Occupational psychologist Dr. Nancy Doyle discusses employment for the neurodiverse.
(23 minutes) Nancy is a Registered Occupational Psychologist with 20 years’ experience in neurodiversity, professional management coaching and welfare to work. She is CEO and Founder of Genius Within CIC, a nonprofit located in both England and the United States. She is also featured on A&E’s “The Employables”, a show which she helped developed when it began on the BBC. Dr. Doyle discusses how Genius Within began, the importance positive assessments, and some of her favorite experiences on “The Employables”.
For more about Nancy, follow her on twitter: @NancyDoylePsych
And to learn about her work and Genius Within, visit: GeniusWithin.org
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Meeting Dr. Nancy Doyle
HACKIE REITMAN (HR): Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman, welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains. Today, coming to us all the way from the United Kingdom about an hour south of London is the wonderful Dr. Nancy Doyle! Nancy, welcome to Exploring Different Brains!
NANCY DOYLE (ND): Thank you! Hello!
HR: Well, thank you for being with us! Before I butcher your introduction, why don’t you give us a proper introduction of yourself.
ND: Thank you. Okay, so I’m Dr. Nancy Doyle, I’m a psychologist who specializes in neurodiversity and employment. So I’ve worked for around twenty-five years in the disability inclusion field, specifically around how what places can more inclusive of people with all kinds of disabilities, but particularly invisible disabilities or neurodiversity, depending on which lens you want to push on it. I’m also working with individuals with those conditions directly, looking at strategies, managing symptoms, managing difficulties, but more importantly recognizing talents. I run a nonprofit called Genius Within CIC, which operates in both the UK and the USA, and again we work with on the individual level, but also with businesses, people who are unemployed, people who want to achieve more in that career, and businesses that want to be more inclusive, and I also developed the ideas behind ‘The Employables’, which is a show that has recently aired on A&E, and I piloted that show with the BBC and we’ve run two series in the UK, it has also aired in other countries.
HR: And what do you do in your spare time? (chuckles)
ND: (chuckles) I have twins!
HR: oh boy!
ND: I have ADHD myself, so as far as spare time goes, it’s important for me to be active and to have lots to do, I genuinely have quite high energy levels and generally find that I’m doing quite a lot, so yeah, there is no- idle hands are the devil’s playground where it comes to me. The more I’m doing, what poison and positively the better off I am in lots of respects.
HR: Tell us about your twins.
ND: So I have thirteen year old twin boys, called Tom and Ollie, and they are currently with friends in Vermont, USA, exploring the wet wilderness: kayaking, swimming, running around in somebody’s truck; generally making mayhem, that’s what they’re up to right now.
HR: Do you find it difficult to be in both the United Kingdom and United States?
ND: Not at all, my father’s from New Jersey, I’m a US citizen. So in many ways, I think my- my natural home is -is- is America. Yeah, I’m much more American than I am English. So in England, I have ADHD, but in New Jersey where my family are from, I’m just kind of normal.
HR: Well, I’m from Jersey City myself. My folks had a gas station there, so. What part of Jersey were- your dad from?
ND: Asbury Park area, so Haslet / Monmouth County.
HR: Oh yeah, nice town there.
ND: Yeah, not far Red Bank. That kind of area.
ND: The shore.
HR: The Jersey Shore!
ND: Jersey shore. See don’t let the accent fool you, I’m really a Jersey girl.
ND: That’s the issue.
HR: I thought there was something different about you, you do have that Jersey running through your veins, don’t you?
ND: Yes I do.
The Genius Within
HR: Tell us about the Genius Within.
