Olive Hickmott is a forensic health and learning coach, author or the New Perspectives series of books and a neurodivergent advocate.
She looks behind the behaviors of children, especially neurodivergent ones, to understand what is challenging them. She is a world leader in understanding the role of mental imagery and particularly interested in how sleep, breathing, grounding, energy, anxiety and safety contribute.
Olive Hickmott, Dyslexic Super Coach and Neurodivergent Advocate
Olive Hickmott has dyslexia, but when she was going through school, the concepts of dyslexia and ADHD hadn’t been invented yet. She was very good at math, however, so she focused her attention on that and got a math degree. During training in Neurolinguistic Programming, she was amazed to find that other people could visualize words. A concept completely foreign to her.
Learning by Teaching
She went into her local special needs school and asked to work with children who were having literacy issues. They were happy for the extra support and so Olive began her path from corporate consultant to coach, trainer, author, and advocate for improving the lives of neuro divergent people, but not making them neurotypical.
So many groups, like Autism Speaks, want to cure neurodiversities. They don’t want to find ways around the problems neurodiverse people face without taking away their superpowers… they want to make them “normal.”
Over the last 22 years, Olive has worked with thousands of children and trained hundreds of practitioners. She believes that the code has been cracked on dyslexia and she knows exactly how to teach it. We know how to teach kids to spell and read visually because one of the big strengths of neurodiversity is their ability to visualize. Once kids can start visualizing words they can start reading and spelling better, and gain comprehension. It is a remarkable way of changing the literacy experience.
Olive has also started a program to help stop literacy issues stemming from dyslexia from even happening in the first place. She is the leading expert on visual literacy.
Humans have the amazing ability to hold pictures in their heads and nobody is teaching kids how to use it. There was a piece of research done by NASA a few decades ago when they were looking to recruit creative, imaginative problem solvers. They discovered that only 2% of adults were creative geniuses. So they looked at young children and discovered that 98% of them were creative geniuses.
As people go through school, they lose those skills because they are not using them. Things like problem solving and curiosity and creativity and innovation aren’t encouraged in school, but they are the skills that we really need in the 21st century.
We need people coming out of school with these skills and going into business and solving the difficult problems we have on the planet. We’ve got ample work for these people.
Olive thinks that what she teaches for literacy should be taught to all four year olds, because it will speed up their literacy and it will work for everybody in the classroom. Her current mission is to start teaching visual literacy to as many pre school-aged children as possible and see what they can achieve.
Ortal Green is teaching problem solving, curiosity, innovation, mindset, and big picture thinking in Australia. The funny thing is that she is teaching neurotypical people how to think like neurodiverse people, while Olive is teaching neurodiverse people who already have these skills how to cope with a neurotypical world. Schools are having difficulty in coping with neurodiverse people because they teach in a structured way that doesn’t give students the opportunity to be curious, and that lack of opportunity stifles and eventually smothers their curiosity. Ortel is teaching some people to be curious and Olive is working with others to keep their curiosity and not lose it.
Olive told me a story about a client she had who had exceptional mental imagery. This 10 year old boy was sitting in her office and just burst out into laughter. His father tried to shush him, but Olive asked the boy what was going on in his head. He said tennis. Well, what’s so funny about tenis? He said dogs. He was imagining two alsatians playing two cockapoos in doubles tennis…
When he does that in school, It’s not acceptable that he should be thinking about dogs playing tennis as well in the middle of a science lesson. Maybe he has a future in cartooning or script writing. We don’t know, so why are we stifling this creativity?
Most children are born with this innate curiosity and visual learning ability and Olive wants to know what can be done to keep them from losing those skills.
My daughter goes to a public school, which has a progressive teaching model. Their theme is play and discovery. Although it is highly likely she has ADHD, she has not been diagnosed because the way they’re running the school, they don’t see issues with her. I don’t think people with ADHD have a learning disorder. I think schools have a teaching disorder. But this school doesn’t seem to have that, because every 40 minutes they move them to different activities and they have different physical spaces in the classroom. They’re doing all these things that are built around the way kids learn and that makes things like ADHD not really as noticeable. As I say, ADHD is the inability to pay attention to boring things.
Olive believes in self-directed learning because when you let kids learn about the things they’re interested in, they won’t get bored and they won’t have trouble paying attention.
