I was a special education teacher for several years, and during my time teaching, I became aware that not enough emphasis was being placed on the strengths of children who had been sent to my special classes. This made me resolve to do some research, and I had the opportunity to do this when I did my doctoral work at the California Institute of Integral Studies. I focused on the strengths of children labeled learning disabled, because that was the label I most often saw in my special ed classes.
I used Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences as a framework, and in my study of around 40 “LD” children, discovered strengths in all the intelligences, but particularly in spatial intelligence. These kids were lego experts, doodlers, drawers, three-dimensional thinkers, machine-smart individuals, and more. They happened to be best in the things that the school valued the least (art education is often the first department to be cut during budget crises), and worst in the things that the schools valued the most (words and numbers). So it seemed to me that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In the course of writing my new book, The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain (published in hardcover as Neurodiversity), I’ve discovered strengths in individuals with other diagnoses as well. People on the autistic spectrum are often very detail-oriented. Dyslexics make great entrepreneurs. People with Williams Syndrome (a form of cognitive disability) are quite often very musical. These gifts, however, often don’t get the recognition they deserve because the negatives are what these individuals are defined by, at least in the world of education and psychology. An essential component of neurodiversity is to see both the strengths and the difficulties of people with these diagnoses. There are reasons why we have these kinds of neurodiversities among us, reasons why these genes are still in the gene pool. Individuals with disability labels have gifts to give the world. If they are not recognized, then our culture will be the poorer for it. I’d like to take a look at some of the other posts on my blog, noting the kinds of strengths that have been observed both in the scientific literature, and also in popular culture, among those individuals with neurological differences. It would be great to hear some of your reactions to this material.
For more information on neurodiversity and brain differences in people diagnosed with cognitive disabilities, see my book The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain (published in hardcover as Neurodiversity).
This article was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
Follow me on Twitter: @Dr_Armstrong