Parents can determine whether their kids possess the personal attributes needed to become successful and then help them develop those attributes.
There aren’t any specific tests or scientific procedures for determining whether your child has particular success attributes. However, I do think there are some questions that parents can ask. And I would say that the more “yes” responses you get to a specific set of questions, the more likelihood that your child would have a particular attribute. So maybe we can go through some of the success attributes, think about them in terms of, “Well, what are some of the questions that could be asked to see if my child has these attributes,” and then talk about some of the things that you might be able to do to help develop them or foster them in a child.
So if we look at self-awareness, some of the questions that a parent might ask are:
- Is my child aware of his or her academic strengths, academic weaknesses, and non-academic strengths and weaknesses?
- Are they aware of their special talents, abilities, and interests?
- Do they really understand their learning disability?
- Do they accept their learning disability?
- Can they “compartmentalize” their learning disability, that is, can they think of the disability as just one part of who they are, not the defining part of their identity?
The more “yes” responses to those questions, the more likely it is that the child already has a sense of self-awareness. There is not a lot of research regarding the extent to which these attributes can be taught or learned by individuals, but there is some research to suggest that we might be able to do something to promote them. And we do work [to promote success attributes] at various times, although maybe not enough in educational settings and counseling settings.
In regard to self-awareness, you need to think in terms of both general self-awareness and awareness of the learning disability. So under general self-awareness, I think you want to help a child to understand what self-awareness is and the importance of developing awareness of their personal strengths and weaknesses in various areas. Awareness of their feelings, helping them to develop their own definition of success, and to develop those “niche picking” skills that we talked about before. Are they really aware of how their strengths and weaknesses may fit into certain environments? I can relate a little anecdote about an individual who had great difficulty in niche picking: He had terrible spatial relations skills and visual problems, but was determined that he was going to be an airline pilot. So, again, they also need self-awareness specifically in regard to their learning disabilities. So, do they have an understanding of their specific learning disability and how it affects their life? Are they aware of, and have they developed various strategies that they can utilize? Have they come to accept and compartmentalize their learning disability, as well?
Far too often, we’re focusing just on self-awareness in regard to school. So we’re talking here not just about success attributes as they relate to school success. We’re talking ultimately about life success, and that’s one of the things we keep wanting to stress. In order to gain the highest level of self-awareness, [we need to] think not just in terms of the school environment but focus on self-awareness in regard to their social and emotional makeup, and physically, socially, in terms of their communication, and even in terms of their philosophy of life and their personal values and ethics. These are all things that are key, we believe, to self-understanding.
The next attribute that parents may want to look at is proactivity. They may want to think about these questions:
- Does my child participate in classroom activities and extracurricular activities?
- Does he make decisions and act upon those decisions?
- Does he take responsibility for his decisions?
- Is he assertive?
- Is he self-confident?
And, again, parents should think about these questions not just in regards to school, but socially and, ultimately, although parents often don’t think about it — employment for their kids. Hopefully proactivity will positively affect employment situations, family situations, and even recreation and leisure. So one of the key areas that they may want to help guide their child in is understanding proactivity.
I repeatedly touch on this idea of understanding the attribute itself. What does it mean? And what’s the importance of it? What benefits can be reaped from pursuing or developing these various attributes? Parents want to help their child to make decisions and act upon those decisions, evaluate them, understand the pros and cons of making certain decisions. One of the things that we’ve seen in our work — and other people are talking more and more about it — is helping kids to become self-advocates. It’s really trying to help them develop a sense where they can speak up for themselves and help direct their own destiny, so to speak. We believe that’s really, really important.
In regard to perseverance, we take the same kind of approach:
- Does my child understand perseverance?
- Do they know what it means?
- Do they understand the benefits of persevering — and persevering in a number of different areas?
- Do they know how to deal with obstacles and setbacks?
- Do they know how to adjust to change?
- Do they know when to quit?
