In the same way we all have different height, weight and hair colour, there is growing recognition for diversity in cognition. The range in neurological profiles is all part of the natural variation of humans, and there is a consistent prevalence of differences (for example, approximately 10% of the population can be expected to demonstrate dyslexia; 2% autism).
Neurodiversity isn’t impairment; its difference. And where there are differences, reasonable adjustments can be made in the workplace to ensure that each individual can meet their full potential.
Effective coaching is known to improve performance, and there is a growing emphasis within the FRS on this developmental approach. It can often be beneficial for helping people with neurodiversity to maximise their strengths and work around their difficulties. And while there are advantages to one-to-one coaching for some people, findings suggest that there are often great benefits with this population from group coaching sessions.
So where do line managers come in?
With some training and/or a naturally ‘coaching’ style, they are perfectly placed to build on the existing rapport with their team and facilitate inspiring group discussions.
So how would this work?
Coaching isn’t about getting an individual to change their behaviour to be a better ‘fit’ with the organisation. It’s about supporting individuals to identify adjustments and strategies that will make their workplace experience better.
Rapport is important. There needs to be trust, and the facilitator needs to have clearly established communication channels which can be built on in a group setting. This might mean understanding that members of the group communicate differently and adapting opportunities to participate around that.
It needs to be flexible. Every group will vary, and what they need and how they respond best may take some trial and error. But with a close team, and time to put into it, a method which works for everyone can be developed together.
Find out what individuals are struggling with. Probe to identify what the goal is. Clarify what achieving this goal will have on a practical level.
Questions: ‘If suddenly, x,y,z became easy, what would this look like?’ ‘How will your goal of improving x,y,z help you at work/in life?’
Guide through questioning, rather than being tempted to come up with solutions. Ask for input from the group, e.g. ‘How do you get around problems you have with x,y,z?’ Finding out about strategies used in different situations can be useful input for someone perhaps used to managing challenges alone.
Question: ‘Who here can think of a time their memory/problem solving/concentration worked really well?’
It might be easy for a neurodiverse person to identify when they find certain activities hard, such as those which rely on memory, literacy or spatial awareness. But there will be times when they find these things easier, and finding out what these are can be a useful first step in highlighting that it’s not always difficult, and they do have strategies they have unconsciously developed which help them overcome obstacles. Sharing stories, getting into smaller groups to discuss experiences, allowing time to consciously think about how we do things all support learning.
Question: ‘When it (the area of difficulty) is working well, what does it look like? When does this happen?’
Talk about strengths and what members of the group do well. It might be difficult to draw these out, but you can encourage the group to identify strengths in their team mates, which an individual may not have recognised or feel confident about themselves.
Question: ‘Think about something you’ve done, or you often do, well. Can you describe it?’
Once strengths have been identified, brainstorm on how these could be transferred to other situations. For instance, if someone talks passionately about how they coach a five-a-side football team, explore what skills are used and the impacts. How could these skills be applied usefully in the workplace?
Question: ‘What other situations can you think of where your skills in x,y,z could be useful?’
Through discussion of what works and what doesn’t, people in a group will all learn more about their own needs. Maybe someone needs to redesign their workspace to allow them to spread out more, create their own sense of organisation; someone else may need information in a visual or practical format, with written information kept to a minimum.
Realising that we all have different working styles, preferences and needs can be reassuring. Being empowered to recognise strengths, and ways to develop mastery by applying them more broadly, can have a fantastic impact on self-efficacy. A person may feel more confident about advocating for their own needs once they have the understanding that they are not alone, and there are practical solutions they can tap into.
For this sort of development work, a line manager with strong coaching skills can be better placed to make a difference than someone with specific expertise in neurodiversity. This is because the power dynamic is different, which is less likely to undermine the individual’s own ideas (as they won’t be looking to a ‘specialist’ to provide solutions). A line manager, with skills in listening, questioning and exploring strategies (rather than giving solutions), can have a very positive impact on an area which doesn’t always need to be ‘left to the experts’.
About VCA LTD
Managing Director of VCA LTD, Occupational Psychologist Hannah Vallance creates user-friendly, practical and robust on-line solutions to meet the assessment, selection and development needs of UK Fire & Rescue Services. Our ‘Career Progression Gateway’ (CPG) is an on-line assessment for promotions from Crew to Area Managers and is currently used by seven UK FRS. Contact us for an informal virtual tour of the CPG to discover further how your Service’s assessment processes can be streamlined, kept on schedule and stay within budget.
For case studies: www.vcaltd.co.uk/our-work/
E-mail enquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Nancy Doyle, Genius Within