Inspiring children to discover their strengths is very likely to be one the teachers´ main challenges in the times of inclusive teaching methodologies. Obvious as it may seem, we are not talking about a smooth sailing, since it entails shifting our mindset as teachers towards what Dr. Sheldon Horowitz refers to as “pockets of strength”.
In broad terms, a learning disability is a disorder that affects the brain’s ability to receive, process, store, and respond to information. The term “learning disability” is used to describe the unexplained a person has in acquiring basic academic skills. These skills are essential for success at school and work, and for coping with life in general. A learning disability is not a single disorder. It is a term that refers to a group of disorders.
Dr Sheldon Horowitz focuses on the following strengths as part of the package of characteristics for students experiencing different disabilities. Remembering that all students are unique in their way to learn, these pockets of strength may result of great interest for teachers to design adapted materials and appropriate supportive strategies.
Learning disorder: deeper observers usually good at processing information visually, which brings up the possibility to rely on visual support, and normally commit to work with determination if appropriately supported.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be original thinkers and good risk-takers, which is always an appreciated factor for cooperative work. Thus, these children can be given specific roles that imply acting out, performing physical tasks, and so on.
Characteristics of ADHD students: they have a short attention span and get distracted easily and they are impulsive. Similarly, they present:
- High extent of physical activity;
- Impulsiveness and low self-control behavior;
- Difficulty to adapt to another activity in the classroom;
- Aggressive behavior, over-exaggerated responses to the smallest impulses;
- Lower social competence;
- Lower self-esteem and high level of frustration.
Some general classroom measures may be:
- Creating a positive learning environment: we shall seat this student near the teacher’s desk as regular class seating, so that s/he has the least amount of distractions; encourage peer tutoring and cooperative/collaborative learning; praise immediately any and all good behavior and performance and use friendly and caring language. Besides, we should also be aware that the setting of regular routines and clear, consistent rules will help them understand the classroom setting; and that students with ADHD are usually most comfortable in classrooms where procedures, expectations, and limits are explicit and clear
- Classroom management: it is important to maintain eye contact during verbal instruction and simplify complex explanations. Similarly, this student may require extra time to accomplish certain tasks; individual attention to prevent him from lack of understanding and thus frustration.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a wide term that includes children with features compatible with Asperger syndrome. The pockets of strengths of these students include: great memory and observation of details, good persistent independent workers with high logical thinking abilities. Moreover, ASD involves problems in the following areas:
- Communication – both verbal (spoken) and non-verbal (unspoken, such as pointing, eye contact, and smiling)
- Social – such as sharing emotions, understanding how others think and feel, and holding a conversation
- Routines or repetitive behaviors (also called stereotyped behaviors) – such as repeating words or actions, obsessively following routines or schedules, and playing in repetitive ways
Some considerations as for classroom measures
- We should be aware that the setting of regular routines and clear, consistent rules will help him understand the classroom setting. Moreover, it is necessary to warn him when there is a change in the position of the materials or in the order of the completion of the different tasks. Any explanation is best done with visual aid.
- It is important to maintain eye contact during verbal exchanges and not to get too close to his personal space, hence it is difficult for him to accept new situations due to his rigidity and lack of capacity for foreseeing future actions.
- Besides all these strategies, we can also provide extra support through different means to ensure our Asperger learner´s integration. As an example, we may develop activities that create certain empathy, such as changing the role games; allow him to talk about his interests within a time limit whilst enhancing the participation of the rest of the class; use his interests to introduce new contents or topics; the language used is always clear avoiding double meaning in jokes; promote and show his abilities so that in spite of his difficulties he can feel integrated in the classroom.
Treating children with learning difficulties as the people they can become rather than a partial vision of their lacks is of utmost importance to promote self-esteem and a sense of achievement. These elements are at the heart of motivated children; in the end, all children need to feel cared about and supported regardless of their differences.
Video by:The National Center for Learning Disabilities
Speaker: Dr. Sheldon Horowitz