When I came up with the word “ThinkPrint,” I was speaking to a group of teachers about how to understand the test results from a child’s neuropsychological or psychoeducational evaluation. I was showing them the graphs of scores of children with different learning and other issues. The different patterns of strength and weakness across the different tasks was like a cognitive fingerprint – a ThinkPrint! Like a fingerprint, no two sets of scores are exactly alike. And, like our fingerprint, we are born with our unique map of neural circuitry, our particular kind of brain, designed to do some kinds of thinking and learning and activity better than others. Our brains are different for a reason – so that we can do the different jobs that need to be done in a complex society. This is neurodiversity. It’s a good thing.
I believe that school would be a more valuable and enjoyable experience if we could start out, when children are very little, with this understanding. Children (and adults!) have different ways of learning, different things they find interesting and motivating, different kinds of activities they enjoy, different situations they find comfortable, different emotional and interpersonal styles. Some children enjoy, and in fact need to be, physically active. Some like new experiences, others seek the familiar. Some are eager to learn to read, others have no interest. Some are social and love being around other children, others are happy to keep to themselves.
These differences are not problems, unless we expect all children to be the same. Yes, we want to help them grow and change, expand their horizons, get out of their comfort zone, and build their confidence. But we must start by identifying their interests and preferences, acknowledging their feelings, and nurturing their strengths. Teaching, like parenting, is not about making a child into who we want them to be. It’s about discovering who they are. And helping them become the best version of themselves that they can be.