Islets of normalcy: A foundation for meaningful intervention and mediation

Many parents embark on a journey of anxiety and despair when faced with a child with learning difficulties.

For parents of neuro-divergent children, the diagnostic process often revolves around identifying symptoms that contribute to the child’s diagnosis, leaving them burdened and confused.

Professor Reuven Feuerstein’s visionary beliefs centre on the brain’s incredible capacity to modify, change, and adapt throughout life, influenced by experiences. From his extensive research, he introduced the theories of Structural Cognitive Modifiability, Mediated Learning Experience, and Dynamic Assessment, all focused on nurturing children’s potential to learn beyond mere static scores.

A fresh perspective emerges as Professor Feuerstein introduces the concept of ‘islets of normalcy.’ This approach shifts the focus away from mere symptoms, emphasising recognition of areas where the child exhibits normal or typical functioning. Within the challenges faced by neuro-divergent children, these ‘islets’ represent instances of non-symptomatic behavior, shining as positive exceptions amidst adversity.

Picture this: A non-verbal autistic child, who struggles to make eye-contact and communicate, directly gazes at his mother while she signs to him—a small, fleeting moment that holds profound significance given his profile. When we encounter these ‘islets,’ our primary goal should be to strengthen and integrate them into the child’s personality, making them an integral part of who they are. Fostering ‘islets’ through creativity, play, music, movement, and cognitive tasks is crucial, with old ones expanding and strengthening as new ones emerge. These ‘islets of normalcy’ herald a paradigm shift, influencing how parents, teachers, and therapists perceive their children, possibly even altering their prognosis. These ‘islets’ are akin to tiny cracks in a window we aspire to turn into wide-open, breeze-filled panes.

When we assess and engage with neuro-divergent children using the Feuerstein method, our shared mindset guides us to approach them not as limited by symptoms and diagnosis, but as individuals with malleable and modifiable brains.

Structural Cognitive Modifiability offers the belief that regardless of age or limitations, everyone’s brains can be modified, and new neural pathways formed. This challenges the notion of learning plateaus, ushering in the belief that structural change can happen at any stage of life, with Mediated Learning Experience (MLE) serving as the mechanism to facilitate these changes.

We don’t dismiss the importance of diagnosis; rather, it aids us in strategising and assessing how best to modify a child’s profile for optimal intervention. By understanding symptoms and identifying ‘islets of normalcy’, we gauge the malleability, plasticity, and modifiability of a child’s challenges. Even the tiniest shifts matter, and attending to these ‘islets’ provides a valuable foundation for meaningful intervention and mediation. For more information visit


Article supplied by Samantha Levings, Gr R educator at Bellavista School.

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