Building. With bricks. With Legos. With Lincoln Logs. Yes, building is a strength in my son’s life. In fact, as I begin to think about all the years I’ve watched him put things together and build things up and out, I realize he has always understood his strength. And, he taught me to understand the power of strengths.
The proverbial, “You have power over your mind. Realize this, and you will find strength,” captures exactly what I want my son – and his surrounding world to understand (Marcus Aurelis). I want the world to know that he can create castles, put together gum-drop trees, assemble the (very) fake Christmas tree, tape the flaps of boxes closed, focus with intent on puzzles, and build Lego worlds filled with hero husky dogs that capture the robbers and help the police.
When I watch my son put together a puzzle, for instance, he works quickly and a smile stretches across his face. There are moments of frustration when I can’t find the exact piece he wants – and sometimes a scream or tantrum ensues – but, when the piece is discovered, his confidence grows, again. I have learned to recognize that puzzles and puzzle-like games are the perfect form of medication when my son is feeling sad, confused, or defeated.
His love for the history of Komodo dragons and dinosaurs is always an area of conversation. My son can recite facts about Komodo dragons that can be found in encyclopedias and research websites. He routinely checks-out the same books at the library. Why? My belief is because he focuses on specifics in each book and then masters them. He needs time in between each reading to master another fact. So, when we study our spelling words or practice our reading, we are really learning about dinosaurs and Komodo dragons. He wants to learn new words because he is passionate about the learning that surrounds these facts and figures. So, I have learned to weave his strengths and his interests into his learning and work.
While I would love for him to hang his clothes and keep a nice closet, I learned that this would never be an area of strength for him. Instead, his clothes are separated into bins and tucked under his bed. He pulls them out each morning – frustration free. Thus, I turned his closet into a Lego “room,” equipped with a sturdy table and color-coded bins of Lego bricks. And when he builds, I watch him pretend to be husky dog chasing robbers or a police officer looking at a computer trying to track a robber with his super-duper-high-frequency tracking system. When he builds and plays he is happy. He is confident. He feels like the world is his.
And because of his capacity to build and solve, he is my Christmas tree assembler. For me, this is frustrating experience, but for my son this is a puzzle and he enjoys finding the solution. So, I let him. And when my son watches me try to put together a gum-drop tree (yes, you read gum-drop tree), his quick fingers take over and it becomes not only a tree with gum-drops, but a master-piece of color-coded gum drops that are placed alsoaccording to weight.
I don’t believe you need to be on the spectrum to leverage your strengths. I think all of us have this capacity. Strengths make us stronger, curious, confident, and even happy.