We started a new preschool, which is really just a Parks & Recreation day-camp-type thing, where they entertain the kids and do activities that might teach them something—for 5 hours, twice a week. Rachel’s starting her second day today (Audrey stayed home sick both days). At the end of her first day, one serious-faced worker told me she “has trouble listening. We’ll need to work on that.”
I’ve heard this before. At Rachel’s schools, at the YMCA child watch. What they really mean is “Parent: YOU need to work on that. We think your kid is lacking in the one skill she needs in school: compliance with adult instructions.” (Notably I’ve never experienced this attitude from the two excellent speech therapists she’s worked with at her Special Education school.)
Rachel is stubborn by nature (PC way to say it: strong-willed) and she’s also somewhat introverted and she gets scared in new environments. And because she has speech delay—she has difficulty with both comprehension and expression—she doesn’t understand as much as other 4-year-olds, and when she doesn’t understand, she never indicates that, she just appears to be ignoring you. Without her twin, she is a lot less outgoing, and she’ll retreat into this recalcitrant place more often. She wants to participate in things. She just doesn’t know how to get herself there, because of this confluence of factors. And even when her sister is present, Rachel can be more focused on Audrey than on following instructions.
Her old school had a psychologist visit the classrooms periodically, and this woman appreciated Rachel’s nature and helped her teachers understand more about Rachel. She also helped me with ideas on how to approach and reassure Rachel. She’s not a “difficult child”. Well…actually she is, but she’s not flawed. She’s just made in such a way as to be challenging to adults’ sense of control, and that’s a big deal.
Thing is, beyond comprehension, beyond introversion, she is also very independent-minded, and she will not be pushed around for no reason. This will serve her well when she’s older, but for now, I’m struggling with the best way to guide her, to nurture that independent spirit while instilling some sense of the importance of participation.
If a person takes an interest in Rachel, touching her gently on the shoulder and speaking gently and directly to her, that person gets a response from Rachel (a lesson learned the hard way by this mommy). I told one of the new school’s workers this today, in the hopes that she will care enough to try, but the response I got was not encouraging.
I was there for a little bit while everyone dropped their kids off, and it looks like most of the kids are enthusiastic, talkative and engaging. Lucky for them. Because those are the kids who will get special attention…here and elsewhere in the world.
In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain explains the American cultural bias towards extroversion, and in reading it, I recognized my child as belonging to the titular group. It was helpful to me to know, and I even realized that I’m at least 50% introverted myself. (That’s right: I’m neither 100% one way or the other—putting me in a probably large group that the book doesn’t necessarily acknowledge.) I relate strongly to much of the introverted folks, needing plenty of solo-time and quietude myself. People I know would not likely realize that I spend much of my rare solo time in total silence by choice, or that I’m stressed by many common situations, such as crowds. And I most definitely have always preferred one-on-one interactions. Which makes having twins with simultaneous needs extra challenging for me. But that’s a subject for another day.
I can see the potential heartbreak of introversion with my 4-year-old as we begin the school years. It’s not JUST introversion in her case. It’s a little bundle of traits that aren’t well-appreciated…at least in children. Because the only thing everyone (including me at times) wants is compliance from children. It’s not really a great goal, and I’m going to have to do some serious pondering on how to best nurture and advocate for this lovely, sensitive child of mine…who doesn’t appear sensitive, by the way, just as I may not appear to have introverted tendencies to outsiders…she just looks stubborn. I’ll have to help people see past the “negative” traits to reveal the sweetness in her. If only I could find that one special teacher that she needs…every year for the next 13 years. See? Heartbreaking.
I’m still learning exactly the right recipe for encouraging, motivating and teaching her myself, so it’s going to take time and mistakes, but I’m determined to do right by this special person.