Devon MacEachron, Ph.D
Devon MacEachron specializes in neuropsychological assessment of twice-exceptional learners and is the Founder and Director of Exceptional Learners Associates in Manhattan and the Connecticut Center for Exceptional Learners in Madison, CT.
This is such an important question! The focus of practically every assessment and IEP is on a child’s weaknesses and how to treat his or her disabilities. This approach, known as the “medical model,” is based on the belief that disabilities are intrinsic to the individual, cause clear disadvantages, and managing them involves identifying the problems and “curing” them through treatments and interventions.
While it is obviously important to address a child’s learning challenges, doing so exclusively neglects strengths and interests, which are key factors for happiness and success in life. It’s crucial for the self-esteem of a child with LD to develop areas of competence, feel successful, and be recognized for his or her achievements.
Your child’s natural abilities and interests may be obvious (e.g., large vocabulary, athletic aptitude, people-skills), or may require some sleuth work to uncover.
Follow the Clues
Think like an anthropologist doing a field study. Begin by putting aside prior perceptions and judgments (“Johnny is our athlete; Mary is our student.”). You’ll gather better clues if your mind is relatively free of bias. Watching your child carefully in different environments will lead you to his strengths and interests.
Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly. Instead, focus on gathering clues. Pay particular attention to what your child chooses to do with his free time. Once you’ve pulled together information from various settings over several weeks, you can start to make sense of what you’ve seen. If you’ve noted that your son makes up a lot of stories, you might ask yourself if he’s especially imaginative and likes an audience. If you see that your daughter begs to bring home animals in need of care, ask yourself if she feels empathy and might have a passion for helping others.
Even behaviors that seem negative can provide clues. If your daughter takes forever to finish homework, is this an indication that she can focus her attention for long periods of time or is she extremely detail-oriented? If your son refuses direction, could he be an independent thinker with a strong will? If your daughter is bossy with her friends, perhaps she would thrive given leadership opportunities. Many seemingly negative attributes have positive flip-sides.
Once you’ve identified authentic interests and strengths, next comes the fun part: helping your child develop his or her talents. If she loves music, take her to different kinds of concerts and make music lessons available. The storyteller would benefit from being read to, listened to, asked “what if?” questions, and by offering to help make books by writing down his stories. There are even storyteller “conventions” where people skilled at oral storytelling gather.
Parents can make a huge contribution to their child’s development by being attuned to their unique profile of strengths and interests and taking steps to ensure that these important attributes are uncovered and developed to their fullest.
Related Smart Kids Topics