Directors’ Corner: Where the Wheels Hit the Road: Reflections on Strength-based Parenting

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

By Dr. Lin Lim.


I love long road trips, except this most recent drive from Dallas to Los Angeles! However, this road trip had the deepest and greatest impact on my twice-exceptional parenting thus far. Summers are our experiential learning time, the time both our children physically grow most rapidly, and for my younger twice-exceptional son, the time his gifts truly shine. The long road trips over the past several years allowed time for uninterrupted conversations, bonding through engagement in the same activities such as singing, listening to an audible, or making up stories.


Last summer, due to COVID, we missed our yearly travel opportunities to create and expand our experiential learning. This summer, we also missed our usual travel plans, having our whole family fully vaccinated only at the end of July. My son and I planned for a “mini” experiential learning along our ‘back to school” driving route from Texas to California this August. Although I had anticipated this trip to be different from our usual road trips due to a new double shoulder injury, restricting the range of motion in my arms, I had no idea how different this trip ended up.

Fast forward to our first full day in Sedona, I chose Cathedral Rock Trail, thinking it was a short hike and that I could probably do it with the aid of a hiking stick. We were about a third of the way up when it became increasingly clear to me that I might not be able to hike up this trail in my current condition. Meanwhile, my twice-exceptional son who trips over smooth ground, has a hard time tying his shoelaces, has a hard time finding household items right in front of him, and often misses non-verbal and metaphorical cues, was on fire. He pointed out lizards, birds, obscure trail markers, often walking, climbing nimbly and rapidly ahead then doubling back to check on his very slow “disabled” mother. He helped to scout out the way ahead as to which paths might be more suitable so that we could both get to the destination. My son’s gifts shone even more brightly in contrast to the state I was in.


The contrast between the two of us at that moment could not have been greater. It was at that moment that I can now say I know what it feels like to be unable to do things that are taken for granted to be “easy” by others. His easy acceptance of my new limitations without complaints and judgments, suggesting alternate ways so that I could keep moving ahead with him, allowed me to experience deeply and truly firsthand how wonderful, touching, and lovely it is to be accepted as I am (currently). I was hardest on myself, and his easy acceptance allowed me the grace and space to just be--to focus on trying to accomplish our task of getting to the end of the trail. Alas, we came to the point where I could not go on due to the boulder sizes and my shoulder injury. He went ahead to seek alternate routes then came back to announce matter-of-factly that he didn’t think the alternate routes were viable for me and that we should turn back. When I asked him if he wanted to go ahead to climb up while I waited for him, he said that it was okay and that we can do it when I get better.


As we continued our 3-day morning and afternoon hikes across different terrains, his natural ease and gifts accentuated within this environment were a constant visual reminder of how gifts can vary in expression across our lifespan and are often context-driven. I could not help reflecting that what counts as “disabilities” and “gifts “often reflect historical, cultural, and social values (Armstrong, 2010). Even in my best condition without the shoulder injury while out in nature, I would never be considered gifted in any way--while my son’s gifts are accentuated and his challenges minimized contextually.


In recent years, scholars across disciplines have focused on the importance of contextual considerations in understanding and/or implementations (e.g., Fischer & Wozniak, 2014; Martin & Kang, 2020; Martinez, et al., 2020; Milner et al., 2018; Ramos et al., 2012). Have you noticed situations where your child’s gifts are accentuated? Strength-based parenting borrows from a similar concept in education (Baum et al., 2017), whereby the focus is on uncovering strengths and finding ways to nurture your child’s strengths without their challenges getting in the way.


Neuroscience demonstrates that how we use our brains physically changes them over time (Gaser & Schlaug, 2003; Maguire et al., 2000; Snowdon, 2002). Macguire and colleagues (2000) conducted structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on the brains of London taxicab drivers after the landmark London taxicab drivers case study conducted by Skok and Tissut (2003). They found significantly larger posterior hippocampi (involved in spatial memory and navigation) in taxi drivers in their study compared to control subjects. Posterior hippocampi size increased with more time spent as a London taxicab driver. Other studies demonstrate new neural activity pattern generation related to skills development (Golub et al., 2018; Nudo, et al., 1996; Oby et al., 2019). Such studies demonstrate the plasticity of the human brain structure in response to the amount of environmental stimulus exposure. It therefore stands to reason that it makes sense to focus on using our brains, minds, and bodies in strength areas as much as possible. These areas are likely to be used more frequently over the course of our lifespan and thus compound neural activity pattern strengthening and/or physical structural changes in our brains over time. Besides, leveraging your child’s strengths to nurture and promote healthy holistic growth seems like a more positive and enjoyable journey for all, don’t you think?


References

Armstrong, T. (2010). Neurodiversity: Discovering the extraordinary gifts of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other brain differences. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Lifelong.


Baum, S., Schader, R., & Owen, S.V. (2017). To be gifted and learning disabled: Strength-based strategies for helping twice-exceptional students with LD, ADHD, ASD, and more. Prufrock Press


Fischer, K. W, & Wozniak, R. H. (2014). Development in context : acting and thinking in specific environments. New York: Psychology Press.


Gaser, C., & Schlaug, G. (2003). Brain structures differ between musicians and non-musicians. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 23(27), 9240–9245. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.23-27-09240.2003


Golub, M. D., Sadtler, P. T., Oby, E. R., Quick, K. M., Ryu, S. I., Tyler-Kabara, E. C., Batista, A. P., Chase, S. M., & Yu, B. M. (2018). Learning by neural reassociation. Nature neuroscience, 21(4), 607–616.