And people will learn whatever they need to in order to do the things they really want to do. When I was in my early teens, I decided I wanted to code a computer game. I wanted to make an asteroids type game that involved flying around the screen. Well, to fly around the screen, you need trigonometry. And I had no idea what trigonometry was. So I decided to learn trigonometry because I needed it for something which made it really interesting. Kids will learn anything if it’s interesting.
Teaching to the Test
Kids will ask the teacher, “when will I ever need this?” I feel like any teacher who can’t answer that question for what they’re teaching, shouldn’t be teaching it, or at least should be better at it because, why would you teach something you don’t need to know?
Why do we teach to the test? Because the state says so.
It’s all controlled by the pedagogy and the curriculum that’s in schools.The education minister in Sweden says she’s going to be working on the curriculum in Sweden for as long as she’s still in power, because the curriculum isn’t accessible to 10 to 15% of the population. We’ve got a pedagogy which is built into the curriculum and the government is going, this is exactly what you should be doing. But when you’ve become an adult, you do the opposite. You learn what you want to when you want to in order to do what you want to do.
School should serve the child to prepare them for success later on. And I think schools have put the cart before the horse that the child’s supposed to serve the school, which has not prepared the child at all. So, how can this school serve this child to capitalize on these amazing visualization skills and amazing creativity versus how can this child serve?
We don’t live in a world where we are educating children to go and work in factories anymore. We’re educating children to be curious and innovative and solve problems.
I took history in high school, and I remember almost none of it because it was taught from books. That’s how we did it for 2000 years, but I’ve started listening to podcasts about history. I have learned more in 1 hour a week, listening to history podcasts than I learned in 300 hours of classes, because it’s presented in a format that sticks to sticks in my brain.
If you told your teacher that you’re not gonna read the book, you’re gonna listen to a podcast on this topic, they’d tell you that that’s not education, it’s entertainment. That’s not how we learn. We learn from books.
Apples to Apples
In Singapore, they’ve decided to no longer compare children with each other. Instead their progress will be measured by how they have progressed since the last exam. Olive had to laugh because when she went to school, her head teacher had exactly that rule. They did a test at the end of the year, but they were not allowed to compare themselves with other kids.
They also decided that they weren’t going to test children until they were older, which is brilliant. In real life, when you measure yourself against other people, it doesn’t serve any great benefit.
Much like my business, when it hits six figures, there will still be a lot of people who make more money than I do, but I can’t say I’m losing compared to them. It’s not a meaningful comparison because I’m successful on my path. They’re successful on their path. It doesn’t matter how I’m doing compared to them. It matters how I’m doing compared to my goals and my standard of living and what I’m trying to do.
When Olive left university, she became a software engineer, implementing software in blood pathology laboratories, in the early days of computing. They would get into problems with the 200 programs that ran on their computer, which would cause a mistake on the patient’s records. Olive would reverse engineer the problem and correct it again and again.
Software engineering, or rather reengineering has taught her to look at a problem like dyslexia or ADHD and work backwards to figure out what’s causing it. Then she can figure out when the problem started and could it have been avoided altogether. In fact, she’s basically reverse engineered dyslexia.
Don’t look at behaviors, look at what’s causing the behavior. Olive is completely disinterested in fixing behaviors, however bad they are. She wants to know what happened that caused them to do that. You can help behaviors by doing something about the triggers. Behavior is not a diagnosis, it is a result of something else that’s happened. You can force the behavior down, and physically punish a child so they bend themselves into that shape and you get an obedient child, but at what cost. Or you can figure out what’s causing behavior and, and address it.
ADHD is my particular neurodiversity. One of the challenges of ADHD is poor memory. I know I can’t trust my memory, so I don’t. I have systems in place, I take notes, and I systematize things. A lot of neurotypical people trust their memory and it fails because human memory is quite fallible. So my effective memory ends up being better than the neurotypical’s because I know there’s something I need to compensate for, and they don’t. A neurotypical could take my techniques and then they’d be like a computer because they’d have good memory and the techniques on top of that. In much the same way, by learning the techniques that dyslexics use for literacy, a neurotypical person could become a spelling and reading machine.
There’s a funny thing about breathing and ADHD. If you are a mouth breather, you are likely to make ADHD worse. So if you breathe in and out through your nose, your brain is likely to calm down a bit, so that you can focus a bit better. It doesn’t cost anybody anything to try starting to be a nose breather and actually in COVID land, it’s really a good idea anyway, because it filters the air better.
Olive runs a number of free classes for an hour a week about mental imagery and about dyslexia and about ADHD.
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