Artist development

Advocating for neurodiverse musicians

Songwriting is an art, a craft, a form of therapy and a way of life. While the music business is a somewhat rocky territory with lots of pitfalls and little guidance, it might be a great field for neurodiverse folks, who often look for careers in non traditional fields.

Whether you are autistic, gifted, highly sensitive, or present with ADHD or a learning disorder or maybe a combination of serveral of those neurotypes, life may feel overwhelming more often than not. The good news is, that art and music are here for us to process things and express ourselves in a safe space. I think it is one of the reasons a lot of neurodiverse humans draw a sense of meaning from it.

Now, depending on your neuro-type, you might face certain challenges in keeping up with everyday tasks and demands. Let´s look into some of those challenges.

Particular challenges require particular coping mechanisms

Speaking of demands…we might want to start with PDA – originally a term coined as “pathological demand avoidance”, but now often referred to as “pervasive drive for autonomy”, which sounds much more pleasing to my ears.

If you identify as a PDAer you might feel pressured by demands and expectations both from other people and yourself. Even things you actually want to do, might become hard to do, as soon as you expect yourself to do them. This may lead to frustrations and enourmous loss of energy throughout the day. You might find yourself procrastinating or going into meltdowns or shutdowns when people pressure you too much. This is probably why PDA is said to be a subtype of autism.

However, some studies found correlations to ADHD as well. See here.

If you are a PDAer and find it difficult to stick to your self-imposed to do lists and practice routines, here´s a tip that might help:

Do not plan too much to begin with! Instead allow yourself to go with the flow! Chances are you are much more likely to thrive when allowing yourself to just live life as it happens. We have so many things to tend to in our daily lifes, inevitable demands to meet, so the key is not adding too many extra demands. Your motivation is inspiration, not routine!

Everybody talks about establishing habits and discipline as a means of reaching your goals. But people are different and there´s no one size fits all solution. Dare to tackle your own strategies! You know you don´t need pre-cast paths to get to where you wanna go! You might be the kind of songwriter that writes an entire album in 5 days and then not write for 6 month. And that´s okay! Don´t let people tell you that you have to be the same you everyday.

If you are autistic, but not necessarily struggling with PDA, you might find other things difficult. You may have special interests that you thrive in, but finding it hard to take care of other, more mundane things. Don´t beat yourself up. It is okay to not excell in all areas. Make your hyperfocus ability your superpower and become an expert in whichever field interests you. Regarding all else, make baby steps. Build routines, if that´s your cup of tea, or structure your tasks in a way to make them seem less threatful.

When having to transition to a new task, give yourself enough time and space. For example, if you schedule meetings or to do´s in your calendar, make sure to add in 30 to 60 min (or however long works for you) before and after each task – so to not find the transitions too stresful. You might just need time for your brain to adjust to the new task at hand and to motivate you to switch tasks.

A great tip is to tie the transition to something positive. Maybe, allow yourself to listen to music in between tasks, or drinking a cup of tea. Something that recharges you a bit.

If you are gifted or have ADHD or maybe you label yourself as a multipotentialite with trouble focussing on only one thing at a time rarely finishing things, then finding motivational cues might help.

When finishing something feels icky, try to activate your dopamine circuits by adding a fun element. For example, you might like visual cues. When getting bored in the middle of a project, try designing templates or graphics as a means of motivating yourself to stay on track.

Another tip that might work – especially if you are high sensation seeking – is to try stimulating various senses while you work. You might like to move around. In that case speaking voice memos into your phone instead of writing things down might be a cool way to move forward with things. Or you might like to listen to white noise while you work or smell a cup of coffee while you write a song.

Or on the contrary, you might feel distacted by too many stimuli. You might prefer to walk in a room by yourself instead of having someone else around. You might prefer to work at night, when things are less noisy and the lights are not as bright.

Whatever works is valid

The most important thing is to be kind to yourself. To accept who you are – with your strenghts and flaws and to not compare yourself to neurotypicals or anyone really. Your dreams are valid – and they can be dreamt or fulfilled at your own pace.

The tips I provided might be worth trying for some of you and they might not be helpful at all to some of you either. Or, they might work on some days and not on others. That´s what´s true for myself. I really just hope, that you feel seen and heard and appreciated. Maybe you´re just about to discover that you are neurodiverse by reading through the traits I described, and if that is the case, I hope you´ll embrace it! Below I am linking some cool organizations that support neurodiverse artists. I´d love to interview more neurodiverse artists on the blog. So if you have good music to share and are willing to talk about your journey, please reach out!

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