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The Problem With Mentorship

How One Word Won’t Fix the world of Autism Behavioral Health

” I can do it” he said. Of course, he could DO it, but the struggle, in this case, was unnecessary as he applied right-handed skills to his left-handed world.  

As his mentor in the kitchen, I was inspired by his excitement and newly formed education. I quickly realized that trying to conform his left-handedness to a right-handed world was ripping the enjoyment away during the “do it”. This semi-successful struggle labored his productivity, methodology, form in knife handling, and efficiency. He had IT…the determination and excitement. But not having the proper tools, guidance to make decisions, the courage to voice his thoughts, and the ability to integrate education and training into this real-world kitchen would ruin him.

 If we didn’t stop him, we would later see the ruin in his personal autonomy, culinary skill, voice, and his ability to see himself as important and valuable to the outcome. They decided that he needed a mentor and thought it would be enough to solve the problem. They needed a chef in the kitchen and needed him to produce, fast.

This is what has become or quickly becoming of us, in whole or part, in the autism behavioral health industry. Good intentions abound, but we are reaping the impact. We have haphazardly placed mentorship and its good intentions on top of systemic issues, inequity, and process challenges that some organizations are not agile enough to fix alone. We’ve listened amiss gleaning what we think will work and carrying with us the language of mentorship as the answer.

And we want mentorship to work, fast. It will not. If mentorship were the answer alone, other longstanding professions (education, speech pathology, physical therapy, etc.) would have ascribed to this and have data-based positive results.

Mentorship is an answer, but not the answer alone. Organizational cultures that appoint positions by popularity and familiarity, will often have people who play the oppressive culture game for promotion and retention. These players are often gatekeepers, supervisors, and mentors. The pedagogy of the oppressed continues. Another harmful dynamic can also occur, a culture of match to sample. Within this, there is the chance that mentorship is appointed by a match to sample process. We assume a lot here in this matching game. And the only learning that occurs is game-set-match.

 Mentorship and community are not enough. We can operationally define community as congregating and engaging with people who are like me. Community is important and can serve as a warm embrace and soft place to land. A community can also mask internal behavior of oppression and marginalize the people it markets itself to uplift and protect. Group behavior is as group behavior does. If we are not careful, we will use the towel of community to cleanse ourselves of the hard work of DEI, anti-racism, and cultivating community beyond match to sample. In short, mentorship and community are not enough.

Mentorship, community, and systems are a better starting point. This is a bold realization that old or current systems are not beneficial nor impactful. Recognizing that people who bring systems of oppression and anti-racism are harmful to the wellbeing of both staff and consumers of our services. Acknowledging that the pass along of people across organizations and systems in places of C-Suite and Leadership in Autism Behavioral health services continue the fragmented approaches responsible for burnout and marginalization. Reimagination and innovation implore us to look at the environment, tools, and resources responsible for elevating everyone.

 If we think of mentorship as a key ingredient toward a meal of clinical outcomes in our work as clinicians, it makes for a terrible meal when the spoils of oppression, silence, and marginalization continue. And we are all responsible: Those that mentor without telling the truth. Those that we place on platforms knowing they are unprepared and often unqualified.

Not having a plan to cultivate people at the expense and time of our clients and staff is harmful. Other industries develop supportive infrastructures of process and accountability for fit, in organizational culture, authenticity, and reciprocity in mentorship.

Suffering feels like an isolated experience for marginalized people often creating the four words “I can do it” as a defensive response. Reinvigorated and courageous systems understand that right-handed, left-handed, and ambidextrous will need elbow room, voice, and accommodations to make the best dishes possible.

Because treatment is the culmination of what we give and serve. It includes the ingredients managed and prepared by sous chefs, students, head chefs, and master chefs alike. And masters are of a variety based upon cuisine, region, and more. We need more than one to better understand our needs as chefs and towards the creation of the cuisine that each consumer needs. In our mentoring spaces and clinical kitchens,

Whether we are creating a dish for the first time or elevating a dish, let’s start to think about mentorship as a Huddle experience to learn, create, and apply.

To learn more about how The Huddle can benefit your organization, visit us here.

~ Landria Seals Green, MA., CCC-SLP, BCBA

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