Learning Differences and the Magic of the Four Leaf Clover

Nicole Connell
4 min readMay 22, 2020
Photo by Dustin Humes on Unsplash

When I was hiking in the forest one day a couple years ago, I noticed a patch of clovers. Of course I looked to see if I could find a four leaf clover. I combed through the patch for some time but couldn’t find one. Then it hit me; I see four leaf clovers every day in my office. I work with children with learning differences who learn best outside of the box. Four leaf clovers are rare, they don’t fit the mold and can be such a delight when you find them. In fact we are taught to not only look for four leaf clovers but to look for them with excitement. What if we could see these kids who don’t fit the mold that way too? With excitement.

If you’re reading this article, perhaps you have a child like this and have noticed that your child isn’t like the other children. Maybe parent teacher conferences feel like a long list of what your child isn’t doing and you’ve tried to get support for your child in reading, writing, math, spelling, attention…. The list goes on. But still, your child struggles with feeling different, misunderstood and unable to keep up at school. Whatever they do, they just can’t meet the standards. Maybe the way they view themselves is very unkind and they begin to think they’re stupid but you’re not sure how to convince them otherwise.

I’d like to share with you what I see.

In my work as an Educational Therapist, my day is constantly filled with terms like dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and ADHD. The etymology of these words is rooted in “difficulty”, “trouble”, “bad” and “disorder.” But these words don’t quite line up with my experience with the children I work with. While the children I see struggle tremendously in school and I work to support them in those challenges, I also see something else that has been missed.

This is what I see when your child enters the room:

I see their strength from tolerating a school day in a system that was not designed for them.

I see their exhaustion from working three times as hard to do their best to keep up.

I see their resilience even though their school day has not gone as they’d hoped. Again.

I also see the things they can do. I see their unique talents and gifts that come so naturally to them. With some of them, it’s on point humor, with others it’s great conversational skills, and sometimes it’s the power of persuasion, or maybe it’s exquisite aesthetic awareness. Or maybe it’s deep, pointed questions that uncover what lies beneath the surface. Maybe it’s off the charts empathy or a deeply philosophical mind. I see these abilities and I value them. I point them out. I recognize them. I feel what a profound gift they can be to the world right now and for the future when they’re older. Even if school doesn’t value these skills, in my office, they are very valuable. I know how important it is that we value all kinds of smart.

Yes, there are profound struggles that come with being a four leaf clover in a school system designed for the more common three leaf clovers.

It’s not easy having an extra leaf and not fitting the mold. Yet maybe that extra leaf on the clover is precisely where their gifts lie. It’s what makes them unique. The current approach to supporting children who don’t fit the mold feels akin to taking a three leaf clover cookie cutter and trying to shape them to make them fit the mold. It doesn’t work and can feel painful. When we try to make them into three leaf clovers, we miss the essence of who they are and the precise things that they can uniquely contribute to their family, classroom and community. We miss out on witnessing their compassion, their insights, their wisdom, their humor, their art, their beautiful aesthetic awareness, their unique genius.

As a culture, we are taught to ask questions like “What is wrong with my child and how can we fix it?” and “What course of remediation or intervention will be the best?” These questions create a lens that affects how we view these four leaf clover children and the children feel the impact of this.

In my own practice, I started to ask different questions and as a result began to view and support children with a different lens. It started to ripple out into how my clients saw themselves. One student I worked with was grappling with his diagnoses and it was affecting his self confidence. One day, after months of using new questions as guideposts for our work, he was talking to me about his many siblings that also have ADHD, and he said to me, “Nicole, think of what we could do together!!!” His excitement and new outlook of possibility was contagious. It inspired me to imagine what all the four leaf clovers of the world could do together.

If you’d like to try out another lens and perhaps see what I see, here are some of my favorite different questions to try out:

“What can my child do?”

“How can I support my child’s challenges and gifts equally?”

“What is unique about my child and how can I nurture that and help them blossom and grow?”

These questions and an alternate lens of viewing your child can help them with their self-esteem, own their amazing 4 leaf clover-ness and help them find their way to their own unique version of success. Imagine what magic might be possible for our next generation if we collectively began to view and support four leaf clover children with excitement.

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Nicole Connell

Educational Therapist + Personal Learning Fairy Godmother for kids and teens who learn best outside the box. www.nicoleconnell.com.