Has it ever occurred to you that maybe your child’s disorder is in many ways a gift – even a superpower?
It fascinates me that we have decided that if our children struggle in certain areas then they are defined by those struggles, instead of their strengths.
It baffles me even more that we devote so much energy into managing a problem and yet so little focus is placed on banking on our children’s strengths.
From Anxiety to Calmly Creative
I am highly creative. It’s honestly insane. Sometimes I can’t sleep because I am ‘writing’ stories in my head. I did the same as a child and was always daydreaming – classic ADD girl. For most of my life, I struggled incredibly with an anxiety disorder. My gift was creativity.
…but throw in nutritional deficiencies caused by a vegetarian diet that wasn’t right for my body type, chronic and systemic candida and parasites and food sensitivities and my creativity and high energy was no longer acting as a superpower.
All that mental energy became crippling anxiety. By university, it was a full-on panic disorder.
Once I addressed nutritional and bio-chemical imbalances, my anxiety disorder disappeared, and I suddenly felt calmer but more productively creative than ever.
Should We Call Them Disposition Instead of Disorders?
Since my daughter’s recovery from PANDAS & SPD I have often imagined that instead of labelling our children with disorders, we should instead call them dispositions.
For example, instead of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), we could call it Highly Energetic Creative Disposition (HECD). Imagine how parents, teachers and kids would perceive this child differently!
Instead of Sensory Processing Disorder we could call it Sensitive Empathy Disposition (SED).
Instead of a learning disability or learning disorder we could call it a learning difference?
An Imbalance Rather than a Defect
I am in no way downplaying the very real day-to-day challenges that children and parents face. However, I have serious concerns about labelling children with a disorder as if their difference is firstly a defect rather than an imbalance.
Both my daughter and I are highly creative and sensitive. When we are imbalanced with lack of sleep, poor nutrition and so many other factors then we become imbalanced. This is when our gifts become shadowed with the traits that fall under a disorder.
Find the Superpower
By identifying our children’s differences in a more positive light – as a disposition rather than disorders, this does not mean that we ignore the very real difficulties they face. Correcting the imbalance is key.
As a clinician, I know that there is so much that can be done to heal the body, gut and brain and build new connections and neurons through both nutritional therapies as well as re-organizing the brain with cognitive therapies.
I also know that every single gift comes with its challenges – some of them can be crippling when they are not addressed. However, labelling a difference as a disorder without seeing the superpower in it seems criminal to me – and can often be traumatizing for many kids who too often subconsciously live up to their label and create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Does Your Child Know What their Gifts Are?
You probably know what the symptoms of your child’s illness is so well that you can pick it out in a crowd. But do you know what the gifts are of their diagnosis is? Do they know?
I know that I sure didn’t with my daughter. All I could see was Sensory Processing Disorder AKA: a nightmare of the senses.
Then one day a therapist acknowledged my daughter’s feelings of frustration and overwhelm and then asked her, “Do you know what your superpowers are?”
Who would have thought? My daughter and I both looked at each other. I wanted to say, “Superpowers? Have you been at our house in the morning and seen her try to put on socks?”
A New Perspective
But then, we contemplated all the ways that my daughter’s hyper-sensitivity was also a gift. And we realised it was true. Many of the aspects that I loved most about my daughter were a result of her extreme sensitivity.
She was highly creative, empathetic, curious and detail orientated in everything from the stories she wrote to the games she played.
Your Child’s Superpowers
Many parents of children with learning or behaviour struggles report similar ‘superpowers’. Becoming of aware of your child’s strengths or ‘superpowers’ can actually be useful in developing IEP’s, managing behaviour at home and learning what motivates your child.
For example, if your child is highly creative, providing more opportunity for your child to apply their creativity in the classroom can make a world of difference in their learning tasks. Your child might not even be aware of all the amazing ways that they are unique.
Shine a Light on Those Superpowers
Take the time to point it out when their superpower ‘shines’.
Several years ago, I taught a boy who had severe dyslexia and it impacted his self-esteem deeply. I noticed within weeks what an incredible auditory memory he had as well as how insightful he was. He was always more than willing to help out with tasks or chores in the classroom so I really made a point to embed these opportunities for him to shine and exercise these strengths.
This increased both his self-esteem and his overall motivation in class! This awareness can help you and your child to view this unique diagnosis from wider perspective.
How to Turn Struggles Into Superpowers
1.Creative & Imaginative
The Superpower: Many ‘struggling’ kids are highly imaginative and inventive both in the sciences and the arts. They may be highly artistic or are innovators as they are able to imagine alternative solutions and think outside the box.
The Solution to the Struggle: They are much more prone to resist rote learning and respond better to hands-on, problem solving assignments where they can be inventive. Allowing for opportunities both in the classroom and at home for your child to exercise this muscle can help to keep them focused and interested.
The Superpower: Being able to zero on in tasks for long periods of time is a talent some people can never hope to achieve. This can seem like a problem when you want your child to do something else, but it’s also a part of passion and drive. When these guys find something, they love to do–there is no holding them back and you don’t have to tell them to do a good job–they want to! Hyperfocus is a trait of many a passionate genius.
