Today’s edition of Education Week, education’s news site of record, contains a Commentary piece that I wrote on the importance of valuing the strengths of students with special needs. In the article I write about my experience as a special education teacher almost forty years ago, and the disillusionment I felt when I realized that special education was not going to be a place where I’d be developing students’ human potential and unleashing students’ creativity and playfulness, but rather a soulless enterprise where I was responsible for processes like ”auditory sequential memory” and ”sensory-motor skills” and the assessment of miniscule instructional objectives. I point out how things haven’t really changed much over the past forty years, and special education is still largely driven by a focus on students’ deficits, disorders, and dysfunctions.
I suggest in the article that it’s time for a paradigm change, and that the concept of neurodiversity provides just what is needed as far as focusing on strengths and differences instead of disabilities. I point out how there is an emerging literature on the strengths of students with special needs, including Simon Baron-Cohen’s work on the systemizing abilities of people with autism, Katya von Karolyi’s work on the three-dimensional visualizing abilities of students with dyslexia, and Elizabeth Dykens’ studies on the personality attributes of people with intellectual disabilities, among other research.
Finally, I point out how recent developments in education reveal a movement toward a more strength-based approaches to special education, such as Colorado-based Jefferson County school district’s inauguration of an office of ”diversity and inclusion,” the appointment of Ari Ne’eman, a neurodiversity advocate, as a member of the National Council on Disability, and the inclusion of neurodiversity in Andrew Solmon’s latest best-selling critically acclaimed book Far from the Tree.
The article is based upon my recent book Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life. To read this Commentary in Education Week, click here. It will also be coming out in print form for those who have subscriptions to the paper.