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SPECIALNEEDS Your Child is SUPER STRONG he just doesn’t know it yet BY By laura richards the time we reach adulthood, most of us have identified our strengths and weaknesses through a process of trial and error. As a teenager, I found that working a register and computing change in my head at a busy bakery was not my strong suit. After a few days of annoyed customers, and my own rising anxiety, I quit. As a kid, I was kept inside from recess many days for not understanding multiplication despite a tremendous effort on my part. Clearly math was not my strength, and I was placed in a cluster of low-achieving students because I needed a low-level math class. It was awful. For parents of children who learn differently or struggle as I did, the focus can quickly shift to what’s wrong instead of what’s right. Your child can start to look (and feel) like a walking advertisement for failure. Thankfully times have changed and there is more attention given to the concept that children learn in different ways. My sons attend a public elementary school that is a Multiple Intelligences School which incorporates eight areas of strength and “smarts” such as visual/ spatial (picture smart) or linguistic (word smart). This allows children with different learning styles the ability to access the same curriculum but in a way that works for them. In this same vein, a whole new approach has come on the scene that therapists and schools are starting to implement called Strength Based Assessment (SBA). Instead of focusing on what’s wrong, they focus on what’s right and build from there. Jenifer Fox, author of Your Child’s Strengths says, “A label is a description of ‘what is.’ A child is the definition of ‘what can be.’” The strength-based approach is currently being offered at the Barrett Family Wellness Center in Northborough, Massachusetts. They assess children using positive psychology in order to help them with their self-awareness, educational planning and study strategies. These assessments may help foster a child’s confidence, tap unrealized potential, expand a child’s opportunities and encourage selfexploration. According to the American Institutes for Research, SBA is based on the following four core beliefs: 1. All children have strengths. 2. A child’s motivation may be enhanced when the adults around him/her point out these strengths. 3. Failure of a child to acquire a skill does not mean a deficit; instead it indicates that a child has not been afforded the experiences and instruction to master the skill. 4. The goals, objectives and services included in Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and family service plans need to be based on the strengths of the child and family. Linda Haeussler, Barrett Family Wellness Center’s strength-based counselor, says, “My role is really that of a learning coach or facilitator. We all have strengths, but sometimes they are camouflaged under the weight of various disabilities and self-perceived deficits. It is amazing what positive possibilities can be revealed from a strength-based perspective.” Strength Based Assessments can be completed with children as young as 8 up through adulthood. Every assessment is different, but typical tools include parent meetings, interviews, surveys, questionnaires, observations and rating scales. Through the experienced guidance of the counselor, the student is empowered to define his or her own goals and develop a plan for success. “The student is an integral part of the educational planning process, not a recipient of it,” explains Haeussler. “As adults, we sometimes neglect to involve children in the problem-solving process and therefore miss potential opportunities to spark motivation and engage students. Students are more likely to use the solutions if they are involved in the process of discovering them.” The assessment packet also provides parents with helpful activities to help improve a child’s area of needs. “Strengths-Based Advising” by Schreiner and Anderson (Fall 2005) stated that a cycle of low expectations begins among students, faculty and staff whenever the focus becomes a student’s weakness. They go on to say that deficit-based remediation largely fails to address the most fundamental student challenge: student engagement in their own learning processes. Tippawan Burns of Shrewsbury heard about SBA from a friend and thought it was an interesting concept. She had her 12-year-old daughter assessed this past June. Tippawan shares, “My learning style is a traditional one (memorizing) so I assumed that my daughter would learn the same way. I’ve seen her draw small pictures on the corner of her homework assignments plenty of times and thought she was just doodling and not focusing. It turns out that she learns better by visual aids and pictures which help her to remember what she studied in class. This is surprisingly different from my learning style.” Not only were the results of the SBA helpful to Tippawan and her husband, who could support their daughter in a more productive way, but her daughter found it interesting and helpful as well. Tippawan says her daughter learned something new about herself and enjoyed the interactive assessment method. She now has a better understanding that there are many ways people learn and that all people have positive qualities. Like Tippawan, Farida Alam-Huda, who also resides in Shrewsbury, had her 10-yearold daughter assessed. She says, “I found the approach to be uniquely different and interesting. The idea of determining my child’s strengths and working from that as a way to move forward felt refreshing and purposeful. It seemed like a positive way to potentially create opportunities for success and progress and help me to better understand my daughter.” What Farida found most surprising was how tuned in her daughter was to herself and her capabilities and how she used them to compensate in areas where she struggled. Going forward, Farida says, “Among the Intelligences that my child reported as one of her ‘smart parts’ was nature.” Linda explains how this intelligence involves understanding and being curious about the environment and your surroundings. “We’ll definitely be going on more nature walks and hikes, maybe even start an ant farm or do more gardening.” Farida also found it interesting that although her daughter stated that she enjoyed playing with friends, she also reported friendships or people among her most challenging “smarts.” The SBA gave her an opportunity to identify more specifically which aspects about people and friendships were hard for her. Her daughter shared the need for quiet in order to interact. Because of this, Farida plans to limit background noises, find quieter spaces and afford her daughter more one-on-one interaction with peers. Perhaps none of this would have been uncovered were it not for her assessment. Farida’s daughter had the same positive response to the assessment as Tippawan’s daughter did. “To my surprise, my daughter loved the SBA! She said she had fun doing the activities. I got the sense that she did not feel at all that she was being in any way ‘assessed’ but rather playfully engaged. It was a really positive experience that actually left her feeling good about herself. This was a wonderful outcome, and overall a positive experience.” Children with defined strengths have a greater chance of becoming adults who do what they love and pursue areas that they find fulfilling. Isn’t this the goal we all have for our kids? Laura Richards is a Framingham-based freelance writer and the mother of three boys, including a set of twins. UÊ ÃÌ>ÌiÊ*>˜˜ˆ˜} UÊ `iÀÊ>Ü UÊ/ÀÕÃÌà UÊ*œÜiÀʜvÊÌ̜À˜iÞ UÊ-«iVˆ>Ê ii`ÃÊ/ÀÕÃÌà Email: LOOK FOR MY NEW TV SHOW, “Law For Your Life” on Westborough Cable TV. Also available online at BAYSTATEPARENT 47

November 2011 baystateparent Magazine

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