How can coaching assist in overcoming the challenges of autism?
People on the autistic spectrum are individuals. Their lives are informed by their upbringing, experience, education, and perceptions. Collectively, they can have similar challenges in areas such as organisational, social, and interpersonal skills.
However, their learning experiences relating to how they experience and learn are different. Their view of their world is individually formed by their own experience and psychological make-up, and other attributes, thus determining their unique reaction to the environment and their relationships.
Individuals with autism are highly capable people, and they have the capacity and the capability to think outside of the box, with a high degree of innovation and creativity.
To fully support and empower individuals who fall within the autistic spectrum as coaches, we need to move away from some of the generalisations around the condition and focus upon how the individual experiences their world and how their condition affects their daily life in practice. This is the key to bringing their life and social skills, within each unique personality, together with their gifts and talents.
Coaching can address those individually learnt behaviours and responses that are sometimes outworn and no longer provide adequate support.
As the balances of all our lives change and grow, there can be a realisation that, in some areas, we have just been coping, never really feeling connected. For example, as children, there are acceptable behaviours that are recognised as being spontaneous, unique, and a little eccentric, often seen as cute or attractive. However, when those same or similar behaviours are carried into the teens or early adulthood, they can be seen as disruptive, attention-seeking, manic, or just weird, often leaving the person feeling isolated on the edge, outside of social inclusion.
As coaches, we need to understand how these issues are experienced by the client.
What happens when a person feels isolated or disconnected?
Working with their own experiences and responses will bring relevance and realism to their learning, and we can learn about their world and the feelings and fears behind their reactions. When the coaching relationship tackles individual learning and relearning on a personal level, using the client's experience and how their fears control their responses, this offers the opportunity for real change and learning that is memorable for the client.
Herein lies our challenge, to some of the learning opportunities that coaching techniques can present, techniques that are a powerful metaphor for change. For example, by fully utilising the individual’s ability to create and imagine, if they are a visual person, creating the opportunity to engage them in seeing visual solutions. These solutions can be seen and described vividly, providing strong emotional links to establish a foundation for change.
The connection that brings all our talents and abilities to life is our development of unique social and interpersonal skills. These are powerful tools that connect us all as human beings. We are wired to connect and engage with each other. Our community, education, working life, and personal relationships are dependent on these connective skills to showcase who we are and to bring our unique talents and abilities to life.
These skills are often areas that can either make or break our talents and abilities. However academically qualified and competent we are, this can be of very little use when socially and interpersonally we carry fears that can create a dread for us, making it difficult to make positive impressions and connections in certain areas of life.
The connective skills of life are those we develop as we grow, using communication, organisation, and social skills as three key examples. These are the skills that employers look out for during the interview process. These skills and how they are demonstrated tell the employer how the candidate can fit with the company, the customer, the department, and the existing team. An employer can always develop job training and practical skills; however, it is more difficult to cultivate behaviour and attitudes that have the potential to create a positive connection with other people.
The development of these skills will require more time and an individual investment for someone who has autistic spectrum learning requirements.
People on the autistic spectrum are often great social survivors; they know how to read situations in advance and adapt or disguise their sense of discomfort by adopting techniques and other skills that work to mask their dis-ease and discomfort in certain situations. These behaviours are usually long-serving behaviours that have a long-standing and proven success rate for them. They often come with a high degree of dependency and reliance. Therefore, remodelling them is about underpinning them with other supporting behaviours that can develop, grow, and mature in the safety of the coaching environment.
What are some of the challenges and coaching solutions?
- An initial consultation that focuses on individual life experience and learning style.
- Working directly with the client’s own lifestyle social and personal agenda, to create real individual solutions.
- Working on perceptions, behaviours and responses, maturing new more authentic and reliable behaviours with tools that have practical value that is both memorable and portable.
- Previously learned conditioning can be replaced with more comfortable approaches to challenges.
- Integrating the real-life experience of the client into the learning by using the tools that will directly support the individual transformation.
- Learning techniques to support and manage fear responses.
- Tools to support academic learning, making revision memorable.
- Tools to manage disorganisation-life skill that is transferable.
- Tools to manage poor time keeping-transferable.
Coaching solutions can bridge those learning gaps that are not always individually visible as part of the education process. The opportunity to address the learning gaps in such an individual way is not always available in mainstream education or specialist education.
The foundational elements of any mainstream subjects and academic achievements will be brought to life and valued when the relational elements that connect us to our world of work education, our community, and social settings are formed with confidence. Then, individuals are uniquely empowered to bring any achievements to life in a unique way.
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