Not only may a mind come into its own at any time, but also a profile that is perfectly set up for success in school may not be nearly so well fitted for career attainment. A kid's profile may win all sorts of praise throughout her elementary school years, but that in no way guarantees that her particular profile will satisfy career requirements at age twenty-three. Clearly then, some profiles work better at certain ages than at others. Sometimes the very same traits that jeopardize your kid in third grade could evolve into his prize assets during adulthood. Distractibility and daydreaming during reading class may be an attention deficit yet may also be early indicators of creativity and innovative thinking, "symptoms" that will bolster her career as a scriptwriter or music video producer. A student's trouble understanding language may cause him to do much less of his thinking with words, as a result of which he strengthens his visual and spatial thinking, destined to serve him well two decades later in his career as a mechanical engineer designing nuclear power plants.
When a child brings home disappointing grades, parents can take solace in the well-documented finding that report cards are notoriously poor at predicting how your child will eventually do in a career. In fact, sometimes when I see a child in my office who is failing or perhaps just floundering in school, I love to rev him up by saying something like this: "Hey, Reginald, when you go back to school on Monday, take a good look around your classroom and pick out a kid you really envy, someone who gets fantastic grades, is good-looking and is a super jock too, you know, a kid who always seems to do everything right. And who is popular. Look closely at that kid, and seriously consider the possibility that this may well be his finest hour! There is a good chance he'll be working for you someday." I guess that's another way of saying that different profiles are destined to make the grade at different times of life and when the conditions are right. Adult life offers many more opportunities for infinitely more kinds of minds than are available during child life. Parents need to find things to praise in a struggling child and make sure that he doesn't give up on himself and get depressed and distressed while waiting for his day to come.
Not only do different profiles have their day in the limelight eventually, but also children are capable of changing their strengths and weaknesses over time. Take heart, parents: neurodevelopmental profiles are not like computer hardware or fossils. They are resilient. One despondent mother confided, "My daughter Cathy is so sweet and kind. She will do anything for anyone. But school is such a frustration for her. I sometimes wish we could just trade in the learning part of her mind." Well, it turns out you can change your mind but not exchange it. For instance, some individuals plagued with language impairments in school become fluent and articulate speakers and have phenomenal reading comprehension by the age of thirty. They actually have built up their language system after having been nonverbal schoolchildren. Through extensive use of language (often within their chosen careers), they become respectable linguists. Of course, there may be some ceilings, limitations on how strong a weakness can become. If I, an inept athlete, were given batting lessons in baseball, I could improve some (there is a lot of room to do so), but no matter how dismal a season they were having, it is highly unlikely that I could ever play shortstop for the Boston Red Sox.
Many individuals grow up in homes that are dysfunctional, neighborhoods that are violent, environments that seem to starve their minds, yet somehow they manage to salvage their minds, to discover some ways of learning and succeeding despite biographical odds that are so stacked against them. Some of this resiliency may result from hidden neurodevelopmental strengths that they discover and ignite within themselves. There are well-known attorneys, preachers, and playwrights who grew up in poverty but had superior innate verbal wiring. Having a talent as an orator, actor, or comedian can be the wellspring of resiliency. Of course, sometimes hidden talents remain forever hidden and go to waste instead of triggering resiliency. That means parents and teachers have to be on a constant, diligent quest for buried treasure within children.
Copyright © 2002 by Mel Levine
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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