Tips for Neurodiverse Nurses

Tips for Neurodiverse Nurses

No matter what your particular diagnosis, your neurodiversity is a part of who you are. It shapes the way that you experience, understand, and move through the world. It is both a challenge and a gift, an obstacle, and an opportunity. However, for nursing students, as well as for those who have already launched their nursing careers, being neurodiverse can bring its own unique set of challenges, particularly as the modern health system remains ill-prepared to accommodate the needs and to capitalize upon the unique talents of neurodiverse nurses. Whether you are preparing to enter the field, you’re just starting out, or you’re well-entrenched in your nursing career, we have tips to help you manage your work and your neurodiversity.

Challenges for Nursing Students

Neurodiversity is by no means a one-size-fits-all diagnosis . Those who are neurodiverse may experience a host of symptoms and conditions, from learning challenges to issues with sensory processing.

Unfortunately, many nursing programs simply are not equipped to address the broad spectrum of needs that their neurodiverse students may have. For this reason, nursing school is often the most challenging period of a neurodiverse nurse’s career. Nursing school, by its nature, is intended to place intense demands on students to prepare them for the immense stress and rigorous demands of the career.

But the challenges that neurodiverse students face in nursing school are manifold, particularly when compared with their neurotypical peers. For nurses who are pursuing graduate degrees, mental health impacts are a particular concern. To make it through, nursing students at all levels must prioritize their mental well-being, recognizing the unique demands and challenges they are facing and seeking out the resources they need to protect their psychological and emotional health.

This should include, for instance, capitalizing on the support services offered on campus, including university-based mental health counseling. Many undergraduate and graduate schools also offer specialized services, including services for students with learning differences. Disability services offices, for instance, can help neurodiverse students with dyslexia or sensory processing disorders receive accommodations to meet the student’s diverse learning needs without compromising the quality of the education.

This can not only enhance the student’s learning experience, but can also decrease the chances of attrition by decreasing the risk of anxiety, depression, and other detrimental mental health impacts.

Launching a Career

Unfortunately, neurodiverse nurses are not necessarily in the clear once they graduate nursing school. Some health systems and employers simply are not prepared to accommodate neurodiversity in their nursing staff. This is why new nurses must learn to recognize warning signs when in the early phases of their career, and particularly when taking on a new post.

For example, if you find that there are inordinately high rates of turnover with your new employer or if there seem to be chronic staffing shortages, this may be a significant warning sign that leadership may not be very tolerant of employee diversity. In such a case, it may be in your best interest to look elsewhere rather than investing too much time, too much heart, in a post that’s not right for you or your career.

Established Nurses

Even if you are already well-established in your nursing career, you might find yourself still struggling to navigate your profession while meeting your particular needs as a neurodiverse individual. If this is the case, then far and away one of the best things that you can do for yourself is to attend to your own mental health.

A vast body of research has shown that nurses, both neurotypical and neurodiverse, often struggle with mental illnesses, particularly for those who have been working on the frontlines of the pandemic. And because neurodiversity can amplify those stressors, the importance of quality mental health care is all the greater.

In addition to prioritizing your mental health, it’s also important to connect with other nurses and health care providers who are neurodiverse. Fortunately, though the national health system still lags woefully behind other professions in its capacity to integrate neurodiversity into the workforce, the tide appears to be turning. New support networks are emerging, for instance, both to connect neurodiverse nurses and to educate their neurotypical colleagues and nurse managers.

Utilizing these resources can enable neurodiverse nurses to cultivate an empowering sense of community, to understand their legal and professional rights, and to seek out opportunities for professional growth, including opportunities to capitalize on and utilize the unique gifts that come with neurodiversity.

The Takeaway

Neurodiversity is by no means rare. Neurodiverse professionals increasingly populate every field. And yet neurodiverse nursing students and practicing nurses often still face formidable challenges. However, there are strategies that students and practitioners alike can use to both build a successful and fulfilling career while also protecting their own mental health. This includes connecting with the university-based resources available to nursing students, learning how to identify employers and health systems that may not be prepared to support neurodiverse nurses as they deserve, and reaching out to support and education networks for emerging, new, and established nurses.