ND: So the Genius Within organization, so I started it in 2011, and at that point it was really just an extension of my own consultancy. So I had worked as an individual practitioner and a private clinician working with individuals and businesses, and it is actually family issues. So when my kids started school, and lots of parents think this, they think that when their kids start school, they’re going to have loads of time on their hands, and what actually happens when your kids start school is your suddenly- your whole day’s curtailed in 9 and 3 or 8 and 2, or whenever the school hours are open. So, what I used to do when my boys were very young is I used to say, “right, I have three days work in sheffield or I’m going to a conference, abroad, and go hey grandma, could you watch the boys once every two days? And she’s like yeah, sure! But once they have to be in school everyday, grandma’s not quite so up to that. Grandma’s don’t like “brush your teeth! Do your homework! Get your shoes on!” Grandmas like “let’s go get ice cream! Let’s have a late bedtime!” So it was quickly not working. So I had this- my husband and I sat down and we looked at our respective work, because we were both kind doing consultancy type things and- and all over the place. I did the math and I said, “right, if I subcontract the far away clients and just do the clients nearby me within the working school day, we can afford this”, you know? We’re making enough money, I’ll take a small commission and I’ll subcontract the work.
So that was in 2011, and I had seven people that I was subcontracting work to in 2012 it was twenty-five, in 2013 it was fifty-two, the following year, seventy-four, and yada yada yada, and now we have 150 associates that we subcontract to, and forty-two employees who also work in the prison service, and/or people who are aligned with doing funded projects for people who are long-time employed. So my job has changed, really. Genius Within was very emergent. The neurodiversity movement is- it’s got the wind beneath its sails at the moment and it’s really getting out there, I’ve been doing it for twenty years, but I think the point at which I decided to set up Genius Within was exactly the right moment to catch that wind, and neurodiversity has become the new diversity and inclusion, its become the new Talent Advantage for businesses, and there’s a real paradigm shift going on in me, in our consciousness about this, and we were in the right place, at the right time, doing the right things. You know, doing it from a position of, “what is good about this, what can you bring to a workplace, what do you do well, what are your strengths, what is your Genius within, you know, what is the stuff that makes you a specialist that we could be getting value from as -as an organization or as a community and how can we capitalize on that?” And that’s always been my MO, when it was just me with my MO, but the point of Genius Within was just the right place at the right time.
So you know, that’s why things moved quite quickly. But it’s been like playing catch up ever since, you know? That kind of going from a business that was based on my kitchen table, where it was me and the cats, and a few people that I would subcontract through, now I have a head of finance, and a head of human resources, you know now I’m a CEO, I’m not Nancy the renegade psychologist anymore! I’m you know, Nancy the CEO. So it’s been a huge learning curve for me as well in that process.
The importance of positive assessments
HR: Wow! And your whole MO is positive assessment?
ND: That’s- that’s one of our MO’s, yes. So, the thing that I was railing against when I when I got into this work was I couldn’t understand why we call things, or we used to use terms like Specific Learning Disabilities, you know? If it’s a Specific Learning Disability, there’s something specific that’s an issue, but everything else is fine. So why aren’t we talking about the everything else that’s fine. You know? So there’s a whole movement in psychology the positive psychology movement which has been around for a long time, this is something that I studied, and I thought was very interesting, and I just was finding myself very frustrated that I was meeting people but for coaching support, who had psychology reports, and I would read their psychology reports, and I would look at the data in it, and it would say things to me like this person has been the top percent of population for verbal skills, and they would have no idea about that- what they knew about was that their spelling was terrible, or their concentration was poor, or their social skills were difficult- they had no idea that they had this tremendous ability in verbal reasoning, and I would think to myself, “Well wow, what a difference that made when I told you that” you know, but then the next logical step is, why do you need an extra person to tell you that, when you already had psychological assessment? Surely apart of the psychological assessment should be to allow you to know the full range of your abilities- the things you’re struggling in and what to do about it, but also the things that you’re great at, and how to work with that.
So, I kind of commandeered the assessment process and rather than it being about you know, acquiring funding to provide support for things that are difficult and to create a medical distinction of something that is thought pathological and must be treated- to make it more of a catharsis, to make it something that allowed people to develop self awareness, and self confidence, and self belief, and to then create career goals based around that, and to have hope. Now I see the positive assessment process as providing a spark of hope, where there has been no hope, where people are very aware of what they can’t do, and what they struggle with, while actually yes yes yes, but I’m not going to take that away from you, those things are real and true and difficult, but look at that shiny thing over there, let’s pay attention to that for a minute, let’s look at the shiny thing; the positive assessment isn’t about glossing over the difficulties, it’s about providing a balanced view, and there is always a balanced view. There are always things that people can do. At any rate of disability, is something you can do, and the trouble of the psychology assessment I think, I find that as apart of it and to work with that and to hone awareness of it so people can leave feeling empowered rather than-
HR: Diminished, rather than diminished.
