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Building on The Strengths                                              

   Often the focus and emphasis is on the weaknesses of a child with special needs. This is a  common occurrence for the child with poor social skills, communication skills, learning disabilities,  and/or any other disability. This is especially true of a child with unacceptable behavior related to a disability. 

Children with disabilities already feel they are different. It is up to us to teach all children that different is not bad, and that each of us has special strengths. We can help that process along by showcasing each child's special strengths and interests.

     Years of remedial effort are often spent trying to fix the deficit or weakness, rather than capitalizing on the strengths. In other words, if a child can't read, hours are spent teaching that child with methods that didn't work in the first place. More time, or holding a child back to teach hime once more in a way he does not understand is not likely to result in improvement. Understanding learning styles is crucial to success.

     A child acting out is frequently a sign of frustration over failure or perceived failure.  If a child cannot learn the way he or she is taught, that child might as well be in a foreign language class. Boredom, frustration, a sense of failure, can all lead to unacceptable behaviors.  

When inappropriate behaviors are addressed, the team should first consider whether a child is progressing academically, and if not, why not.  

Behavioral Support

 Unacceptable behaviors can get in the way of teaching to a child's strengths.  Punishment may reduce or eliminate a behavior temporarily, but does not provide stepping stones to more appropriate and acceptable behavior. Those behaviors should be addressed in a positive way. There are sometimes triggers for behaviors that when identified and eliminated result in dramatic reduction of unacceptable behaviors. Interestingly, focusing and building on a child's strengths can lead to a reduction in poor behavior as well.

If there are behavior issues, parents can consider requesting a functional behavior assessment to help identify the triggers for inappropriate behaviors and to address the behaviors.

Islands of Competence

     Child psychologist and recognized authority on ADHD, Dr. Robert Brooks, developed the term "islands of competence" in reference to these areas of strength. I interpret his concept in the following way:

Everyone has strengths, but sometimes they're not obvious. We must find those areas of strength and build on them. Every person must feel they are making a contribution to their environment. If we accept both these concepts, the obvious thing to do is to build upon them. Every child must feel important and every child must taste success.

 Explore such areas as sports, the arts, and hobbies, to identify  a child's strengths.  

     If your child does not have an obvious area of interest, explore every possibility, be it in the arts, sports, collecting bugs, photography, solving puzzles, mechanical inclinations, anything of interest that is creative and stimulating for him or her.  An IEP team and instructional staff can always incorporate ways to see that a child has an opportunity make a presentation, have a display, or showcase an interest and ability in some fashion.  Such opportunities can build confidence, self esteem, and a sense of community for a child to connect to peers.

A daily job at  school

      Once academic needs are determined and appropriate services are in place, it's extremely important to begin building self-confidence and self-reliance. It is essential to have a concerted effort both at home and at school, with clear communication between the school officials and the parents. Dr. Brooks insisted that each of his young patients  have a special job at school in an area related to the child's interests and needs. It can be something like feeding pets or assisting with a classroom chore, just something that is a regular job. The job does not need to be time consuming. Ten minutes a day can work. Accommodating this need can take creativity and ingenuity, but it's essential. Dr. Brooks believes everyone needs to feel they are making a contribution to their environment.

    When schools  cooperate in this approach, they find that children feel important when they are singled out for a special responsibility even if it is only for 10 minutes a day. Inappropriate behaviors often diminish or disappear when a child feels recognized and valued for his contribution. The child walks taller, gains self-confidence, and has a more positive outlook. 

      Sadly, the child with a disability that impacts behavior and social skills is often the last child picked to help out with different tasks. In reality, it's one of the single most effective tools to help your child gain self-confidence, and should be included as a need, not a reward. Just a 10 minute job at school can make a world of difference.

Test the knowledge, not the disability

The IEP team can arrive at some creative solutions to help support a child's weaknesses with modifications/accommodations.  More time and energy is then spent on learning, rather than compensating for a deficit.  For instance, a child who is easily distracted and/or has difficulty getting thoughts down on paper, often improves dramatically if allowed to write assignments on the computer. There are many steps in the brain, arm, and hand that must work in harmony in order to write successfully. Any misfires in that complicated process can cause short circuits that interfere with writing performance. The computer has been phenomenal in helping a child become a successful writer.

An IEP can include designated accommodations and/or work modifications if they mean progress for a child.

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Information at this site is not to be considered legal advice.