Stop and Smell the Roses
“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar” - Helen Keller
A month ago, Jasper turned eight years old. This quiet, studious child has gone from the little player piano to drumming to playing Joseph in the Nativity play to new violin lessons. The arts, music and the creative process is definitely his venue, over the running around, singing and dancing Elani, his little sister. And he has come far – after weeks working with him as Joseph, he spoke loudly and clearly for all to hear. Just as his musical and theatrical interests change over time, our relationship is also being transformed from teacher-follower a coach-player model when we homeschool. (We primarily homeschool, but he attends a neighborhood school part-time for “specials” --art, music, library, P.E.-- speech, recess and lunch.)
Social pragmatics skills have long been a concern. We have had to explicitly teach him how to behave socially. With his mild hearing loss, he isn’t overhearing what others are saying and misses some social cues. He doesn’t get the full rich variety of possible responses to many social situations. He is also a full right brained introvert, which may be of greater influence on those social skills. I hate to confine anyone to any label, but I have learned much in considering what it means to be introverted in a predominantly extroverted world.
The typically thought of characteristics of an introvert -shy, unsocial, antisocial, uninterested in others- are really describing personality. Being introverted is not about personality. Being introverted has a lot to do with how the brain is structured. Introverts and extroverts are different from each other in how the brain receives information from the world around them.
Brain Differences between Introverts and Extroverts
The pathways used in the brain when first responding to stimulus of the world are longer and go through a different part of the brain for an introvert compared to an extrovert. That longer pathway for introverts goes through the reasoning centers of the brain prior to reaching the emotional center. The effect is that introverts in general tend to be more careful in initial verbal responses, think before acting, consider cautiously before deciding, being able to self inhibit unhealthy behaviors (sometimes) and requiring more time to consider what they think and feel in a given situation.
Extroverts are wired in complimentary way, and may act and speak quickly without filtering, know their feelings and thoughts and share them immediately, and may often make quick decisions. Extroverted brains process stimuli first through the emotional center and next in the reasoning center of the brain. The two pathways are different – one is not better or more effective than the other. Typical western culture is set up for extrovert success (think about how classrooms and workplaces are set up). Parents of introverts can do well to educate themselves about their children and how they can better be themselves yet connect to the extroverted world.
Even recharging is different: introverts draw their energy from processing the world in low energy, quiet, and peaceful places. Every interaction, even with loved ones, takes energy from an introvert. Extroverts gain energy every time they interact with others. Therefore, even the best social interaction for an introvert requires some refueling before the next social interaction.
For Jasper what this looks like is that every time he is expected to be social he has to remember the following: (Rationales for each item are included in parentheses).
Imagine remembering all these steps even with one child on the playground, let alone numerous social situations in a day. Every one of these situations drains his energy. As a fellow and slightly more grown up introvert, I can empathize. I have to imagine adding the hard of hearing piece to that mix. Because of Jasper, I am so interested in the unique challenges for those individuals whose energy and brain needs are introverted and who happen to be either Deaf or hard of hearing.
Learning to pay attention to others is something he has needed explicit help doing. We try to notice cues for him and ask open ended questions (such as “what are they feeling? What do they want for their birthday party”) without drawing attention. His responses clearly reveal that his world is still inner focused. He is not attuned yet to the outer world. We have encouraged him to share his own world when a child gives him cues that they are interested. Timing is all! We have all learned to use more of a “you can overhear this, Jasper” speaking voice, Elani included, so that he can overhear every verbal social mistake or victory we make so that he might learn from it. We cheer him on every time he advocates for himself, whether with students in game who move his piece for himself, letting me know he needs more time to answer a question or choosing his own social goals and rewards (like asking children to play with him on the playground).
