Fostering Growth Mindset: Speech/Language Disabilities

Early on in my career working with middle and high school students, one of my biggest challenges was working with students who were so disheartened by learning they were not motivated to try. Carol Dweck’s work on “growth mindset” supported my work as a speech-language pathologist because it talked about the difference between and fixed and growth mindset. It showed that having a “growth mindset,”  the belief that your brain can change and become stronger by working on challenging tasks helps neurons in your brain make new connections.  I learned that my clients had a “fixed mindset” about their speech-language challenges.   Often  they said, “I can’t do better.” “This is too hard! ” I can’t!”  Fostering a “growth mindset,”  was essential.

Imagine your embarrassment and shame, as a student, when you do the same work as everyone else, but fail.  It’s demoralizing and often results in the feeling of inferiority.   Some feelings are exacerbated by developmental stages.  For example, it is especially difficult for middle schoolers who desperately want to fit in to have unsupported learning challenges. Not all students develop an attitude, especially if they are adequately supported in school and at home. Students that lack adequate support may deal with their problem in two ways, either by feeling like it is impossible to improve speech and language skills and giving up or by thinking that by ignoring their weakness the problem will go away. Both attitudes prevent students from learning how to manage their problems.

In speech-language therapy sessions, clients are asked every session to work on painful areas of weakness. Having private speech and language sessions offers adults and children the opportunity to talk honestly and openly about their struggles. It is only in the privacy of that room that many finally allow themselves to show their true feelings of frustration and anger.   Not understanding what people are saying, worrying if you will be able to say a certain sound, or fearing no one will understand your message is painful. Ignoring even mild speech and language problems can result in adults and children who suffer from anxiety, depression, and self-esteem.  To address these feelings clients must acknowledge their struggles, utilize strategies, understand when to seek help, learn to evaluate themselves accurately, and accept their differences.

Changing speech and language problems is hard work. Clients must be motivated to tackle difficult tasks and practice regularly.  We have ways to make the tasks easier, but instruction in “growth mindset,” helps clients understand that by working on their weaknesses and reflecting on their struggles they are changing and strengthening their brain.  This knowledge is a game changer.


With elementary students, I use a series of videos based on the growth mindset that I love called the ClassDojo. They never fail to help children understand this important concept. The fact that the setting in the video in a classroom doesn’t matter because the same information can easily be applied to home situations. One viewing, however, is usually not enough. Clients usually need to see all the videos often followed by a discussion. The Mysterious World of Neurons is one of my favorites.

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