The Study of Strengths
As speech language pathologists, we are highly trained at observing and listening. We recognize and identify client productions that deviate from normative targets. We listen for errors and sort errors by type, degree, and frequency to plan remediation. Our testing methods enable us to pinpoint specific areas of difficulty and design intervention to provide multiple opportunities to practice correct productions. Our very job title is disorder-based, as pathology is comprised of morphemes representing the study of disease.
Perhaps we don’t necessarily use our heightened observational powers to highlight client skills and positive traits as much as we could. What if we shifted our perspective and started recognizing and analyzing strengths, too? Every day, we see and notice specific communicative behaviors. We have the ability to show clients, staff, and families the specific positive traits that foster interpersonal interactions and academic development.
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Within every therapy session, it is likely that our clients are showing us at least one strength, (if not more), while we are tallying all of their correct and incorrect productions of targets. We can note one unique client strength area and/or one positive communicative behavior and share it:
• “Student has a wonderful smile and everyone is always so happy to say ‘hello’ to him in the hallway.”
• “Student is really fun to talk with. She always asks the most interesting questions. She is really thinking a lot about the world and greater issues.”
• “Student is such a great communicator. She really works hard to make sure that people know what she wants to say and she never gets upset when she has to repeat herself.”
• “Student is such a polite and respectful young man. He always waits his turn and offers to help his classmates.”
• “Student is a creative-thinker with strong visual-spatial skills. He is able to re-assemble game pieces into different forms and objects.”
• “Student is highly observant and is able to report on his own accuracy of speech sound productions.”
• “Student is a self-advocate.She readily requests assistance from staff when a task is challenging for her.”
• “Student is supportive of his peers. He will encourage his partner in speech class and offer friendly suggestions.”
We can even add fostering strengths in subtle ways to our therapy, though the use of the common classroom compliment, “I like the way you…” For communication, we can explain the cause/effect relationship between words/actions, e.g., “I like the way you encouraged your partner. I saw her smile.” When we find client strengths as quickly as we currently identify client challenges, we can increase strength-based reporting in our paperwork and documentation, and with meetings with families and staff. With strength-based commenting, we may positively influence how our clients view themselves and how our clients are viewed by others.