Unlocking Potential: A Health and Wellness Coach’s Journey through Different-Abilities

By: Andrew Parsons, PhD, a UK-based Certified Wellness Practitioner and Master Coach


In the captivating narrative of Andrew Parsons, PhD, a Certified Wellness Practitioner and Master Coach based in the UK, the fusion of personal experience with dyslexia, a cancer diagnosis, and professional expertise in supporting clients under the Disability Act unfolds.

Andrew reflects on his career in scientific and executive leadership in the biopharmaceutical industry, spanning over 20 years, where he contributed to investigational drugs and medicines. It wasn’t until his transition to a health and wellness coach, after over a decade, that he discovered he was dyslexic.

“I sought a diagnosis as the description of neurodiversity I learned in a coaching psychologist peer practice group resonated very strongly; it was a shock to realize that they were describing me!  At the same time, my co-authors on ‘Empowerment in Health and Wellness’ had noticed some dyslexic traits.

To be honest, I was not surprised on receiving the dyslexia diagnosis and many things in my life seemed to fit into place. My assessor suggested one of my ‘coping mechanisms’ for reading was to fully understand a subject so that I could recognise words. He was also curious to know if I was ‘slow’ or a little disconnected as a child. Indeed, as a child I found school very difficult in several areas. However, my passion for science and understanding how things worked helped me and led me to further academic study, completing one graduate and three post graduate degrees. ”

Navigating a diagnosis of dyslexia provided Andrew with clarity and context for the challenges he faced as an adult. He shares insights into how coping mechanisms, rooted in a deep understanding of subjects, allowed him to overcome obstacles. Andrew emphasizes the importance of recognizing and embracing neurodiversity, urging a shift from perceiving differences as ‘dis-abilities’ to celebrating ‘different-abilities.’

 “My diagnosis also provided another perspective on the struggles I’d had as an adult. Working on science and business committees was not something I’d enjoyed and tried to avoid. It’s easy for my working memory to become overloaded and this certainly did not help finding the right words in that type of context. Looking back, no wonder it took me time to learn and dig into subjects.

 As a child, I had managed to convince myself that writing and spelling were not my strength. I remember one school report where my teacher was more than a little critical, perhaps out of frustration, of my writing, reading and spelling abilities. Luckily, my parents’ response was ‘they were not teaching you in the right way’ and, while I didn’t know it at the time, I think this was a principle I have carried with me. We are all ‘differently able’ and it’s OK to do things differently.

 When I mentioned my newfound dyslexia to a good friend, their immediate response was ‘but you have published loads of papers – how can you be dyslexic?’.  This was meant with such positive intent however their reference point and assumption were seemingly that dyslexics could not have written scientific papers. But, as I pointed out, most papers I’d been involved with were co-authored with collaborators who had helped to adapt to my situation. Our assumptions and biases can easily come into play. It is easy to put people into a box.”

Andrew’s journey highlights the impact of acknowledging and accommodating individual needs, especially in the workplace. He advocates for adjustments made from the perspective of the individual, stressing the significance of being aware of reference points, emotions, and fostering curiosity. Andrew’s personal encounters during cancer treatment shed light on the potential frustration arising from misunderstandings, emphasizing the importance of clear communication and empathy.

In the realm of health and wellness coaching, Andrew explores how this approach can benefit individuals with different-abilities.

As Health and Wellness professionals, our contracting with clients is essential – if only this important step was more common across the workplace and wider society.  As well, for those with health conditions, coaching supports sustainable lifestyle changes, addressing factors like nutrition, physical activity, and resilience.

‘Dis-ability’ is an environmental and social construct.  Different barriers to full function need to be considered to support people to reach their potential. Legal considerations need to consider adjustments to create equality and equity.   

Perhaps it is time to go one step further and imagine what it would be like to focus on ‘different abilities’. Consider what might be possible if we harness all the experiences of those who do things differently.

Coaching individuals with different- abilities, emphasizes the coach’s role in remaining aware of reference points, emotions, and maintaining curiosity. Andrew attests to the transformative power of coaching, noting its therapeutic outcomes, particularly in navigating stresses and disruptions.

The narrative serves as an inspiring testament to the potential for positive change and empowerment through health and wellness coaching.

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