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M Stoothoff is a dedicated life coach, mentor, and advocate with a unique perspective shaped by their own journey as a neurodivergent and queer individual. Embracing their identity, M (they/them) is devoted to fostering a world where neurodiversity, inclusivity, and equity thrive.
M's core values—justice, authenticity, making a difference, empathy, and love—fuel their commitment to help clients dismantle perceived limitations and curate lives of authenticity and purpose.
Beyond their professional endeavors, M finds joy and inspiration with their dog Berkley, their plants and crystals, and through their creative pursuits in writing and design.
Having transformed their own narrative from feeling 'out of place' to a place of self-acceptance and advocacy, M now stands as a beacon of hope and a catalyst for change, guiding others to embrace their potential. You can reach M at thrivingnd.com
Embracing Neurodiversity in Life Coaching – Insights from Lumia Alumni M Stoothoff
In the newest episode of the Everything Life Coaching podcast, Noelle Cordeaux, CEO of Lumia sits down with M Stoothoff, a Lumia graduate, to talk about all things neurodiversity in coaching. M is an advocate for greater education, affirmation and awareness around neurodiversity at large, which made the conversation a fascinating dive into how personal impact can influence professional output.
From Self-Discovery to Advocacy
M's journey into understanding their queer, nonbinary, and neurodivergent identity began with a psychology degree. It was a quest to understand both themselves and others feeling marginalized in a neuronormative society. Working in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) with the intention to support autistic children, M soon realized that practice often suppressed autistic traits rather than understanding and affirming them.
With a personal revelation of being autistic, M redirected their career towards a supportive, affirming approach and felt a strong desire to help others who shared their background.
A Call for Curriculum Change
After enrolling in Lumia’s coach training program, M offered up constructive feedback on our curriculum – underscoring the importance of understanding and affirming neurodivergent needs. This encouraged us to enhance and improve our coach training curriculum to be more inclusive for neurodivergent students, instructors and alumni.
The Vocabulary of Neurodiversity
It can be helpful when discussing neurodiversity to have the right words and phrases to aid both conversation and understanding. M shared that “language is such a key component of being neurodiversity affirmative” and offered the following vocabulary.
- Neuronormativity: Societal norms favoring specific functional patterns.
- Neurodiversity Paradigm: A viewpoint celebrating all neurotypes, akin to appreciating racial, gender, and sexual diversity.
- Neurotype: A category denoting diverse brain wiring and function.
- Neurodivergent: Individuals deviating from the standard neurotype. M, for example, is multiply neurodivergent.
- Neurotypical: A neurotype aligning with societal norms.
- Neurodiverse: A collection of individuals with varying neurotypes.
The Power of Language
Language shapes perceptions and M emphasizes avoiding terms like "high/low functioning and more/less autistic" to describe neurodivergent and/or autistic individuals – as it can wrongly portray their support needs and abilities. Additionally, M adds that there is no such this as being "more or less autistic", an autistic person is just autistic; autistic traits widely vary person to person, and the variance is more like a pie chart rather than being linear.
Self-awareness and Unmasking Authenticity
Neurodiversity intersects with other societal aspects, challenging neuronormative models and making a greater awareness necessary in order to fight against prejudice and unconscious biases.
M reflected on their upbringing and the societal molds they were forced into. Raised with gender-specific norms, M adapted to expected behaviors, which shadowed their autistic traits. M accentuated the need to challenge norms rooted in colonialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy in order to connect with one's authentic self.
Representation Matters in Life Coaching
Noelle highlighted that individuals often seek coaches with relatable experiences. M's identity as neurodivergent resonates with other neurodivergent folks, who get the experience of having a coach who genuinely understands what they’re going through. Such representation is invaluable, especially given the high unemployment rates among neurodivergent individuals.
Effective Coaching for the Neurodivergent
For neurotypical coaches, the prime question is: How to effectively cater to neurodivergent clients?
While there is a great need for neurodivergent coaches to work with neurodivergent clients, M emphasizes that neurotypical coaches should undergo specialized training to work with neurodivergent clients – “learn from autistic people, not ‘about’ autistic people.” Noelle underscores the importance of validation. Coaches should acknowledge, validate, and cater to a neurodivergent client's experiences and needs.
M also reminds us to never assume that someone is neurodivergent:
“Don't assume that you're working with neurotypical clients. They may not tell you. Or they may not know! So the best case is to use neurodiversity affirming practices with all of your clients, not just clients who identify as neurodivergent.” - M Stoothoff
Coaching Tips for Working with Neurodivergent Clients:
- Awareness & Sensitivity: Avoid overriding clients and making unwarranted assumptions.
- Mindful Language: M stressed the importance of evading terms like "high-functioning" or any ableist language.
- Facial Expressions: Coaches should refrain from misinterpreting facial expressions of neurodivergent clients.
- Alexithymia: Recognizing that some clients might struggle to identify their emotions.
- Adaptable Coaching Methods: Offering alternative means like emails or chat might be beneficial.
M's journey as an individual and a coach highlights the broader challenges the neurodivergent community faces. Their narrative underscores authenticity, understanding, and representation's importance in coaching. Noelle aptly summarized it as the act of "noticing" and altruistically "lending one's voice”.
It's important to adopt practices that affirm and support neurodiversity not just in coaching, but across all areas of society. We as coaches can be a part of the movement towards inclusion and greater understanding of our intersecting identities.
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