to those from neuro-minorities. The Mentra Profile was specifically built for neurodivergents by a neurodivergent team that understands the ‘invisible barriers’ that neurodivergents face at every step in the process.  

 

On my quest for finding a neurodiversity-affirming professional ecosystem, I came across Mentra’s cognitive-friendly UX design. This somewhat simplistic yet aesthetically pleasing profile view allowed my brain to become acquainted with the style in which employers tend to view resumes, and  provided me with the adequate preparation to go into my job search. 

I began building my profile by compiling a list of my academic achievements and current volunteer endeavors that I participate in. A huge misconception is that you need to have prior work experience to create a professional profile, when in fact this is not true. While it would not hurt your profile, it is not necessary. As an individual with ADHD and autism, I understand that it can be challenging to find positions that fit our unique needs. Therefore, utilizing your strengths based on any previous projects can benefit you in your career search. 

This is where the passion project that I mentioned earlier comes in handy! Your Mentra Profile is the location to showcase this work. My work pertains to neuroscience and neurodiversity, plus I had experience in social media marketing. Therefore, I was able to connect these passions to further contribute to building my resume.

Although everyone's journey is different, do not feel discouraged if your path to success looks different from mine. With these steps in mind, feel confident that you are working towards a bright future ahead.





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