How AI Has Helped Me Work Smarter as a Neurodivergent Web Designer

30 May 2024

When I was diagnosed with autism at age 28, I finally got an explanation for so many of the struggles I’d faced in school and my professional life as a writer and website designer. My doctor explained that some people go undiagnosed due to learning to mask specific indicators they are autistic throughout their lifetime.

Since I worked behind a computer, I typically avoided situations where I might have to make small talk. I could plan my own schedule and take breaks when I felt overwhelmed. I set up my home office workspace how I wanted and reduced distractions. However, I found myself struggling when I had to venture outside the norm for a team meeting or professional conference, which ultimately led to my diagnosis. Now, I’m proud of the coping strategies and tools I’ve used to grow in my field since I was diagnosed. One of the biggest aids has, to my surprise, been the rise in AI.

What a Neurodevelopmental Diagnosis Means for Design and Development Professionals

When my psychologist first suggested I might be neurodivergent, I felt unsure of the potential diagnosis. However, as I learned more about the condition, it was a relief to have a word for the struggles I’d faced trying to match emotions and fit into a nine-to-five job at a company.

I learned one in every 36 children is now diagnosed with ASD. The numbers are steadily growing. Other neurodivergent conditions that might impact web design work include ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette syndrome and OCD. According to the AAPC, about 80% of women remain undiagnosed with neurodivergent conditions until after the age of 18.

So what does all this mean for a website designer? Here are some of the most common neurodivergent traits that can impact design, development and other technology professionals.

  • Communication differences: A neurodivergent person often communicates differently than a neurotypical person. I must be aware of this and ask for clarification if a client is vague.
  • Need for additional flexibility: Many people with neurodivergent conditions do better in a flexible work atmosphere, which many companies have started to offer.
  • Repetitive behaviors: People with conditions such as OCD may complete the same task repeatedly, causing projects to take longer.
  • Obsessive focus: I and many other neurodivergent workers can get obsessed with research on a topic. Those with ASD often are very detail-oriented. I have to remind myself to focus on the project and not spend three days researching how people respond to the color red.
  • Distress at small changes: When a client tells someone with executive functioning challenges to do a design one way and then changes their mind halfway through, that person may get stressed and want to quit working on the project.
  • Sensitivity to the environment: Many neurodivergent people can’t focus if there is a lot of light or sound. For me, using headphones helps when I work around others.
  • Difficulty paying attention: While medication can help the brain focus on one task, a difficulty focusing on routine tasks is an extremely common trait of ADHD.
  • Disorganization: ADHD designers may need to devise systems to keep them organized, such as planning books and reminders.
  • Impulse control: People who face impulsivity might make big promises that they then struggle to complete by the deadline.
  • Forgetting essential things: Alarms and reminders are the best friend of someone who struggles with executive functioning challenges.
  • Unfocused: Designers with ADHD often struggle with focus and should create project management lists. If they skip to another part of the project, they will know where they left off and can return to the same task.

Researchers have conducted neurological imaging on autistic brains and found ASD people have a brain structure that gears them to have talent in visual arts, music, math and programming. Once I accepted that my condition and the things that make my brain different from an average person’s are also what gives me a creative edge as a designer, I could focus on solutions, and AI has been a large part of this.

How AI Is Changing Things for Neurodivergent Developers and Designers

Those with a neurodivergent disorder are lucky to live in a time when artificial intelligence (AI) can fill the gap in many areas, such as communication and analysis. I may think something makes sense that a neurotypical person fails to understand. A machine can analyze word patterns and help me fix anything confusing.

Here are some of the ways neurodivergent professionals can utilize AI to create more manageable and even enjoyable work experiences.

Better Training

Neurodivergent brains may struggle to learn through traditional educational methods. AI is proficient at taking a complex concept and breaking it down. People can ask ChatGPT to explain a topic in simpler terms. Schools must offer more than just book studies — they must also provide hands-on training.

New Communication Methods

One struggle for me has been learning to communicate with my peers. While my mind thinks concretely, many people share broad concepts or subtle jokes. More than once, I’ve misunderstood what a client wants for a project. I’ve since learned to ask detailed questions to get to the heart of the website’s goal.

While about 80% of people check their phones first thing in the morning, mine can overstimulate my brain if I start looking at messages and moving elements too early or too long. AI allows me to tap into the power of chatbots to respond to clients without feeling overwhelmed with all the chatter.

Allowing for Breaks

Business owners use AI for everything from sending automated responses to creating newsletters to generating artwork. As a web designer, my focus has to be on the most critical tasks or I feel stressed. AI can take over sending out marketing emails, responding to repetitive questions and creating some content to save me time.

The extra time allows me to stop and go into a bubble when needed, helping me adapt to situations where I feel burdened. I can adjust my schedule and still meet project deadlines.

The future of AI is intriguing. Researchers are using robots to find new ways to interact with autistic children. The robots consider the person’s unique sensory challenges and typical social cues and utilize the training robots to show them appropriate facial responses and respond accordingly.

Better Organization

One of my biggest mistakes is underestimating how long a project will take. I might think I can finish a multilingual website in two days, but it takes two weeks. Rather than give clients an immediate answer, I run the task through models. The computer takes the data and breaks up big tasks into smaller ones. I can use that information to estimate a completion date.

I add a few extra days as a buffer in case I have times when I am unable to focus or need a break to continue my work.

The Unique Qualities That Benefit Me as a Web Designer

An adult diagnosis of neurodivergence can be shocking at first. However, once I realized the many benefits that come with a neurodivergent brain, I better understood why I chose a creative field. My unique ways of looking at the world around me also help me develop designs my clients love that no other designer thought of. AI is helping me work innovatively as a neurodivergent designer. As technology advances, I’m confident I’ll find even more ways to utilize it in my work and help other professionals like myself succeed.