November 29, 2012 by

Giveaway: Your Chance to Win a New Book on Helping Students with Special Needs Thrive

We’re giving away two copies of veteran educator and bestselling author Thomas Armstrong’s new book Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life. In it, Armstrong explains and models how to help students with learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, intellectual disabilities, and emotional and behavioral disorders succeed by leveraging their unique strengths.

For a chance to win, read Armstrong’s guest post below and share a story about one of your neurodiverse student’s strengths in the comments section. All entries must be received by 5:00 p.m. eastern time on Monday, December 3, and two winners of the author’s choice will be announced in this blog post on Thursday, December 6. Stories will also be accepted by e-mail at thomas [at] institute4learning.com. For the full contest rules, click here.


I started my career as a teacher back in the mid-1970s in special education. Over the past forty years I’ve seen a lot of education trends come and go, but one trend that I would very much like to see given more emphasis in special education is strength-based learning.

So much of special education is about remediating deficits, dysfunctions, and disorders. There needs to be a strong counter-movement of teachers who are dedicated to finding the very best in their students with special needs and who use that knowledge to help these kids succeed. An approach that I think can be very helpful to this goal is the concept of neurodiversity. Just as we celebrate biodiversity and cultural diversity, we ought to be honoring the diversity of our students’ brains, especially those who are “differently wired” and who are typically given labels like learning disabled, ADD/ADHD, autistic, intellectually disabled, and emotionally and behaviorally disordered.

There is a growing body of research pointing to the strengths of people with these different kinds of diversities. Autistic people tend to be strong with detailed work and often love working with systems. Learning-disabled kids (especially kids with dyslexia) often show strengths in three-dimensional spatial processing. Students with ADD/ADHD have a penchant for novelty-seeking, which can be very useful in creative activity. Students with Down syndrome often have warm personalities and a dramatic flair.

We ought to be studying these strengths much more than we have been. In my book Neurodiversity in the Classroom, I have a 156-item inventory designed to find out as much as we can about the strengths of students with special needs. Once we identify those strengths, we need to go to work empowering kids and designing what I call in the book “positive niches,” or favorable environments within which these students can flourish. Some of the components of positive niche construction include the use of assistive technologies and Universal Design for Learning, the application of strength-based learning strategies, the implementation of positive environmental modifications, the use of positive role models who have disabilities to inspire students to succeed, and the strengthening of a student’s network of positive peer relationships and adult human resources.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I think we should do a really masterful job as educators in discovering as many gifts, talents, abilities, multiple intelligences, and interests as we can in our students with special needs. I’d particularly like to hear stories and anecdotes from teachers about the strengths of their neurodiverse students. I hope to hear from you!

Editor’s update on December 6: Congratulations to the two winners our author has selected, Deanna Tileer and Noreen Holt! ASCD will be in touch with the winners via email. Thanks to everyone else who entered!