Why We Believe It's Urgent to Focus on Strengths
Updated: Oct 29, 2022
"This is such an uplifting study to read! It matches well with the strengths I see from my son. Kindness, perseverance, love of learning (especially his topics of interest like Tesla cars!), humor, team work. In fact, my son repairs bicycles in our neighborhood - rides to the house with tools and parts and changes flats, repairs chains, brakes, adjusts gear. People consistently text us how nice a young man he his.”
When it comes to neurodiversity and chromosome differences, researchers typically focus on syndromes to be understood, doctors on diseases to be treated and teachers on weaknesses or disabilities to be corrected. While understandable, we believe this is a fundamentally outdated and sometimes toxic approach, that can lead to the exact opposite outcomes than those intended.
For instance in the case of Merlin, who inspired the creation of our Foundation, the more he struggled with abstract math teaching, the more extra abstract math teaching support he was given to improve, leading to a "more pain, less gain" situation where most of his working time was spent on learning methods and types of work for which he had the least natural predisposition. At the same time, areas for which had the most natural predisposition and ability to make quick gains with the least effort, including certain concrete forms of mental calculation and problem solving, were almost entirely ignored. Despite his hard work at school not only did he eventually lose his love of learning, but also his confidence in himself. It is only at age 17, when he entered a new, radically different learning situation involving multiple complex professional skills that he realized how talented he actually was, and - to everyone's surprise - started to flourish beyond expectations. The issue all along had not been his own inability to learn (or 'learning disabilities'), but that schools - despite their best efforts - were not equipped or perhaps even aware of the importance to teach to his potential strengths instead of his known weaknesses (this and other stories are told in the book we plan to publish and distribute in 2022 "Me, Myself, and XXY: Growing Up With Klinefelter", and for which we are currently raising funds - click here to donate).
A similar distortion is found in clinical research, which focuses almost exclusively on the multiple potential syndromes and diseases for which individuals with an extra chromosome are at higher risk. This makes not only to fearful reading for future parents with pre or post natal diagnosis, but also creates the false perception that such variations are abnormal or purely negative in consequence. In fact, as almost all parents of children with chromosome variations know, not only do most have stand out qualities, there are some areas where strengths seem to outshine those of siblings. It is also known through MRI scans that while a higher proportion of children with an extra X seem to show lower average density in certain areas areas of the brain, a higher proportion also seem to show HIGHER average density in other areas (such as those dedicated to spatialization) - although in both cases results are highly variable from individual to another.
To stop talent from going to waste, we believe it is urgent to prioritize the identifying and developing specific natural abilities and positive strengths of each individual. Yet up to now there had been almost no research whatsoever on positive strengths. That is what makes the following paper so urgent and remarkable. It was produced by researchers associated to one of the most outstanding research centers in the United States dedicated to X&Y chromosome variations in children called "The eXtraodinarY Kids Clinic" based in Colorado, and focuses on academic and character strengths of children with such variations (also called "sex chromosome aneuploidies" or "SCA").
Possibly one of the most surprising and potentially important findings is that, despite a higher frequency 'learning challenges', such children also seem to tend to show a greater love of learning and level of perseverance than those without chromosome variations. This leaves wide open the question however of how schools can start to pry themselves away from "one-size-fits-all" education, and find new ways to feed the love of learning rather than stifle it.
You can download the paper here:
Thompson, T., Davis, S., Takamatsu, S., Howell, S., Tartaglia, N,. (2021). Exploring academic and character strengths in students with sex chromosome aneuploidies. Journal of Positive School Psychology.