We all believe certain things about intelligence, whether we’re aware of it or not. These personal ‘theories of intelligence’ (TOI), or mindsets, have important effects on our expectations from learning, school and life for ourselves and our children.

Carol Dweck, an American psychologist, found that people tend to hold one of two main TOI: fixed and growth.

People who believe in a fixed TOI see it as a something that doesn’t change. They believe that you get what you’re born with. Someone believing that intelligence is fixed and unchangeable, they may just give up if they don’t do well on a task or if they’re given negative feedback. They may think, “Well, that’s that! I just don’t have the ability.” Intelligence to them is like a box, either big or small if you’re smarter or less smart and it doesn’t change.

People who believe in the growth TOI view intelligence as something that grows as you learn. They’re more likely to put more effort into learning if they experience failure because that’s part of learning. With practice, it’ll get easier. That’s what learning is about – some challenges and some failures are expected along the road to greater mastery.

There are enormous benefits to helping our children see intelligence as something that can change and improve with effort. They’re less likely to give up if they make mistakes or get negative feedback. Learning is seen as a process of ongoing improvement and consistent effort is critical.

How to help children with autism develop a growth TOI

One important way to help children develop an incremental TOI is to use P.R.A.I.S.E. – that’s an acronym for important ways to respond to learning.

P.R.A.I.S.E. focuses on trying, learning and improving, not on whether the child does something perfectly.

P = Positive attitude – praise children for trying and remaining positive in the face of mistakes and challenges – for example, “You really worked hard on that one. Good going! Your brain is learning.”

R = Rising to a challenge – comment about how, even when doing something difficult, they kept on trying –  for example, “Boy, you really kept working on that even when it got pretty tricky!”

A = Advancing skills – remark on the progress that children make, not just whether they did something correctly or completely – for example, “You’re getting closer to figuring that one out. Well done!” or “I noticed how your printing got clearer each time you practiced. Fantastic work!”

I = Inquisitiveness – encourage children to be curious and to ‘just try things out’, without worrying about whether it’s going to be perfect – for example, “You tried that out to see if it’d work. That’s a good way to help your brain learn.”

S = Sticking to tasks – praise children for persisting and continuing to try – for example, “You really worked hard on that. You should be proud of yourself.”

E = Effort – comment on the effort children put into something, not whether it’s perfect but whether they really truly tried – “This is challenging but you kept on working on it. That’s how we learn things.”

Wouldn’t you love to hear some of these comments every day? Use the P.R.A.I.S.E. acronym at work and at home and encourage everyone to use it.