Roses and Rocks: Debriefing Dyslexia Evaluations

For me, one of the best parts of doing an evaluation for learning and learning disabilities has been going over the results, including the test score numbers with the student and his/her family. I’ve learned how to discuss the data and what it all means, in clear language so it makes sense to the student and family. If it doesn’t make sense, real good sense to them, what’s the benefit of testing? No matter what, when done correctly, there can always be a positive and empowering quality to this process. Regardless of the profile of weaknesses, there are always strengths. And when you can put struggles into context, especially one of definable and usable attributes, kids and adults feel good. This most always results in relief, an increase in self confidence and much less resistance to hearing the specifics of the struggles, and accepting help in strategies and education. That acceptance and owning of their own learning profile is huge, and maybe the best part.

One helpful model I learned was from Dr. Tony Atwood, an Autism specialist from Australia. He wrote about a practice that I emulated with great success. He described a scene with a family and their child in his office. The “kid” was a struggling teen with Asperger’s Syndrome. Dr. Atwood, instead of making the teen the initial focus, went around the room and asked each family member (mom, dad, sibling) to describe their own learning/ profile of strengths and weaknesses. As they spoke, Tony would write their comments down on big post-it paper on the walls. Doing this takes the heat off the kiddo in question and demonstrates the idea that everyone has a strengths and weaknesses profile. The student that was evaluated is done last and this works infinitely better.

At the end, as I’ve done many times, one can say something like, “You know, educational scientists have a term for this profile of strengths and weaknesses. They call it Dyslexia (or whatever the dx is). That word dyslexia is a name given to your profile. And, there are ways that you and your teachers can use this so you can be successful more easily.”

The other day I was going over an evaluation I did for a teenage girl for post-secondary planning. She’s a teen with complex and significant learning disabilities. Her language processing is a struggle, and dealing with language-laden concepts can be a challenge. Added to that, we had to do this debrief of the testing over the phone. For this particular call I wanted to include asking her some self-assessment questions. I wanted to ask her how she sees her current levels of strengths and weaknesses. Her mom was with us on the phone for this meeting.

In individualizing for this girl’s lower concept formation and language skills, I decided to call what we were doing a game, called “Roses and Rocks”. “Roses are for your strengths,” I explained. “They are the things that make the journey more beautiful, and Rocks are more like obstacles that make the journey a little bumpy.”

It was a master stroke of luck or planning, as it tuned out. It seemed to strike just the right chord for her. We started with her mom. Daughter was able to support mom and even add to her answers. After mom, I did a mini version for myself. By the time we got to the girl, her comfort zone had “way widened” and her ability to see and express her profile was at a high level. A few days later I decided that for a particular kid, age, etc, one could rename the exercise “Rockets and Rocks.”

This process helps the targeted one to feel like “We’re in this together.”

And, oftentimes people with learning differences, leaning disabilities or mental health challenges feel and/or are made to feel like they are “broken.” This process presents a whole different paradigm.

Feel free to try this out if it seems right and/or contact me for further explanations or questions.


About Sanford

Learning Disabilities specialist and Educational Consultant
This entry was posted in Discussion Topics, Education Issues and Ideas, Learning Disabilities and Mental Health. Bookmark the permalink.

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