ND: Diminished! Exactly, rather than diminished, or empowered, you know- sometimes a diagnosis can be a self fulfilling prophecy.
HR: oh yes and then we fail in our society to enable- like I have a chapter in the aspertools book on harnessing the hyper interests.
ND: Sure! That’s the career path right there!
Harnessing interests and abilities in the prison population
HR: Right there! Yeah, and all of our wonderful 18 year old and above neurodivergent interns here, they’re harnessing their hyper interests- find out what you like but it’s very hard in a system that’s one-size-fits-all, you know, you don’t get to try video editing or an interview like this or the transcribing or researching or writing, and so I applaud you. Let’s focus on the positives, and see what we can do with that. Now let’s segue into your work, and what you have found in the prison population.
ND: Yes, so this is very interesting to me. So when- so before I set up Genius Within, one of the things I would do as a consultant was I would work with people who were long term unemployed, and there’s a lot of talk around people not having the right level of motivation, which I always found patronizing. You know, if you’re hopeless, you’re not going to be motivated, and I always felt- once we started to be successful as a business and we started doing kind of human resources, occupational health intervention, and you know, earning money, I have some major banking groups that are my clients, and so you know we’re earning a good living now from this, you know and I just thought well hang on a second, my company legal status is community interest and nonprofit, so should I only be working with the people who are already fairly successful- let’s be honest if you already have a job, that’s a level of success that a lot of neurodiverse people do not have, they do not have that level of success- should we actually be working where people are less successful, and I have some experience with that, so let’s give it a go.
So we started doing some pilot projects in prisons, and one thing I did before the pilot interventions was positive assessment with the men we were going to be working with. And when I did the positive assessments, what I found is that on average, the guys had kind of visual abilities in the top 10% of the population, and memory and concentration scores in the bottom 20s, that’s quite a big difference that’s very typical for many forms of neuro-difference. But it’s almost exactly the same scores as the students that we were doing positive assessments for who were in med school. So I have a couple of contracts in universities, and in this one particular university, it’s in South East London, we were working in a prison in southeast London, really difficult prison, the most secure prison in the UK, it’s where they keep the terrorism suspects in the UK, this place is like Fort Knox, you cannot get into it you know it’s a really harsh environment, and I’m thinking here’s a group of people, they are literally miles away from each other, they have the same ability, but this group are in med school, and this group are in the worst prison in the UK. How is this possible? What are we doing wrong here? You know this is ridiculous. We had gone on to develop training horses and coaching programs, we start with the positive assessment and kind of work with people before they leave the prison environments.
It is the most likely thing to prevent reoffending is employment, so recidivism is based on employment essentially. If someone leaves prison and gets a job, they are far less likely to reoffend go back in and become incarcerated again, so we’re really focused on the work, and what we can do with individuals before they leave, so they may be- take some classes while they’re in the prisons, maybe get some training, maybe some health and safety certificate for the construction industry, or – a math qualification, basic numerous qualifications, something that will show that they can put some effort in that can help them get a job afterwards. We also work with them as they come out. It is through the gate provision – before and after. We were given the contracts and targeted with a certain number of employment outcomes that we were targeted with.
HR: Nancy, I spoke with William Packard, who wrote a book on neurodiversity within the prison system, and what was interesting to me in the discussion rather surprising, was not so much the percentage of inmates who had some kind of neurodiversity, but also the guards who were guarding as well. What have you found in that regard?
