Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Building on strengths

When I was working at Microsoft, one of the many personality tests we took was the StrengthsFinder assessment. (True confession: I loved taking all those self-assessments. Fabulous naval-gazing! If you're curious, I'm an INFJ (green) using the Myers-Briggs.) The StrengthsFinder assessment helps identify your strengths--"connectedness," "empathy," and "intellection," for example--with the assumption that you can be much more successful (in your business) when you build on strengths rather than trying to fix weaknesses. 

I've been thinking about this perspective as it could relate to parenting, especially special-needs parenting. The undercurrent in a lot of therapies for autism is that we're working on a deficit: the child needs to talk, needs help playing with toys, needs support for interacting with others, needs to work on eye contact. This is an oversimplification, of course, but it does seem therapies target flaws. How successful can this approach be in the long run? And what is the message about themselves that our kids come away with, even if we see results from the interventions? Ugh. Insert a big pang of mama worry and guilt right here.

Don't get me wrong: I want to continue to send my child to speech therapy, for example, in the hope that some day he might have some speech. But what we used instead a strengths-based approach, one that built on Soren's proficiencies?  For example, some of Soren's strengths include a keen visual sense (my coffee-obsessed boy can spot my coffee cup hidden on a shelf in a messy kitchen in seconds--ahem), great gross motor skills, and a love of books. Perhaps some of our therapies for him should build on these strengths. I've been thinking about physical activities in particular. What if we tried to go swimming every day, instead of every week, and added gymnastics. How might Soren's self-esteem and emotional connection with us be buoyed even more? And how much more fun would that be than, say, chair-based work?

This idea is explored in Raising Resilient Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The authors label strengths "islands of competence," which I love. They point out that "Given their social and emotional struggles, it is not surprising to find that children with ASD are often the recipients of more correction and less positive feedback than children who meet their developmental milestones. As parents we must strive through our words and actions to correct this negative/positive imbalance, searching to identify and reinforce or children's interests and islands of competence so that they are increasingly like to develop a social resilient mindset."

This is all just food for thought right now, but I'm really brainstorming what it would look like to place more emphasis on working with Soren's gifts than addressing his apparent weaknesses. 


  1. This makes a lot of sense. If Soren's strengths are also what make him happy, giving him more time to explore them sounds really therapeutic AND kind.

  2. I am always concerned that all the therapy is so hard and un-fun for Soren. I like the idea of doing things he is gifted in!



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