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40+ career examples of people who learn and think differently

Wondering what kind of job or career you could have in the future? Check out these career examples of people with learning and thinking differences, like ADHD, dyslexia, and more. Confronted with challenges at an early age, each found a unique path to success in their field. 

Hands-on jobs

Chef

Jamie Oliver didn’t finish reading his first book until he was 38. He got his start as a pastry chef, and went on to become a bestselling cookbook author and celebrity chef.

Inventor

The man who invented the Segway could never get along with teachers. Though Dean Kamen’s mind processes information slowly, it also churned out over 400 brilliant inventions.

Jeweler

His parents wanted him to go to college, but Blaine Lewis realized that wasn’t his path. This industry-leading jeweler was good with his hands, and got his first job as a metalworker.

TV station engineer

After focusing on electronics at a technical college and getting an associate’s degree, Elias Martinez Jr. became chief engineer at KGBT in Harlingen, Texas. He has dyslexia.

Welder

When Justin Friend was 24, this welder with dyslexia was profiled in the Wall Street Journal because he made $140,000 a year. He started with a two-year degree from a technical college.

Careers with action

Auto racing

From a young age, it was clear that Dusty Davis had ADHD. He has competed as a professional race car driver, and is also manager of operations at a race track.

Navy pilot and astronaut

He’s best known for spending a year in space. But as a kid, Scott Kelly was easily distracted in school. He started his career in the military looking for the discipline he needed for life.

Olympic athlete

Growing up, reading and spelling were a challenge for Michelle Carter (they still are), and she struggled to pay attention. Then she found her passion and talent: track and field.

Skateboard business

Casey Conner made his first longboard as a high school sophomore in an applied technology class, then turned it into a business, 907Boards. He is passionate about dyslexia awareness.

Words and language

Author

He wrote the bestselling book World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide. Max Brooks also struggled with dyslexia and its stigma.

Comedian

Stuttering and learning disabilities were two big challenges for Nina G growing up. Drawing on her personal life, she’s working on carving out a career making people laugh.

Writer

She was told she was “just a daydreamer.” Rae Jacobson found out she had ADHD, and she didn’t let it stop her from starting a freelance writing career.

News anchor

This ABC News anchor didn’t learn to read until he was 12. Byron Pitts got his first gig as an intern for a small station in Durham, North Carolina.

TV journalist

In 2014, while reporting on the rise of ADHD, she was diagnosed with it herself. Looking back, Lisa Ling believes her lifelong challenges with ADHD helped shape her successful media career.

Creative arts

Actor

Bex Taylor-Klaus has a litany of differences—ADHD is just one of them. But “the different wiring isn’t faulty, it makes me who I am.”

Actor

Before starring in movies like The Help and Hidden Figures, Octavia Spencer was struggling with dyslexia and auditory processing.

Comic book artist

Struggling with ADHD and dyslexia as a child, Dav Pilkey turned to drawing. He’s the author of Captain Underpants, among other series.

Designer

Nike’s chief designer John Hoke always loved to draw. He calls it his first real language—something he attributes to having dyslexia.

Education illustrator

As a child, Rossie Stone couldn’t read and thought he was stupid. He loved comics and graphic novels. In his 20s, he started creating comics to help kids learn school subjects like math.

Fashion

This fashion icon never went to college. Tommy Hilfiger says that a big part of why he’s done well is the way he thinks, and he thinks differently because of dyslexia.

Media maker

Sean Douglas wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until his 20s. He did “very badly at school and failed everything except for gym and music.”

Singer

The frontwoman of Florence and the Machine has dyspraxia and dyslexia. Florence Welch was diagnosed at a young age and supports causes for kids with these learning differences.

TV writer, producer, and director

Brad Falchuk is a writer, producer, and director best known for his work on the hit show Glee. He has severe dyslexia, but he’s making it as a Hollywood writer.

Youth poet laureate

Can you be a poet if you have speech and auditory processing challenges? The nation’s first Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, is living proof that you can.

YouTuber

The founder and face of the YouTube channel How to ADHD has inspired millions. Through her own story and tips about ADHD, Jessica McCabe has made a video career in her own way.

Business and entrepreneurship

Business owner

Stan Gloss runs a company that builds computers for scientific research. He struggled in school with dyslexia but had other strengths. He started his first business, shoveling snow, when he was 11.

Economist

Economist Diane Swonk has dyslexia and struggled with math at an early age. She began as an associate economist at 22, and proved that the teachers who called her “lazy” were wrong.

Entrepreneur 

You may know him from the hit show Shark Tank, but Daymond John first started making clothes in his kitchen. He has dyslexia.

Real estate mogul

She built a billion-dollar real estate empire. But Barbara Corcoran started her business with a $1,000 loan. She says dyslexia made her “more creative, more social, and more competitive.”

Talent agent

Talent agent Ari Emanuel grew up with dyslexia. As a kid, he struggled to read and was often teased. But the lessons he learned then have helped him thrive in business.

In the service of others

ADHD therapist

She can trace ADHD symptoms in her family to before the Revolutionary War. Stephanie Sarkis has made it her business to help others who are facing challenges with ADHD.

Ambassador

The first Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate felt the stigma of growing up with dyslexia. Carol Moseley Braun also served as an ambassador and has worked to change our education system for the better.

Consumer advocate

Her school classmates teased her for having dyslexia. Erin Brockovich got her start as a file clerk for a law firm on a landmark case against a power company that was polluting water.

Mentoring organization founder

He was told to “just try harder.” But David Flink realized that with ADHD and dyslexia, he needed to try smarter. He founded Eye to Eye, a mentoring organization for youth who learn differently.

Mentor, poet, speaker, and activist

In school, he was labeled and placed in separate classes. LeDerick Horne turned his experiences into a career as a poet and speaker, and he now works with schools.

Politician

As a kid, the governor of California sat in the back of the class, praying not to be called on. Still nervous about reading out loud, Gavin Newsom memorizes his speeches so he doesn’t have to.

School founder

Growing up, Eric Tucker didn’t know he had ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning challenges. As an adult, he decided to found a school based on personalized learning.

Special education teacher

Anya Wasko thrives in a classroom because her “brain handles chaos pretty well.” As someone with ADHD and dyslexia, she can relate to kids who are struggling in school.

Youth advocate

She dropped out of high school when she was 15. However, with the help of a mentor, Lena McKnight returned to school and went to college. Now, she works with young people.

Science, technology, engineering, and math

Astronomer

Maggie Aderin-Pocock was diagnosed with dyslexia at 8. She hated school, but with support from her father and a love of hands-on learning, Maggie discovered a passion for telescopes.

Education scientist

She studies neuroscience and learning. Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann says that a career in science is great for people with learning differences because there’s a lot of built-in support.

Engineer

This associate professor is an expert in bridge design and earthquake engineering. Arash Zaghi also has ADHD and is trying to help more kids with ADHD become engineers.

Microbiologist

His biggest struggle was overcoming the feeling that he was an imposter. Collin Diedrich finally realized that he could become a scientist even if he had a learning disability.

Molecular biologist

She won a Nobel Prize. But as a kid, Carol Greider thought she was “stupid” because she needed special classes to learn to spell and sound out words.

Paleontologist

Jack Horner found the first dinosaur eggs in the Western Hemisphere. Reading and writing are still hard for him. He had fun helping make the film Jurassic Park. 

Statistician

Because of his learning disability, teachers told his family Peter would never go to college. However, Peter Flom used his strength with numbers to become a statistician.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom