Saltz repeatedly stresses that she is not trying to say every illness, which can lead to lifelong struggles and impact a person’s self-esteem, is a gift.
“I don’t want to say that, but I want to say that it’s not as uni-dimensional as everyone assumes.” Many people with these difficulties may have more ability in certain areas than a person who does not face issues such as autism and bipolar disorder, she said.
“They have the potential for very particular talents and abilities and genius. That really is the point.”
Our default, Saltz says, as a society and even for parents whose child has learning difficulties or mental health disorders, is to focus on the weakness. “We’re very invested in fixing, and we tend to be focused on the negative, whatever the negative is. Make it better so everything is good. It’s an understandable means of reacting, but it becomes so embedded, and it’s not really the best path.”
Saltz says she has talked with many experts, such as in autism, who say 20% of time should be spent working on the problem and 80% on exploring and enhancing strengths.
It’s no question that some people’s issues are so severe, it is hard to find the strengths. However, estimates say that half of all Americans will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives, and about 6.5 million children in the US receive special education services, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Clearly, recognizing the strength — not just attending to the weakness — can change lives and greatly impact our society.
“I want people to recognize and to treat their children if something comes along, because they can make life more enjoyable and help their functioning, but I want them to look for their strength,” Saltz said. “I want them to help them with workarounds for whatever the difficult issues are, and by utilizing their strength along with those workarounds, they are giving their child the opportunity to be highly successful.”