Today we’ll focus on M-Strengths. M-Strengths is short for Material Reasoning, and it’s one of the four MIND-Strengths, or strengths associated with dyslexic processing. (We discussed the MIND-Strengths in yesterday’s post here if you missed it).
M-Strengths are the abilities to reason about the position, form, and movement of objects 3D space. This includes the kinds of strengths designers show when they create the forms and shapes of products, or the packages that contain them. Or the strengths that engineers and architects show when they imagine how they can best adapt a design to a landscape. Or the strengths an orthodontist shows in imagining how to best reconfigure a mouth full of teeth. Or the strengths someone sailing a boat shows in factoring winds and waves and currents to chart a course. Or the strengths an orthopedist shows in estimating forces on a joint. Or the strengths a paleontologist shows in reconstructing an animal skeleton, or recognizing fossilized bones in a rock quarry. Or the strengths a landscape designer shows in imagining what a selection of plants will look like on a regraded back yard after 15 years of growth. Or the strengths an electrician or plumber shows in creating the most efficient array of wires or pipes in a construction project. And so on.
People high in M-Strengths generally describe their strength in spatial reasoning as a talent for directly recognizing or perceiving the answer they’re pursuing, rather than for pursuing answers through detailed analysis or calculation. Some people with high M-Strengths see clear mental pictures, but many do not. Instead, they describe a mental experience of perceiving shape or feeling or movement.
One thing people with high M-Strengths essentially all share is the feeling that their strong spatial reasoning is primarily a non-verbal process. That is, they do what they do without having to use words.
Sometimes this bias for non-verbal reasoning can present as a challenge in situations where words are called for. In fact, as we discussed in our book The Dyslexic Advantage, we’ve often found that many individuals with the strongest spatial reasoning abilities often find they have the greatest difficulty putting their thoughts into words. Frequently they describe the process of putting their thoughts into speech as requiring an extra, very labor intensive, step. And when we look at dyslexic children who show the greatest problems putting their thoughts down into writing, we often find that they show very strong spatial and non-verbal reasoning abilities.
Think “Spatially Talented” Not “Verbally Challenged”
Instead of focusing solely on the difficulties with verbal expression that people with high M-Strengths often show, we should be focusing instead on their amazing spatial abilities. After all, we don’t think of people with high verbal ability as “spatially challenged”, even though they often are. There really does seem to be a tradeoff in the way the brain is organized that can make you really good at 3D spatial reasoning, or at verbal analytical reasoning, but not usually both at the same time. Over time, people who excel at one or the other of these strengths can often improve their skill at the other to the level where they can communicate and get by, but they still retain their natural bias for one or the other.
Currently, our educational system is extremely poorly adapted to nurturing students with a bias toward spatial or non-verbal reasoning. Almost always, these students are treated as primarily verbally challenged rather than spatially gifted, and the development of their non-verbal reasoning abilities is almost completely neglected.
Let’s Take A Strengths-First Approach To Education
We have to learn to take a “strengths-first” approach to thinking about students with high M-Strengths. Tomorrow we’ll share with you some results from our recent M-Strengths survey that show very clearly how tight the connections are between dyslexia, 3D spatial talent, and the tendency to reason non-verbally. These results provide solid evidence that dyslexic minds really do work differently for the sake of positive abilities rather than because they’re broken, and that the way ahead is to understand and nurture these strengths.