It hasn’t been all smooth rolling. For example, the ideas contained in the phrase “shouldn’t the rules be the same for everybody?” provoke me. Yes, he should follow any group rules, but he is also a unique individual. And some of the ways in which he is unique require him to be allowed to not break but stretch the rules. What makes the choice right is what works for the child, right? I have been saddened recently to experience professionals and others who have trouble accepting his more introverted behavior and the need to learn things in his own time frame. The rules of self-respect, kindness, and patience are of greater value than how and when and where he is achieving social milestones relative to his hearing, more extroverted (generally) peers. There are the notes of joy when he successfully speaks up for himself and notes of dissonance when others do not accept or appreciate the unique combination that being introverted, HOH and other things makes him as special. I need to choose the best way to teach, balancing his need to be shown choices explicitly versus giving him clues or his need to practice on his own with growing autonomy from me. I want to build in a few successes socially so that he keeps trying.
I would love the perspective of others who are Deaf or hard of hearing and introverted. I found an interesting article from two hard of hearing professionals. While I don’t agree with everything, my heart was moved to tears while reading the more validating passages. Find it here: http://www.asha.org/Publications/leader/2002/020319/020319d/ I found a powerful passage in The Psychology of Hearing Loss (Kaland and Salvatore): “Normal interactions require tremendous attention for the child with hearing loss. Listening becomes a multi-sensory task, involving a much greater level of visual and general attention than it does for those with normal hearing. While the child may communicate effectively, it requires a great deal of energy to do so…. All children should be taught that they have strengths and weaknesses and be encouraged to explore who they are and pursue the things they like and do well. It is the difficult chore of the parents of children with hearing loss to continually explore and question whether behaviors observed are a normal manifestation of the child’s personality or a response to some form of distress caused by the hearing loss. Parents must find the delicate balance between overanalyzing every behavior and not paying enough attention to their child’s actions. Finally, parents need to develop their own support systems to help them deal with their feelings.”
I so appreciated the gentle reminder about finding support and the balance between analysis and enjoying his personality. As a fellow introvert, this feels like double work but double the reward as I am learning about myself as well. Imagine Jasper finding his own inner balance so that he can celebrate who he is as an introvert rather than feel “wrong” because it is so different from the extroverted world, school set ups, and extroverts themselves.
Another article which captured my heart is entitled “Deafness and Introversion” found on her site “Cats and Chocolate” (purrfectly irrestible to me as fan of both) http://catsandchocolate.com/2013/11/13/
She shares, “I remember with kindness the anxious and self-conscious teenager I became. Going to secondary school (high school) for me was fraught with all kinds of issues, especially as I became an ‘other’ – defined by my deafness and how visible it was. Being a teenager is hard enough, when you are exploring your own identity and place; but to be so visible, primarily because of your ‘otherness’ can be the worst kind of torture, especially for an introvert. If you don’t seek the eyes of others or hate to be in the centre of things, it can be hard to reclaim your own identity.” Jasper already is very aware of how he is different: as a homeschooler, as a child who wears a hearing aid, and having those darn social goals on the playground. I appreciate when she describes the deep insight that it wasn’t deafness or introversion that kept her from others but this: “I realized then… had allowed my shyness and the fears projected on me by others (that I have a quiet voice, that I had to act extroverted, to be more confident) to stop me from finding people who were also introverts.” Of course I worried that I project my fears onto Jasper. I still don’t have an answer, but it I do feel the introvert coming out in me, championing and holding to the truth that even as I encourage him socially, he needs to do it in an introverted way. His pace is going to have to be slower, in his own time. I am thankful to the author for sharing so that she might coach me. As in Marti Olsen Laney’s The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child” (2005, Thomas Allen & Son Limited). there are so many ways that introverts give back to the world, including their rich inner lives, an ability to stop and smell the roses, love of learning, out of the box thinking, gifted in the creative arts, high emotional IQ, excelling at the art of conversation, ability to appreciate and enjoy their own company and more. I will keep learning how I can support Jasper in his growth, and he can be a giver to the world through these qualities that the world needs.