ND: Exactly that. Exactly that. In that first project in SouthEast London when I was talking to the governor of the prison about coming in, you know I was trying to discuss functional difficulties associated with neurodifferences like managing time, organizational skills, concentration, he said, “you just described half my staff team!” (chuckles) I said, “yeah, well we can work with them too!” So yes, so I totally agree that there’s people with neurodifferences that they’re good at, and they tend to be those kinds of jobs, you know, neurodifferences are over represented in the prison staffing sector, but also in defense, in security, in police work, in paramedics, you know, there’s something about the hypersensitivity that goes on with neurodiversity that allows you to be hyper alert, and this is one of these kind of positive- negative reframe things, it depends on how full your glass is, is it half empty or half full, because you know we pathologies concentration difficulties in the school system- we say people who can’t sit still and concentrate for eight hours have a disability. If you think about it sitting still and concentrating for eight hours is a pretty weird thing to ask of people if you consider a natural species, it’s not something we should really be doing. So in that circumstance, it’s called high distractability. But if your job is doing crowd control and to be aware of where people are, as some sort of conflict, what we call distractibility in school is actually hyper alert and very responsive and highly reactive, which you need to be in those situations.
A&E’s “The Employables”
HR: Very interesting. Let’s go back to the TV show, “The Employables”. Do you have any one story that stands out to you that’s been on that?
ND: Oh they all do for different reasons. They all do for different reasons. I think that- there was different stories in that, so Angela Justice, one of the things that stood out for me for Angela Justice as just how completely unaware of how brilliant she was. She had absolutely no idea, every idea I’ve ever had about positive assessment, I felt 100% vindicated working with that woman. This is why I do what I do. This. Because you are a brilliant human, and you had no idea. So the joy of watching her realize, you know she’s completed her associate’s degree in psychology now, she’s just starting her bachelors degree.
HR: Wow. Very cool, very cool.
ND: Yeah. I keep in touch with them all. So she stood out to me for that reason. Because that changed her, it changed her self-perception completely. She- she had some validation that day, some real validation she never had before, and it changed her life trajectory, she’s going to finish her bachelors and she’s going to become a psychologist, and I’m going to work my hardest to steal her and have her Genius Within when she graduates. I will find work for her in Pittsburgh as I want her so much, I’m like ok I don’t have any clients in Pittsburgh, but I’m gonna go get some so I have some work for Angela.
And then the other one I really liked was Fish, because Fish absolutely knew what his genius within was, when I was filming with Fish, the directors and producers kept getting grumpy with me because they had a format of that show, which was, we’re doing the test thing, we find the genius within thing then they go do the thing and I wasn’t doing any testing with Fish. and they were like “well why are you not you testing?” Well because he doesn’t need it. “Can he not just do the testing?” No, because he needs something else. What Fish didn’t have was that thing I just told you about how to get work. So Fish- Fish didn’t know how to just go out and find work without waiting for the right job to come along. He didn’t know he could just start picking up the phone and start bringing in the work, and you know that’s what he’s doing now. And the other thing he didn’t know about was how to mitigate the impact of his condition in a workplace scenario. So he didn’t know about things like ergonomic chairs, where you can have a reclining chair that’s attached to a desk, you can have your laptop on a panel in front of you so that you can recline and still work on a computer, he didn’t know that that kind of equipment existed, and because his Tourrettes syndrome was so severe in terms of the spent ticks, he had some quite serious physical issues, you know, he adds yes mobility issues and a lot of pain that he was dealing with, so one of the reasons he was feeling like he couldn’t go back to work in a standard 9-5 job because he couldn’t sit for that long.
And I was saying to him you don’t need to. You don’t need to sit for that long to do what you do, you can have this kind of chair, you can have this kind of desk, you can work for yourself, you can do consultancy work, and so broadening his mind as to what work could look like I think was the interesting thing for him.
HR: How can our Different Brains audience get in touch with you, or how can they learn more about you?
ND: okay so because I have ADHD, twitter is my best friend. So the best way to stay in touch with me is to watch my Twitter account because- so @NancyDoylePsych or for non-spellers out there, so NancyDoylePsych, my website is geniuswithin.org, and I have a LinkedIn profile, just search me up, I’m not hard to find and there’s lots of ways to contact me if you search me up through the website or LinkedIn or Twitter.
HR: Thank you so much for being here with us today at Different Brains, thank you for the great work you do we look forward to seeing you again.
ND: Thank you for having me