And we should help them think about all those things in terms of the educational, psychological, employment settings, social settings, even recreation and leisure settings. So parents might want to work with their children on: “What does perseverance mean? How can it benefit me? What are the strategies for dealing with the obstacles?” One thing that kept emerging in the study is recognizing the importance of passion, and desire, and interest in particular areas. That can be so important to these kids, particularly when they may be having such difficulty in academic settings, to find other areas that are important, whether it’s in the arts, in dance, in music, in drawing. And we find in many cases so many of these kids have great talents in other areas that are really not emphasized and are really key to their success. Many of us have been able to follow our passions, desires, and interests. This goes along with niche picking. And when we’re able to match those special abilities and talents to the proper setting, we tend to be more successful.
So parents should encourage their children in their passions and help them develop them — and move their thinking beyond school. Unfortunately, because there is such a strong emphasis on the school environment, we’re always hitting on the kids’ deficits. You know: What’s not working right? What’s going wrong? But it’s equally important — maybe in some cases even more important — to encourage those things that are really working well for them, and those things that they love.
So the boy or girl who’s a wonderful athlete should be encouraged to participate in after school sports or team sports, for example. I mean, I don’t want to make it so simplistic that you don’t have to consider all aspects of their lives, depending on what else they have to do, but we really do believe that’s important, because if it becomes just strictly academics, they’re really not going to be able to tap into their strengths and desires. Clearly, it doesn’t sound like a great way to live, to always be focusing just on your deficits. That’s why we talk about life success, right? There is life beyond school.
Goal setting is the same kind of idea. This is where parents want to look at whether or not their kids tend to set goals, whether it’s in an academic or non-academic setting:
- Do they know how to prioritize?
- Are their goals realistic?
- Do they know the various steps to reach certain goals?
- Do they understand the necessity to work with others to reach those goals?
Moving, again, beyond the educational realm, but knowing that they want to consider goal setting in regard to, let’s say, physical health, psychological health, financial goals, independent living goals, or goals in the social arena. Some of the things parents can do along those lines is to help children:
- Develop the various strategies for setting goals
- Define a goal
- Understand the importance of setting goals
- Prioritize goals
- Look ahead to possible obstacles or road blocks before they happen.
In so many cases, the individuals who were not successful would just get blindsided, kind of running into a brick wall without having any kind of premonition or forethought about that.
Likewise, in regard to the presence and use of effective support systems:
- Does my child know when he needs help?
- Does he know how to get help?
- Does he have various compensatory strategies — in some cases, technological supports?
We’ve done a lot of research at the Frostig Center regarding the various types of assistive technology. We had initially developed a parent guide dealing with assistive technology and we are hoping to have a parent guide on the success attributes coming out towards the first part of next year. The guide will be accessible and easy for parents to use. Getting through some of those academic research articles is a little much, even for me at times.
So, to review, parents want to ensure that kids understand the benefits of using support systems, recognize the various signs when they’re in need of help, learn how to accept help, and develop trust in others. Also, I think there needs to be — and we found this in many of the individuals who were successful — an awareness of the various laws that protect them within our country — and there are many laws that really can help them reach their goals — and they need to gain an awareness of those federal laws, in some cases state laws, that can be of use to them.
For example, special education laws and, as they move into the employment arena, there are a number of federal laws that will help protect them within employment settings. As they move into post-secondary settings, there’s federal legislation that can be very helpful to them in optimizing their post-secondary experience.
The final area is emotional coping strategies, and parents can ask themselves:
- Is my child aware of the situations that produce stress?
- Do they have various strategies for alleviating that stress?
- Do they know where to get help?
- Do they know when to get help?
And moving beyond the school environment, kids have got to think about stress in a number of situations. The question is: Can parents and educators help children develop these coping strategies? We think that they certainly can. We know that therapists and psychologists and child counselors have been doing this for years. So we’re pretty optimistic that you can help children to recognize the stress triggers and develop various coping strategies in that area.
- Raskind, M.H., Goldberg, R.J., et al. “Patterns of Change and Predictors of Success in Individuals With Learning Disabilities: Results From a Twenty-Year Longitudinal Study.” Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, Vol. 14, Issue 1.