Here at Trinity School, we welcome students with learning differences. These students may have diagnoses such as ADHD, autism, or other learning disabilities. When a child is first diagnosed with a learning difference, their families often focus on how to compensate for their challenges. While it is important to provide these children with the necessary support for their success, it is also helpful to consider the child’s unique strengths in helping them find areas of competence. There are many examples of successful people with learning differences who were able to turn their strengths into personal achievements.
Neurodiversity is the concept that there are naturally occurring differences in how individuals’ brains function. These differences are normal and may be beneficial. We all learn in different ways. For some students, certain subjects are easier to grasp than others. The process of skill development in individuals can vary due to learning differences, as well as other factors, such as exposure, interest, and experience. For some children, the way their brain is wired causes them to perceive and respond to things in unique ways. Understanding and embracing these distinctive perspectives not only helps them feel supported, but may provide an opportunity to find innovative solutions to problems.
Within the autism spectrum, there are cognitive differences that may lead to strengths. People on the autism spectrum have been known to find strengths in their persistence, leading to the ability to stick to the problem solving process. Due to differences in how they perceive the world, they may be capable of finding a novel solution to a problem.
Temple Grandin is a person with autism who has a doctorate in animal science and has a career as a livestock consultant, as well as being a strong advocate for others on the autism spectrum. Her research in animal behavior inspired her to create a “hug machine,” which she used to help her deal with the stress of going to college. The development of this machine took several months of trial and error and was informed by her observations of cattle and how they were calmed by firm pressure. She was able to successfully build one in her dormitory room and ultimately used it to perfect her research strategies, helping her earn her degree. Given her uncommon ability to relate to the cattles’ experience, she was later able to develop strategies that have widely been implemented in the cattle industry to create a more humane experience for the animals.
“The most interesting people you’ll find are ones that don’t fit into your average cardboard box. They’ll make what they need, they’ll make their own boxes.”
― Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life with Autism
Sometimes children who struggle with learning differences have areas where they can easily excel with proper support. For example, they may have exceptional spatial reasoning ability or be able to process things more quickly. Even though their learning difficulties may make learning a new sport challenging in some ways, having a dedicated coach that works with multisensory learning strategies, such as visual aids and demonstrations, and other accommodations will allow these children to excel. Tim Tebow is a successful NFL player who has used picture flashcards to help himself learn drills while training.
“I’m so thankful I am dyslexic. Yes, you read that right. I’m grateful for this learning disability. Keep in mind, however, I didn’t always feel this way. When I was seven years old, I struggled to read. It was hard. My parents determined I was dyslexic, which simply means I process things differently. I’m a tactile learner and have better success grasping concepts and ideas hands-on versus reading about them.”
It’s important to help children see the benefits of their neurodiversity, so they can see it as an advantage, not a problem. Children who display neurodiverse traits are able to feel more confidence and self worth when they are recognized for their abilities rather than their weaknesses. We all think differently from one another, and the resilience to find new solutions when you don’t always succeed is one of the greatest drives toward innovation. Pulling out the positives is a great way to show children where their strengths lie. Children who are self confident are able to find their strengths and apply them into their lives, careers, and passions as they grow up.
“Negative words carry negative vibration. Positive words carry positive vibration. What do you want your child to reflect back to you, the label of disordered or the label of gifted in a new way?”
– Suzy Miller, Awesomism! A New Way to Understand the Diagnosis of Autism