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Stepping Into My Strength-Based Era: Building Bridges to Belonging

Updated: Feb 5

To belong not only means to be physically present, but to have presence in a community where one is understood, accepted, supported, needed, and loved. Presence is created by tapping into an individual's unique strengths and capitalizing on how they can support one’s areas of priority or growth, in addition to how they contribute to one’s community. This is a fundamental value of my work as educator and school psychologist.

Presence is created by tapping into an individual's unique strengths.

I specialize in working with learners with Down Syndrome, intellectual disabilities, complex support needs, and co- existing conditions such as ADHD and autism. Many of the learners that I support have been faced with feeling as though they have to prove to belong. In my practice I incorporate a dynamic approach to assessment, SBCs strength-based interview protocols adapted to the learner’s access points, in addition to other strength-based practices grounded in research to demonstrate each learner's strengths and abilities. Using this approach, my goal is to build a bridge between each learner’s points of access and the content they are being expected to learn, as well as the activities they are expected to participate in. Through this process I have been able to provide learners and their families with strength-based learning profiles and blueprints for understanding how to approach school programming. Moreover, the mindset shifts of the educators working with each learner demonstrates the impact of this work.

Many of the learners that I support have been faced with feeling as though they have to prove to belong.

Some favorite moments of my work have been watching mindsets change when offered a new perspective. In one case, the educational team that supported my 10-year-old student, had a difficult time seeing beyond their perceptions of his behaviors. During my assessment process, I spent a lot of time getting to know him, playing with him, and following his interests. Prioritizing these interactions allowed his gifts to be revealed. Unlike his school team, I had the luxury of time. Time to move slowly and work at his pace. Ultimately, this made the testing process much more dynamic and lent itself to understanding how he interacts with his educators, what approaches facilitate his learning, and most importantly how his strengths could be used to support his areas for growth. The process for both of us was focused on learning how to work with one another. His parents expressed gratitude for having captured the strengths that they, too, see in their child, in addition to honoring the growth he has made in the last two years.

Some favorite moments of my work have been watching mindsets change when offered a new perspective.

The reactions of the school team towards my results were surprising. They stopped focusing on the “symptoms of his anxiety, ADHD and autism,” in addition to the impulsivity and rude tone that had been reported. Instead they embraced this description of a 10-year-old boy who enjoys Parkour, video games, and anything resembling a robot or with switches. They acknowledged his strength in reading and that he learns best when being given text; he seeks knowledge independently by researching through online texts and books. He demonstrated difficulty in math fluency, but solving problems within context helps him to fill in those gaps. Moreover, this led to a collaborative discussion regarding the next steps in his educational plan that capitalized on his strengths and allowed him the space to grow with the support he needs to be successful. A strength-based process develops presence by supporting learners to identify their unique strengths and gifts (and share them!), improving their self-esteem, and building their understanding of what supports help them to learn best. Knowing the assets that each individual brings to the collective table is the cornerstone to cultivating communities of belonging where self-determination, independence, and interdependence are celebrated.

A strength-based process develops presence by supporting learners to identify their unique strengths and gifts (and share them!), improving their self-esteem, and building their understanding of what supports help them to learn best.

This article was written by Lucia Serio, a Licensed Educational Psychologist/Nationally Certified School Psychologist and Owner of Bookworm Educational & Psychological Services Inc. Visit her website at www.bookwormedpsych.com and follow her on Instagram @bookworm_edpsych

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