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Strength Building Versus Deficit Fixing

Otherwise known as remembering to focus on your child's strengths

Father helping disabled son putting frui

When you identify a skill your child is struggling to master, the immediate response is to focus all our efforts on helping "fix" that deficit. In early intervention goal plans and school individual educational plans (IEP), the deficits are the basis for each goal. And of course, this is important for your child's continued development.

But oftentimes, all the time and energy is used up focusing on these deficits. There is no time or energy left to focus on identifying and cultivating your child's strengths or natural talents. When looking for a child's strengths, remember that strengths can come in the form of a skill, passion, or motivating dream. All of these types of strengths can be used to provide your child with a more balanced and happier life. These strengths can also be leveraged to discover innovative ways to address the child's deficits.

Consider a child who currently has significant fine motor skills deficits. At a glance, it would seem an unwise use of time to focus dedicated and intentional interventions cultivating cooking skills for that child. But if that child was motivated by food, social interaction, or the dream of being a cook, spending intentional time working on that skill would not only provide him/her with the joyful dignity of growing strengths (just as all typically developing children do), but also open up new skills and learning opportunities. Instead of typical fine motor interventions, the same skills could be addressed using motivating cooking movements that would likely have a greater impact on the child's rate of mastery, as well as reinforce the strengths the child naturally possesses.

I'm not wearing rose colored glasses or denying there can be a lot of work and that deficits must be addressed at a young age. However, framing goals around a child's interests not only makes the work more rewarding, but teaches the child to work hard to realize dreams. For example, for children who love water, build physical therapy goals around water. If they like music, find a community music class. All kids deserve to build interests and hobbies. The investment you make will build life long interests and provide greater independence.

It's also simply a matter of perspective. If we teach our children to focus solely on their weaknesses, we teach them that their strengths and talents are not a priority to discover or to hone. That isn't the way typically developing children are raised, and it shouldn't be the way a child with a disability is raised. Every child, regardless of their abilities, has strengths they have a right to discover and build.

For more information on strength-based learning, start here:

A Strength-Based Approach Helps Children from Psychology Today

Strengths-Based Approach to Equity in Early Childhood from the National Council of Teachers of English

What is Strengths-Based Education from Edward "Chip" Anderson, Azusa Pacific University

Strengths-Based Approach to Teaching Gives Special Education Students Hope from Noodle

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