In the first week at Connecticut Wesleyan our class gathered to take tests to determine our academic skills and identify students at risk. Not long after I was summoned by a university psychologist who showed me my profile compared to my peers: bottom 10% across the board. Flatline! No advice was given, but the picture said a thousand words: “You better work hard, buddy!” The feedback must have settled somewhere in my subconscious, but I promptly forgot about it. Four years later I graduated in the top 10% of my class.
Ironically, but not coincidentally, I became a child psychologist, and for the past 30 years, have been using tests to evaluate children. I learned, long ago, that tests show vulnerability but do not determine destiny. Fueled by my own experience, I’ve carefully observed which children overcome learning obstacles and how they did it. Thousands of evaluations later, this is what I believe: By nature we are born with innate intellectual abilities or disabilities. How our intelligence is nurtured by parents and teachers, in large part, determines its fruition. But students who overcome learning disabilities have an additional, powerful, ingredient: They take ownership of their educational success and nurture their own intelligence. They don’t get bogged down feeling like a victim or,” Why me?” They accept that others may learn with less effort, but that doesn’t matter. These students steadfastly learn how to adapt their efforts in concert with how their brains work.
In my case it wasn’t simply a matter of working hard, but working smart. I learned strategies to control my distractibility, read critically, write clearly, think conceptually, and plan carefully. I caught on to the importance of reviewing, rewriting, and rereading, and then repeating those activities to a standard of excellence. I learned how to mine my mind, that is, tap into its resources and mind my mind by paying attention to my attention. When I did, it was like discovering a map to buried treasure, in this case, my learning potential.
In the three decades I’ve been testing kids and watching them grow up, I’ve seen scores of students make the uphill climb over Mt. Dyslexia or other learning obstacles. Dedicated parents and teachers remain the bedrock of that journey. New supports also help, such as computer hardware and software, medication, public laws for individuals with disabilities, and classroom accommodations. But, at the end of the day, ownership as reflected through resiliency, resourcefulness, and a strong work ethic carry the day. Resiliency keeps students going, because the climb is tough, fraught with setbacks, and it is easy to give up. Resourcefulness leads to discovering how one’s brain works and using available resources to help make the climb. A strong work ethic reflects the day-to-day commitment to see the task through.
So, parents and teachers, add these three to the bedrock of your support. They are essential ingredients of what keeps a learning disability from being disabling and are inner resources for life’s other challenges.
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