Category: Neurodiversity, Dyslexia, career, Disorder, OCD, industry, ADHD, production
At VERCIDA, we celebrate all types of diversity with a firm belief that opening the door to diversity is not only necessary in creating a fair working culture for all, but that it is also good for business.
Alex Seaton, Director of Alexander Chocolate Limited, is from the neurodiverse community, with diagnosis’ of ADHD, dyslexia and OCD.
Alexander Chocolate is a Salisbury based ethical chocolate company that produces luxury, ‘bean-to-bar’ chocolate products and is one of the few companies producing chocolate from scratch in the UK.
We spoke to Alex about his experience of his conditions, the strengths they bring to his work and how he thinks companies can benefit from neurodiverse workers.
At 15, Alex began his career in the catering industry, now at 36, he runs a successful business in luxury chocolate and is responsible for everything from recipe building and production to bookkeeping, marketing and everything in between.
An award-winning chocolatier, Alex puts his high energy levels and attention to detail down to the fact that he has ADHD and OCD.
“During my career as a chef I specialised in pastry as this was an area that I felt weak in the industry. One venue I worked in won the BIB Gourmand, a Michelin accolade. I was the pastry chef at the time. Pastry work is very precise and I have a propensity toward precision working. I put that down to having OCD. The OCD means I have to learn fully and entirely. It has meant I have been able to skill myself in a huge variety of vistas when coupled with ADHD,” said Alex.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) manifests itself in different ways for different people but some key positive characteristics of the condition include creativity, high energy levels, spontaneity and hyper-focus; all beneficial traits for a business owner in a creative industry.
“I have a tremendous amount of energy because of the ADHD. I’ve got a lot of hobbies to use up my energy and for pleasure. I keep fit and never put on weight because I rarely sit down. I can eat what I like and because I’m a chef I can eat high quality as well which is a bonus. I don’t tend to get tired and don’t need much sleep, I can just keep going,” Alex explained.
Throughout his career as a chef Alex worked with some of the biggest names in the industry and for a number of high profile clients before launching Alexander Chocolate in 2017. Now, as his own boss, he reflects that life became easier the further up the hierarchy he went.
“Peers and colleagues used to get frustrated with me and at lower levels of the infrastructure it was difficult. It became less and less of a problem as I got into higher positions. I tend to have very different relationships with employers. I don’t really have an employer/employee relationship, rather a level where we work with each other as opposed to for each other. I tend to cultivate relationships of mutual respect.”
Working in the catering industry often requires employees to take on long shifts and be on their feet all day and that doesn’t suit everyone. For Alex, however, this kind of work is perfect as it gives him the opportunity to use up his excess energy and channel precision in a productive way.
“Working as a chef and doing 16-hour shifts was never a problem. I can deal with it because I have the energy levels to do so, whereas people without these conditions may struggle. The work itself is physical and intense, you’re running around with hot, sharp objects and it is dangerous so having an extra level of energy really helps keep you alert,” said Alex.
After being diagnosed at 12, Alex was prescribed Ritalin and Prozac to help control his conditions and the behaviours that came with them. Prozac is an antidepressant of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor class that is sometimes used to treat OCD.
Ritalin is a first-line medication prescribed for ADHD. It is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant prescribed to increase attention and decrease impulsiveness and hyperactivity, however, Alex relays only negative experiences during the two years he was on these medications. Alex recalled:
“I have virtually no memories from that age and was fed up with feeling like a zombie so I stopped taking both at 14. I had no energy highs or lows and hated it. Ritalin controls hyperactivity and if you don’t take it every four hours your energy can go through the roof. I was unstable for six months when I stopped taking them and I suspect it was due to the side effects of the Prozac.”
Earlier we discussed the benefits of Alex’s conditions, but with them, also come challenges. If the person with these conditions is not in the right work setting, or living a suitable lifestyle, coping day-to-day can be difficult. Alex struggled at school because the institutions he attended had little understanding of how to support him and he looks back on his school years as an intensely hard time.
“I couldn’t sit down at school and I find long car journeys, trains and busses difficult because I have to sit down and that’s hard. I wouldn’t be able to work in an office. I get bored very easily because I process quickly. In a training scenario I tend to go faster than the people around me which irritates both me and them.
“Personal relationships are also difficult. Friends want to go out and have a drink and I can’t because I can’t sit down so I’ve built my friendship group mindfully. I pick the people that suit me and I create my own world. We can choose what and who we associate with,”Alex explained.
Alex has not been on medication for his conditions since childhood, and instead has carved a life out for himself where he can use the behaviours and talents that come with his conditions to his advantage. Medication can be hugely beneficial to some but it does not suit everyone.
“There’s a wonderful shamanic rites system, Munay-Ki. Within their belief system they have archetypal animals. A humming bird is one. Although it is not built for flight it actually migrates further than any other. They need a tremendous amount of energy to do so. Because of this they need the purest source of energy and what this archetype teaches is that you should only surround yourself with the purest source of everything you need. Don’t be bogged down with inferior products, use the food that helps you fly. I read about it years ago and it resonated with me. We should look at that and try and take the very best of everything,” said Alex.
When asked what advice he would give to others within the neurodiverse community Alex said:
“Accept who you are. Take control, it’s your body, your life, your mind and you need to work out your strengths. Someone with autism might be great at puzzles. Take control of yourself, you are in charge of you, only you know what your strengths are. There are benefits to everything so learn to mitigate and manage any challenges to enjoy the benefits. Find ways around the tasks that are difficult.
“Don’t be down on yourself, you’re more likely to get a job with me if you’re diverse. The brightest, most intelligent people are all a bit crackers! Just look at Einstein. A disproportion of people in the arts are more neurodiverse than you think. There are many creative people who are just wired differently. We’re all different and we should celebrate that.”
And when we asked him what he would say to employers about hiring and working with people with neurodiverse conditions Alex said:
“As employers you have a responsibility to learn a little about psychology. Recognise and understand various conditions if you’ve got someone who is open enough to tell you about them. If they have been open about their experiences, have integrity and learn about them. Don’t be scared. It’s the same with all diversity.
“Improve your understanding. Look at the condition, look at the benefits and qualities that you can gain. Don’t shy away from it. Neurodiverse people are often inspiring. If I had the choice of employing someone with or without ADHD, with same qualifications, I would hire the ADHD person. It’s the same with OCD, because they have a high attention to detail they can be an absolute asset!”
Thank you Alex for talking to us today. We look forward to trying your chocolate!