Unmasking Student Strengths

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Different" Doesn't Necessarily mean "Disordered"!

So many kids do things that seem odd or excessive at various points in their development. Though some clearly do need professional help, many of them are victims of a culture that’s far too quick to attach a label such as ADHD, social anxiety, or bipolar disorder to every child who’s hard to manage, hard to understand, or just doesn’t seem to fit in. In recent years, more and more children have been receiving psychiatric labels – and at younger and younger ages, for fewer and milder symptoms. In fact,hard as it may be to believe, nearly one-fifth of all American children currently meet the criteria for at least one mental disorder! We need to ask: Is there really something wrong with all these kids, or is there something wrong with the way they’re viewed, categorized, and treated? If so many kids are “disordered,” what’s happened to our concept of “normal”?

Maybe it's time to reclaim "normal" as a spectrum condition! Instead of pathologizing every quirk and struggle -- viewing every confusing, extreme, erratic, upsetting, or unusual behavior as the "symptom" of some big underlying emotional disease -- we need to pull the labels apart, zoom in to the specific traits, so we can really understand and help. We need to look at who a child IS, not what he or she HAS!

This mania for finding psychiatric labels for everything that makes us uncomfortable or afraid is disrespectful and fundamentally unhelpful. What makes it especially surprising is that, as a culture, we're becoming increasingly tolerant of diversity in adults -- sexual orientation, racial and ethnic blends, etc. -- but less and less tolerant of diversity in our kids! Every kid who's out of the box, complex, or intense gets one (or more) disease-based labels.

It's so much more empowering, however, to look at a child's specific traits and temperament (none of which are inherently dysfunctional - after all, the same trait can be a problem in one setting and an asset in another)and figure out the features that lie behind the behavior, to work with a child instead of simply trying to "fix" him. Make sense? So how to get the word out that there's a better way? If this message resonates with you, please check out my website:, and email me at to let me know what you think!

Technology in the Schools

Let's start a new topic that I'd like you to 'weigh in' on. Please let me know what county or state you're writing from as I'd like to know where we stand in Howard County in terms of use of technology or really 'technology integration' in our system. While there is a lot of technology, i.e., computers available and many schools have a 'tech ed' class that they offer to students, I'm concerned that professional development for all teachers is not as comprehensive and on-going as it could be in this area.
Technology can be a real 'break through' for a child with a learning disability. Programs such as SOLO, co-writer (from Don Johnston) or inspiration can truly help a child with a writing or executive function impairment overcome their blocks and get their ideas on paper in very independent ways. While there are other uses of technology such as those presented by Dr. Talaiver (game design) and Dr. Staudt (science and math instruction), we're not seeing even the simplest ideas such as on-line homework so the child doesn't lose the paper, come to fruition.
Our world is a technological place, and our kids have such strengths in these areas. What can we be doing to help our teachers use the technologies in their instruction? I'd love to hear about examples from teachers who are truly integrating helpful technologies into their curricula, rather than have technology learning be a separate course that doesn't link kids in to its use.
What are the barriers?


Monday, December 8, 2008

Continuing the momentum

Its been a few weeks since we saw each other at the What Works and Why Conference. We've had a chance to review your comments and sit back and evaluate our time together.
So many of you were thrilled to be a part of a meeting of 'like-minds' but you wanted more of an opportunity to interact and discuss and interpret what you heard.
I hope this space can be your opportunity.

We're new at this but hope this community can grow and learn using this space for good discussions and positive learning and continue to do our best to make learning environments a better place for all children who learn differently.

Many thanks to all of you who made this conference a success; speakers, parents, volunteers, exhibitors and participants. Let's hope the energy and learning can continue on these spaces.

Please read our December Newsletter (see weblink to .pdf below) for a summary of our main presentations. Thanks to Julie Morrison (IDL's newsletter editor), Sarah Wayland, Donna Weaver, Joan Wittan and Cindy Heslin for writing and editing the articles about the conference. Please feel free to add comments or summarize your favorite presentation in this blog!