Teaching to Traits, Not a Diagnosis

by | Professionals

Once a child receives a diagnosis, you want to know everything is to know about it.

You read relevant books, bookmark the best websites, and join support forums.

When it comes to supporting a neurodivergent or chronically ill/disabled child in education, you want to do the same: find all the books, websites, and resources you can get your hands on about the child’s diagnosis. But, what happens when the child’s diagnosis is rare? Or, when the child presents with traits that fall under multiple conditions? What happens when no book, website, or educational program exists with the child’s name on it?

Does this mean that you can’t support the learner?

The good news is that you most certainly can, even if an educational program for the child’s diagnosis does not exist. This article explains why it’s recommended to teach to traits and not to a diagnosis.


Diagnosis vs. Traits

According to Dictionary.com, diagnosis is defined as “the process of determining by examination the nature and circumstances of a diseased condition.” Some examples of specific diagnoses are Down Syndrome, Dyslexia, and ADHD.

A trait is defined as “a distinguishing characteristic or quality, especially of one’s personal nature.” Some examples of traits include attention to detail, passionate, and not being tied to societal expectations.

“You can support a child even if an educational program for their diagnosis does not exist.”


Why it’s best to teach to traits rather than a diagnosis

  • A medical/neurological diagnosis is too broad. There are no two children alike, even within the same diagnosis. A child with Dyslexia may present with many of the common traits of Dyslexia, but certainly, will not have all. It’s best to focus time and energy on what the child truly needs rather than the entire checklist of dyslexic characteristics.
  • It allows for individualized educational planning and instruction. If you pay attention to and acknowledge the child’s strengths and challenges, you can develop those first.
  • It allows you to support the learner without having an official diagnosis first. Getting a diagnosis for a child is a family decision. Some families decide not to pay the heavy fees for testing, especially when they are certain of the results. Some parents are placed on long waiting lists if they do want to get a professional opinion. In the meantime, teaching to traits allows you to continue with your educational plans without penalizing the child’s progress.
  • It creates a bond between parent/teacher and learner. When you are attuned to the child’s needs rather than on generalized recommendations, you will find that you will connect with the learner in ways you couldn’t before.
  • It helps build confidence in the student. When you teach to the child’s specific needs, you will allow them to feel successful and inspired.


What to look for

When teaching to traits, there are several questions you need to ask yourself:

  • What are the child’s strengths?
  • What learning style does the child most rely on (visual, auditory, tactile/ kinesthetic)?
  • What are the child’s challenges?
  • Does the child have gross motor difficulties? What are the difficulties?
  • Does the child struggle with fine motor skills? What does that look like?
  • Does the child have long or short-term memory differences?
  • What are the child’s behaviors like when working on a new task? A familiar task? A task they have mastered?
  • When is the child most frustrated?


These questions will help you pinpoint the markers that apply most to the learner, thereby becoming short-term and long-term learning goals. They will also make for targeted searches in books, online, or in forums.

If you’d like some personalized tips to help you support a learner’s traits, you can schedule a consultation with me here. 


More Resources

Continue reading my essays, activities, and case studies for supporting the education of disabled/chronically ill and neurodivergent children.