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Disability Diagnosis vs Strengths Focus

Did you know that the majority of the population are Hands-On or Picture Learners?

Yet most teaching is geared for Listening and Print learners who are also schedule-oriented, linear learners. These people make up about 1% of the population! These are the 3-5 students in any classroom who get all the A’s.

 Hands-on and Picture Learners are often considered “special needs” learners because they do not learn in the “normal” way. But how is “normal” being defined?  Is it normal just because it’s been done this way for years in traditional classrooms? Or, will we use the scientific definition of “normal” which translates to “the majority’?

Hands-On Learners make up 50-60% of the population, 80% when combined with Picture Learners. These are potentially the most brilliant people: mechanics, engineers, builders, architects, artists, musicians, scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs.

What would happen if the classroom became a place that truly provided for these “normal, average” learners? The result would be that the Hands-On and Picture Learners would become the “A” students.

Instead, these are the learners who are labeled with disability labels: ADD, ADHD, Dyslexic, slow, below average, etc. These are the kids who experience failure almost dailyhustle-and-bustle-1738072_640 in school. These are the students who don’t realize how smart they are and that they have unlimited possibilities. They don’t realize they could go to college, start their own businesses, go to graduate school, seek a specialized career – in other words, choose exactly what they want to do!

What if we looked at these students from a learning strengths perspective? Here are some examples:

  • If a student needs to “say it out loud” in order to learn something, we would recognize the Verbal Learner, instead of thinking that student is disruptive.
  • If a student focuses better when doodling, we would recognize the Sketching Learner, instead of labeling the student ADD.
  • If a student does not learn spelling words by writing them over and over, we would recognize that this student is a non-print learner and find the modalities that do work, rather than saying this student is dyslexic.

When students are looked at through the lens of learning strengths, very few are labeled as disabled.

The students I see have often been labeled with a learning disability by their school. The first thing I do is give them a learning strengths assessment. This is such a no-brainer to me! Would you build a house without a blueprint? How can you know what will work for a student’s learning if you don’t have his learning needs blueprint?

Once I know the student’s Dispositions, Modalities, Interests, Talents, and Best Work Environment, we can move forward customizing a learning plan.

This is what Individualized Learning Plan (IEP) really means – customizing for a student’s strengths, and every single student should have one!

positive-954797_640 Then the magic happens:

  • a “dyslexic” student begins to listen to audio books and a couple of years later becomes a voracious reader
  • an “ADD” student is given the space to create, tinker, invent – and suddenly focus is no longer an issue
  • a student who supposedly has “low comprehension” begins to thrive when encouraged to draw her assignments

The possibilities are endless. When educators choose to focus on the learner’s strength, everything changes and truly no child is left behind.

copyright 2020 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis
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