By Marshall Raskind, Ph.D.
Let me start with self-awareness. The successful individuals in our study were very aware of their strengths and their weaknesses, whether they were in academic areas like reading and math, or in non-academic areas like their emotional states, or in their physical functioning and coordination. Also included were various academic-related things like attention and organization. So, successful people were very aware of their strengths and limitations. They were very open and specific about these. They could discuss them very easily. But probably one of the key elements regarding self-awareness was the successful individual's ability to do what we call "compartmentalize" their disability. What that really means is that they are able to see their difficulties as only one aspect of themselves. They were not overly defined by their difficulties. I have a quote that is an example of this from a woman in our study, about 33 years old. She said, "You know, everybody comes with a package. And, yeah, there are things that I am good at and things that I am not so good at. Some of my limitations are reading and writing, but boy, when it comes to putting things together, reading plans, and chasing down problems, those are some talents, some skills that I was born with. I carved a different path and my whole life has been that way."
I think that's a pretty good example of being able to say, "Yes, I have this difficulty, but it's not going to limit me or really keep me down. I see it as only one part of myself." It's one thing to be aware of your problems; it's another thing to be able to accept them, and that's another thing that we found with our successful individuals - they were able to do both.
They really came to a level of acceptance of their problems, their strengths, and their weaknesses, and were able to integrate those ideas and feelings into themselves. Now, another interesting area has to do with the individuals' strengths and weaknesses and how they matched those strengths and weaknesses to the activities they pursued in their life. I think employment is a good example. We often call this "niche picking."
The idea here is that successful individuals with learning disabilities are able to recognize their strengths and limitations and find the jobs and employment situations that best fit their strengths and limitations. So, for example, you have an individual who has exceptional skills in woodworking. They might find a successful career in cabinetmaking, rather than knowing that they also have great difficulties with reading and writing and trying to be a copy editor.
It seems kind of obvious, but it was amazing how many times we saw individuals who were not doing that well who had great difficulty in making that match. Along the same lines, you might find someone with very poor reading and writing skills, but excellent oral language skills, who decides to pursue a career in sales, rather than a job that really requires them do a lot of reading and writing. And, again, the unsuccessful individuals had great difficulty in niche picking, or trying to make this match.
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