The Solution to the Struggle: Creating opportunities for them to learn content in a way that taps into their interest is the best approach to ‘hook them’. When trying to get their attention or to get them to pull away from their activity, letting them know how much time they have left ie. You have 15 more minutes to play – Timmy you have 5 minutes left to play until you have to start your chores.
The Superpower: High energy levels is why so many people with ADHD are successful entrepreneurs, can lead companies, are star athletes and are often well-liked by others–because of their charisma.
The Solution to the Struggle: At bedtime, on long car-rides or in the classroom this can be a nightmare. Put this energy to use. Have your child exercise or use up their energy before school can produce incredible results for focus.
Your child might need a lot more opportunity to move around and that might even include standing desks, lots of body breaks and more hands-on learning. Expecting them to be sedentary is where the problem lies so give them lots of exercise.
4.Hyper-Awareness of their Environment
The Superpower: Kids who are hyper aware of their environment are often empathetic to others and are often highly socially intelligent. Their ability to read people can bring big success later on. They excel at projects that require them to pay attention to details.
The problem is noisy, over-stimulated classrooms. Trying to filter out distractions can be next to impossible.
The Solution to the Struggle: Noise-cancelling headphones, being seated away from distractions and exercises and routines that calms their hyper-alert nervous system can be extremely helpful.
5.Thinks in Pictures Rather than Words
The Superpower: Certain individuals have been found to think in symbols and images rather than in words. They have the unique ability to experience the world in a multi-sensory and multi-dimensional manner. Their right-brained dominance allows them to see the whole picture rather than the details.
Children with dyslexia and other learning differences are often the ones who excel at hands-on-learning, they are the boys I used to teach who are highly mechanically minded and have an engineer’s brain. I know several engineers and millwrights who are dyslexic, and it is their multi-dimensional perception that allows them to excel in their profession.
If you’re still not convinced that dyslexia is a superpower–consider this. NASA actually seeks to hire dyslexics because of their unique processing and problem-solving abilities–in fact 50% of their team are dyslexic.
The Solution to the Struggle: If reversals, dyslexia and weak auditory processing is an issue that prevents your child from being able to read fluently–it doesn’t feel like a gift at all. These kids need a learning and reading intervention and cognitive therapies that is right for their brain and that helps them to efficiently use all areas of their brain.
The Superpower: Risk taking is not for the faint of heart–they are CEO’s, entrepreneurs, leaders, rescue and service workers. They also tend to enjoy a more diverse and adventurous life.
The Solution to the Struggle: So, you’re terrified that Johnny is going to be the next dare devil. Risk takers are less concerned what others think and are not as afraid to make mistakes which can actually make them less prone to peer pressure if they have a healthy sense of self-esteem.
Encourage your risk-taker to use that same superpower in the classroom by not being afraid to take on a challenge. By teaching your risk-takers how to predict danger and the importance of safety and making calculated risks–you can turn this struggle into a superpower.
Other superpowers your child might have are:
The latest research has actually found that your Curiosity Quotient is more important that IQ. In my 14 years as an educator I have never found kids with ADHD or autism spectrum to be lacking in that department.
I have found that these kids in fact love to learn–they just have difficulty learning with traditional teaching methods. People who are curious are natural critical thinkers. They question everything. They make excellent social activists, innovators and scientists.
Empathetic & Compassionate
Being highly sensitive to other people’s emotions and being hyperaware of body language, facial expressions and tone of voice can be a real gift.
While this can contribute to sensory overload, it is also what makes them have such a deep level of empathy and sensitivity to others and in turn have profound insights into other’s feelings and behaviour.
They make excellent friends, activists, social workers and more. They just need to be careful that they learn to set healthy boundaries, so they don’t wind up taking on other people’s problems or experiences as their own.
A great sense of humour is common among those who see the world differently and are not afraid to say so. I don’t know if there has ever been a comedian who does not have ADHD.
Humour not only makes them fun to be around and likely to have lots of friends, but to more resilient to life stressors. They just need to be taught time and place!
From Diagnosis to Superpower Dispositions
I without a doubt believe that all children neuro-typical or neurodiverse have both challenges and gifts. Maybe your child has a diagnoses or maybe they don’t. If they do have a diagnoses – I want to be clear. I understand how immensely helpful these can be both in terms of getting insight, answer, accessing support, resources and even funding.
… but presenting these challenges as just that – a challenge to their superpower can paint a much more positive picture to the difficulties and differences they are experiencing.
I challenge you to talk to your child about the superpowers to their gift and if they do have a diagnosis to consider renaming it to a positive disposition. The ‘downsides’ or challenges of that disposition are all stuff that can be worked on and overcome.
To quote Temple Grandin, “there needs to be a lot more emphasis on what a child can do, instead of what they can’t do.”
The goal of my programs The Full Potential Formula is not to focus on diagnoses but rather to address and improve the underlying glitches, dysfunctions and areas of underdevelopment so that kids can overcome their challenges.
To learn more about how you can help your child rise above learning and behaviour difficulties, schedule a free twenty-minute consult so I can help you identify the main reasons why your child is struggling with learning, reading and behaviour.