Autistic or shy?

When her twins missed their growth milestones — sitting, standing, walking and speaking — parents, teachers, doctors and others suggested they were autistic, Paula Lynn Johnson writes on Ricochet.

Image result for shy boy play Legos

Her “lifeline to sanity” was Thomas Sowell’s book, Late Talking Children. Sowell’s son, who didn’t start talking till he was 4, grew up to be a successful, non-autistic adult.

After speech therapy, Johnson’s kids began talking. But her son showed “red flags” of autism in preschool, teachers said. He didn’t want to stop building Legos and go on to the art station.

His kindergarten teacher also complained about her son’s Lego obsession.

Moreover, my son lived too much in his head, preferring to build and tinker rather than playing tag or ball with the other boys. He was clumsy. He was autistic-ish.

The school’s Child Study Team wanted to do an evaluation for autism, but the parents passed. Elementary school was tough, but he came into himself in middle school.

Academically, there were less worksheets and rote work. A lot of his teachers not only allowed, but welcomed discussion (suddenly, he was no longer “argumentative”, but “thoughtful”). He started enjoying his classes. And socially, the transition to a bigger pond with more potential friends was just what he needed. He found his tribe.

. . . they’re on the debate team and in robotics club. They like to play Risk and Magic the card game. They follow politics and like tossing around obscure movie quotes and references. You know the type. Would I call any of them socially smooth or sophisticated? No. But I wouldn’t call them autistic, either — and that includes my son. He’s empathetic and funny and engaging. He’s just taken longer than most to grow comfortable in his own skin.

“Go to a doctor, preferably a pediatric neurologist or psychiatrist who specializes in autism” for a diagnosis, rather than a special-ed teacher, Johnson advises.

She adds that shyness can be confused with autism.

For example, autistic kids often have trouble making direct eye contact and come across as socially stiff. Well, unfortunately, so do shy kids

“Professionals working for the public school system have built-in incentives to label children and put them into special programs, which often get the school system more money from the government,” she writes.

. . .  if you fear the costs of “doing nothing”, consider the costs of labeling your kid with a serious neurological condition that he just doesn’t have. Read I Had Asperger Syndrome. Briefly, in which the author recounts how his mother — an “expert” in Asperger’s! — not only diagnosed him with the disorder but had him participate in an educational video about it.

As a baby, my daughter missed the major developmental milestones — by miles. Other babies were walking before she could roll over. It turned out she was developmentally weird.

Schools overlook introverts’ learning needs

Education trends such as “collaborative learning” and group projects ignore the needs of introverts, writes Michael Godsey, a California English teacher, in The Atlantic. One third to one half of students are introverts, he estimates. They do best working independently and quietly.

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was a hit, yet “classroom environments that embrace extroverted behavior — through dynamic and social learning activities — are being promoted now more than ever,” writes Godsey.

The University of Chicago library plans to turn a reading room into a “vibrant labratory of interactive learning.”

“Students must overcome isolation in order to learn to write,” according to Dartmouth’s Institute for Writing and Rhetoric.

Recently, he visited a large public high school where all but four of 26 teachers had arranged students in groups or with partners.

I told two teachers on separate occasions that I’d feel incredibly exhausted at the end of every day if I were a student at that school. . . . One recalled learning best when arranged in rows, while the other concurred, “I know, right? How exhausting it must be to have another student in your business all day long.”

Three of the four classes where students were seated individually in rows were AP or honors courses, Godsey observes.

. . . I’m reminded of Sartre’s famous line, “Hell is other people,” when I see that Georgia College’s webpage dedicated to collaborative learning, which includes the topic sentence: “Together is how we do everything here at Georgia College. Learn. Work. Play. Live. Together.” Everything, that is, except quiet introspection, free of cost and distraction.

Diana Senechal, who teaches philosophy at a New York City high school, wrote about the need for solitary reflection in Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture.

Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up in School, argued Jessica Lahey in 2013. Two thoughtful responses persuaded her to modify her views. She recommends Katherine Schultz’s Why Introverts Shouldn’t Be Forced to Talk in Class, and Susan Cain’s Help Shy Kids, Don’t Punish Them.

Introverts, speak up!

Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School, writes Jessica Lahey, an English teacher, in the Atlantic. “The parents of introverts complain that I am not meeting their child’s unspoken educational needs, or that I am causing serious emotional trauma by requiring their child to speak up in school.”

Class participation is factored into students’ grades.

. . . we spend a large percentage of our of class time in dialogue. How does Pip change once he receives his Great Expectations? What does Edmund mean when he says, “Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law / My services are bound”?

After reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Lahey “made a number of changes to my classroom in order to improve learning opportunities for my introverted students.”  But she’s not dropping the class participation requirement.

As a teacher, it is my job to teach grammar, vocabulary, and literature, but I must also teach my students how to succeed in the world we live in — a world where most people won’t stop talking. If anything, I feel even more strongly that my introverted students must learn how to self-advocate by communicating with parents, educators, and the world at large.

Are these kids introverts — or very, very shy?  Or do they have nothing to say about Pip or Edmund?

Are quieter students considered less intelligent?

Today’s issue of Education Week has an article by Sarah D. Sparks about quiet, shy, and introverted students in the classroom. It’s gist is that current pedagogy (and teachers themselves) favor the extraverted child. Teachers commonly perceive quiet children as less intelligent than talkative ones, according to studies cited here. The article distinguishes (up to a point) between introversion and shyness.

A 2011 study found teachers from across K-12 rated hypothetical quiet children as having the lowest academic abilities and the least intelligence, compared with hypothetical children who were talkative or typical in behavior.

Interestingly, teachers who were identified as and who rated themselves as shy agreed that quiet students would do less well academically, but did not rate them as less intelligent.

As many as half of Americans are introverts, according to the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, located in Gainesville, Fla.

There’s a distinction between shyness—generally associated with fear or anxiety around social contact—and introversion, which is related to a person’s comfort with various levels of stimulation.

A shy student, once he or she overcomes the fear, may turn out to be an extrovert, invigorated by being the center of attention.

By contrast, an introverted child may be perfectly comfortable speaking in class or socializing with a few friends, but “recharges her batteries” by being alone and is most energized when working or learning in an environment with less stimulation, social or otherwise, according to Mr. Coplan and Ms. Cain.

I was interviewed for the article, but some of my points didn’t make it in. I find the denominations “introvert,” “shy” and even “quiet” limiting. There are students who speak very little in class on the whole but liven up when particularly interested in a topic. There are students who speak a lot but are not necessarily “extraverts”; they enjoy the exchange of ideas in the classroom. Many students who might classify as “introvert” do not desire “lower” levels of stimulation; rather, they find certain intellectual activities highly stimulating. And, of course, there are students who seem quiet in class but are social ringleaders outside.

What’s important is to stay alert to the students and to do what will bring out the subject matter. Most subjects require a good deal of focus and quiet thought. Even a class discussion can set the tone for that. Ideally, all students would learn to both speak and listen, to grapple with problems out loud and in quiet. But for this to have meaning, there must be things worth thinking and talking about.

As to whether teachers consider quieter students less intelligent, my experience says no, but this may be because my trachers, especially in high school, recognized the importance of thinking about the subject and not rushing to speak.