What does neurodiversity have to do with translating? You may well ask:
The world of freelance translating can be a lonely place, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. If you’re the sort of person who needs the incentive of having to ‘clock in’ every morning to even motivate you to get out of bed, and who wants the security of a regular salary regardless of how many sick days you’ve had in the month, then it’s not for you.
Also, if you enjoy office banter and find it helps you get through what you think of as mundane tasks, then, again, it’s not for you.
However, if, like me, you find nothing more irritating than the person at the next desk rabbitting on about last night’s Eastenders plot or the latest office affair whilst trying to focus on the task on the screen in front of you, and if you translate because you really enjoy decoding and playing with language and find it so absorbing that sometimes you forget what time of day it is or even to eat, then yes, maybe it’s for you.
Luckily, I’m helped by the neuroatypical brain chemistry that I was born with. My official autism diagnosis came quite late in life – my childhood friends simply thought of me as ‘quirky’ or different – people who don’t know me so well … let’s just say there is a good reason why I do my best work as a freelancer. Having said that, I have managed to ‘mask’ my neurodiversity pretty successfully for over 30 years as a German expat.
Autism has historically been associated with quite a negative stereotype, so it’s very easy to forget the extraordinary powers that it brings with it.
If this thought is new to you, I recommend reading Tony Attwood’s 1999 paper where he explores the positive aspects of an Asperger’s diagnosis .
There is a good reason why more and more companies are actively recruiting autistic people into certain technical roles that demand a unique ability to focus for a long time on the details of technically demanding tasks.
The benefits of hiring people with neurodiversity include: high attention to detail, high work ethic and quality of work. If I tell you I can hit a deadline I won’t change my mind half-way through and I will have put a lot of careful thought into my estimate to make sure it is realistic. The hyperfocus ability mentioned above — Working on tasks that require high levels of concentration for a long time — is definitely one of my strengths.
The strengths in literacy and numeracy will come as no surprise given my profession as a translator and as a freelancer, I have to be organised, even if it’s not one of my ‘natural’ skills. In fact, it’s often said to be a weakness under the ‘poor executive function’ label. Drilling down into the profile and the ‘Organising and Time Management’ score, this is how that is made up: I compensate for areas of weakness in multitasking, for example by planning and attention to detail. This highlights once again the diversity within the autistic community.
Of course, my Autism brings with it some challenges. That’s because I have to apply logic and reasoning to social rules rather than managing intuitively like neurotypical people – It sort of works, but it can be really exhausting in face to face interactions, although in written communication – e-mail, ICQ – I cope just fine.
Here is one more diagram of my cognitive profile:
With awareness of my strengths and weaknesses gathered over many years I am now in a place where my work is exactly the thing that keeps me well-balanced physically and mentally. I get to indulge my love of codes and patterns in a solitary environment that I have full control over – not too cold, not too hot, with a pleasant view, at a time of day that suits me best (although that doesn’t mean that I don’t pull the occasional late-night session to hit an important deadline).
That means, once I finish work I’m in a good place to go and be sociable, because, although I can find it a challenge, I do actually like to go out and meet people occasionally.
And if you’d like to know more about what I get up to when I’m not working, make sure you listen to my thoughts on Asperger’s and Lindyhop.