Thinking Outside The Box
Amanda Jayne Harman tells us about her neurodiverse coaching and mentoring business and how getting a diagnosis in her 50s led to a lightbulb moment and finding her tribe.
How do you identify as disabled, and what does it means to you?
I identify as having a hidden disability that many people aren’t aware of, unless they’ve heard me speak about it or know about my neurodiverse coaching business. I’m diagnosed with autism spectrum condition (ASC) and attention deficit disorder (ADHD).
On the outside, I may seem like any other woman in her mid-fifties, but this is after decades of having learned subconsciously to fit in and mask my difficulties with attention and focus, sensory and emotional stresses, impulsivity, obsessions with things and people, and knowing how to manage social situations.
Tell us a little about your business.
I founded my business, Outside the Box: neurodiverse coaching and mentoring, in November 2021. I use a variety of empowering tools and other strategies to coach and support neurodivergent people to move from fraught to focused.
Why did you start the business? Share your story so far.
During my forties, the difficulties I’d experienced throughout my life had accumulated to the point of burnout and depression. Following personal development and coaching that began back in 2018, I’d identified that what I really wanted to do was to make some kind of difference in the world and train as a life coach to support other women to recover from burnout and depression – and I embarked on that path a year or two later.
In the meantime, I was finally diagnosed with ASC and ADHD at the age of 52, following the diagnosis of my eldest daughter in 2020. Discovering my own neurodivergence and realising why I’d experienced the mental health and physical energy challenges I had was a complete lightbulb moment. Suddenly everything made so much sense!
In the months that followed my diagnosis I struggled with feelings of sadness, grief and anger at all those years of not understanding myself and being misunderstood by everyone around me. Eventually I started to connect with other women just like me, and it was like coming home. I had found my tribe!
Before long, it became clear to me that I needed to set up a coaching and writing business specialising in supporting neurodivergent people – especially women who had been diagnosed or suspected their neurodivergence later in life – and raising awareness and understanding of autism and ADHD, in particular.
I’ve now set up my business and completed my coaching training with the global women’s leadership and empowerment organisation One of many™, and I’m so happy. I love the tools that I’ve been taught, and I’m finding joy in working out how to make them even more powerful and effective for neurodivergent people of all genders, not just neurotypical women. I finally feel as though I’m on the right path.
What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?
I’ve been a full-time entrepreneur since 1999, when I set up my first business, Life Lines Editorial Services, and I’ve had several other businesses along the way, including The Naked Editor, which I set up to run alongside Life Lines in 2020.
I love the creative ideas and the planning that comes with running your own business, and the satisfaction and fulfilment of the work itself. However, one thing I’ve always struggled with is how to manage my time and my energy levels when trying to do everything in the businesses myself. To help with this, I’ve now handed over the reins of Life Lines Editorial Services to my husband, and I would really like to expand my coaching and writing business in future by hiring a VA and bookkeeper to keep on top of the business admin and to help me with my executive function, which I now realise is the way it is because of my disabilities.
What can we do to encourage more disabled entrepreneurs to start businesses – what is holding them back and what can we all do to help change that?
I think that highlighting and celebrating disabled business owners is a really important way to provide role models to help more disabled people to realise that with the right support they too can become entrepreneurs and start their own successful businesses. Also helping disabled entrepreneurs to access business coaching and training, along with grants or other financial support that they might be entitled to but know nothing about, would be extremely beneficial.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?
I’m proud to say that I’ve achieved many great things in both my personal life and my business life, despite (or maybe even because of) my disabilities. But the most recent and proudest moment was when I succeeded in passing my coaching assessments with flying colours after incorrectly beginning to doubt whether my autistic traits would allow me to empathise and communicate in a powerful way with my clients. The feedback from the clients I’ve worked with so far has stressed what a warm, connected and empathic coach I am, and this makes me very proud because it goes against the misinformed stereotype of autistic people that is so prevalent in society.
If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability what would it be and why?
I wish that people would realise that not all disabilities are visible. I also wish that individuals with disabilities were defined by their unique strengths, rather than their deficits in relation to the rest of society.
Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by the other neurodivergent heart-led business people who I have connected with over the last year, who recognise the amazing abilities they have as entrepreneurs despite their struggles and learn to work around their challenges every day to do good in the world.
Do you have a recommendation for a book or a podcast which has helped you along your journey?
Yes. Very many! A very good book that I am currently reading is But You Don’t Look Autistic At All by Bianca Toeps. An excellent podcast is The Different Minds podcast by John Offord.