After the assessment is over, the next challenge is explaining the results to the child. This is no easy task – understanding testing results is hard enough as an adult!
So, how do we translate our often long and complex reports into child-friendly language, so that every kid leaves knowing how to explain their amazing brain?
A Brain Under Construction
I’ve tried out many metaphors for learning over time, but the one I like the best is a brain “under construction.”
This metaphor has proved to be universal, accessible, and flexible to a variety of learning profiles. It also sets up the premise that we are undergoing constant change:
“Our brains work by sending messages from one part to another using special cells called neurons. Neurons connect to each other, making pathways in the brain like billions of tiny roads. As you think new thoughts and try new things, your brain builds new roads – even when you’re an adult!”
Using this metaphor, I’ve started thinking about the testing results in terms of:
- Highways (strengths and superpowers)
- Construction Zones (areas for growth and support)
- Helpful Words (a definition of differences or diagnosis)
- Tools and Construction Crew (interventions and support people)
Here is the handout I use to organize this information for children and their parents:
Highways and Construction Zones
Highways are the things that come easily to your brain. These are the child’s strengths and where they did well on testing. Sometimes it can be helpful to think about highways as the fastest route to getting information, or the way the child learns best.
As we talk about interventions, we start to see how the child can use their strengths to improve other skills, or “get there” faster.
Construction Zones are the things that your brain is still working on. These are the areas where the child may need support, or what was challenging during testing.
By talking about these areas as “under construction,” it helps keep us in a growth-mindset and thinking about what will help, rather than what’s wrong or broken.
A diagnosis is by definition “what’s wrong.” Therefore, translating any difference or diagnosis into positive language is critical for setting up an empowering conversation moving forward, and avoiding deficit-focused pitfalls.
To help, I’ve started framing this piece as the “helpful words” or terms for understanding your specific pattern of highways and construction zones. This gives me more flexibility in thinking about positive ways to explain what’s going on, depending on where the child is at.
For example, for some kids naming Dyslexia or ADHD will be helpful for letting them know they are not alone.
However, sometimes it is not appropriate to share a diagnosis, so our helpful words may be specific things they will be working on, like phonological processing or executive functioning, alongside their strengths, like visualization or idea generation.
Little kids tend to like knowing big words 🙂
At other times, there are multiple things going on, but we choose just 1-2 “helpful words” to focus on what’s most important for now.
I will be writing more on this very important topic of how to explain specific diagnoses to kids over the next few weeks. If you’d like to be notified, please subscribe here.
Tools and Construction Crew
Tools are the specific interventions the child will receive, any technology that may help, or the strategies they will learn to help them build new skills.
The Construction Crew are the people that will help! This may include anyone the child finds helpful – parents, teachers, siblings, or you 🙂 It will also include any new people they will start working with as a result of the assessment.
Don’t forget that the child themself is the most powerful member of the brain-building construction crew!
Creating a Shared Language
In addition to helping me prepare for the child’s feedback session, this handout has had some additional unintended happy consequences.
- It makes the report much more accessible to all
- It helps everyone – the whole construction crew – get on the same page
- Sharing the handout with parents gives them an easy-reference for the language we used so that they can keep the conversation going
I hope this framework is helpful for the families you work with! Please share with anyone else who may find this information useful.
As always, please let me know how else I can help!