“It seems that for success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential…an ability to turn away from the everyday world…to rethink a subject with originality, and create new untrodden ways.”
Hans Asperger 1944
“In a world changing faster than ever, honoring and nurturing neurodiversity is civilization’s best chance to thrive in an uncertain future.”
Steve Silberman, 2013
These two quotes, almost 70 years apart, refer to neurodiversity: life-long, largely heritable differences in brain structure and function. Neurodiversity, in the form of traits similar in quality to Asperger’s Syndrome, provides tantalising possibilities for Executive Coaches and here are 4 reasons why.
- There is greater demand than ever for coaching people with highly technical minds. “Technician to leader” and the development of “soft skills” are the bread and butter of many coaches working in business today. With all businesses reliant on technology, finding ways to blend technical and social competencies provides plenty of coaching opportunities. Neurodiversity is particularly helpful with coachees who are exceptionally intelligent but find the social side of working life something of a mystery. Many of these key employees have traits that are qualitatively similar to Asperger’s Syndrome. We know these characteristics are present in about 40% of STEM (Scientists, Technologists, Engineers and Mathematicians).*
- Neurodiversity provides a better understanding of different kinds of minds. By having the best understanding of how a coachee experiences their working life and how they learn, coaches can differentiate their practice in precise ways to get best outcomes with some of the brightest coachees. Using insights from neurodiversity adds value to a coach’s repertoire of skills and will compliment how they already work with “High IQ/ Low EQ” coachees.
- Neurodiversity is based on good science. An area of theoretical and applied neuroscience, research into Asperger’s Syndrome has grown exponentially in the last 20 years. Much has been learned about how these different minds work, how they learn and what works for them to perform at their best.
- Neurodiversity is new for Executive Coaches. Much of the research on neurodiversity is published in high quality peer-reviewed journals with a focus on clinical populations and as such is relatively “hidden” from business-oriented audiences. This means there is good quality information that coaches can use in their practice in the same way they use other strategies that may have had diverse origins. Neurodiversity provides a cutting edge an exciting new frontier in Executive Coaching. There is emerging evidence that what works for people with Aspergers proves to be popular with others. This means strategies coaches can learn based on neurodiversity can be used with a wide range of coachees.
Implications for coaching:
Neurodiversity can be applied in many ways. A common example is working with differences in processing and understanding social information. In coaching this might mean:
- Paying more attention to developing understanding of social context rather than the development of social skills.
- More use of closed questions and less reliance on assuming coachee knows the answers.
- More time and attention to building trust in the coaching relationship to give real-time feedback on interpersonal style.
- Generalisation and maintenance of learning needs to be carefully planned after conclusion of coaching, perhaps to include workplace mentoring.
- Education and advocacy within the wider system to help others engage fully with different kinds of minds.
* Baron-Cohen , S., Wheelwright, S., Skinner, R., Martin, J. and Clubley, E. (2001) “The Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ): Evidence from Asperger’s Syndrome/ High Functioning Autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians” in Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 31 (1) p5-17.
Masterclass: Coaching Supergeeks, Central London, May 2015. Using insights from neurodiversity so the brightest minds perform, flourish and succeed in their working lives.
Find out more and book your place here.