Friday, February 24, 2006

Introverts and their Learning Behavior

"A small breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there. It contained a bookcase: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window-seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. .. with (the book) on my knee, I was then happy: happy at least in my way. I feared nothing but interruption, and that came too soon. The breakfast-room door opened."
The quote above from Jane Eyre eloquently describes the interior life of an introverted child. ... the richness of creativity and the necessity of times for solitude, especially in unfriendly surroundings.

Gordon Neufeld talks about emergent, adaptive and integrative facets in the learning process of children. Simply put, emergent behavior is the kind that drives kids to master their enviroment, that loves to explore and self-challenge. Adaptive behavior helps the child learn from mistakes and adapt future behavior. Integrative behavior helps the child experience inner conflict and strive to make sense of it and act with self-control.

I would guess from my own limited sample of 7 children (and 2 parents) that most children are stronger in one of these areas than another. In the adaptive area, I'd guess that introverted children are often too much affected by mistakes and correction, to the point where they can't learn from them very well. Their emergent behavior is channelled into narrow, deep areas of focus rather than a broad superficial spectrum, so they don't have a strong motivation to overcome their fear of making mistakes and failing. Their integrative challenge may simply be letting conflict in and admitting it is there. They can generally act with self-control because of their strong interior selves and their disinclination to challenge the exterior environment unless it directly conflicts with their principles and their understanding of how the world is set up.

Introverted people tend to choose a few areas of interest or skills and REALLY focus in depth. Once they have an entry point into the subject and the motivation to pursue it, the main challenge is to pull them away from it.

Neufeld mentions one more "learning" behavior. Attached behavior is the baby duck kind; it's relationship-based. You can always learn a lot more from someone you like and respect and want to imitate than from someone who is irrelevant or despised. It is both the most fundamental form of learning behavior, and the "lowest" in that the learning takes place not for the sake of learning so much as for the sake of connection with the other person. A toddler will do what he sees his family do. A peer-attached child will imitate his peers and their behavior and outlook.

Introverted people, from my limited sample, forge relationships that are deep, loyal, enduring AND at the same time rather undemonstrative and lowkey on the surface. If they are attached to their parents and siblings, they will tend to love the things that these relatives love. But a new teacher will have to "earn" their loyalty and teachability and it's harder for them to accept new people into their intimacy circle. Introverts are often at least as warm-hearted and emotional as extroverts, but their caution and restraint can make them look cold and passive and even unlikeable to people who don't know them very well. Again, Jane Eyre:

I know that had I been a sanguine, brilliant, careless, exacting, handsome, romping child -- though equally dependent and friendless -- Mrs. Reed would have endured my presence more complacently; her children would have entertained for me more of the cordiality of fellow-feeling; the servants would have been less prone to make me the scapegoat of the nursery.
This, and indeed the whole first chapter of the book, is a classic example of the introvert who is misunderstood by the extroverts around her.

It is probably useful for introverts to learn some extroverting "skills" in order to make their passage through life easier both for themselves and for those around them. As my children get older, they are more able to listen to and learn from people that they don't know very well, but they still seem to need to have a basic sympathy and attunement to the new teacher or comrade.

A related trait is that introverts are capable of externally "toeing the line" and acting compliant while preserving their internal resistance and independence of mind. For this reason, the secret heart and spirit of the introvert is very important. Their outward behavior doesn't always echo what's going on inside. On the other hand, given loyalty or internal motivation, they will make great sacrifices and spare no effort. It is both challenging and rewarding to positively encounter the heart and mind and spirit of an introverted child.

I think introverts have some defenses against excessive peer attachment leading to extreme "acting out" misbehavior, because they don't enjoy "herds" and their outlook on life is internally directed. But on the other hand, introverts are often vulnerable to their peers' view of them because they are sensitive to the feeling of being "different" and because introverts are generally easily discouraged. They are idealistic, and injustice hurts and offends them deeply..... which leads to anger turned either on themselves or on others. You often hear stories of the "nerd" or "misfit" in school who goes on to succeed in life, but is deeply affected emotionally by rejection and misunderstanding in his school years. Nowadays, there seems to be as many stories of introverted "victims", mostly all males, who end up in an extreme, destructive mode.

Also, as I was discussing with my teenagers the other day, the typical school is set up for extroverts. Changing subjects every 45 minutes; crowds of people coming and going; even bright and colorful posters and display centers: all these are over-stimulating, distracting and energy-draining for many introverts. I still get dizzy and overwhelmed by a school cafeteria even though I am a 17-year veteran of the school system.

In the homeschool, introverts seem to need a balance of some extrinsic challenges and expectations (to keep them from living in TOO internal and withdrawn a mode) along with plenty of down-time and time to pursue independent interests in depth.


Love2Learn Mom said...

I've been finding your posts and links on introversion really interesting and helpful. Do you know anything about Asperger's? I'm trying to understand where the lines fall between a trait like introversion (which applies to myself and most of my children) and a learning disability, like Asperger's (which might apply to myself and some of my children).

WJFR said...

love2learn mom, that's a very interesting question. I've read about Asperger's with some of the same questions you have. Asperger's is said to be an outright disorder, as opposed to a cluster of temperamental traits. My very inexpert thoughts at present: there is probably a continuum of human behavior and a "disorder" would be suspected if the behaviors were strong enough to cause the individual to "not cope".

But then, what is "not-coping" : )? I did not cope too well in school and I suspect that at least one of my children would have had similar or worse difficulties.... social and academic. But in this case, would it be to do with personal inadequacies or environmental ones? I did all right in my home and close community. That's one thing to consider; just as an "ADD" child, usually a lively boy, might flourish in a homeschooled environment with natural accommodations for his specific traits, but fail to thrive in a structured school setting. So it might be for a child who is borderline Asperger's or alternately, strongly introverted but within normal bounds, possibly?

A further thought: the definition of a "disability" is often an aid to receiving special services designed to help the child to cope in his environment, particularly in the school system. These special services often involve teaching pragmatics, social skills, and in general compensating for coping deficits. I don't want to minimize those benefits; also a diagnosis can lead to special college accommodations in some cases.

However, my thought is that while these services can be very helpful in some cases, but are certainly not a cure-all or magic medicine. They involve intervention, and every medical or professional intervention has its benefits and its drawbacks. I know this from my experience with my child who suffered from a stroke in infancy with consequent cognitive and motor problems.

Things to consider: cost of special services; time management issues since professional services usually involve travel and other factors; the "closeness of fit" in philosophy and personality between the therapist and the family/child; the effect on the sense of self for the child. There are probably others. The "learning disability" arena is new and does not have all the answers. Their outlook, like ours, is shaped by what is generally considered "normal", which is shaped in turn by what society statistically expects out of the given individual.

I am mentioning these things just because the secondary "costs" of intervention are sometimes not weighed sufficiently and the benefits are sometimes considered over-optimistically by parents who are concerned about a "different" child. I'm definitely not against intervention; I use and am grateful for special services for my disabled child. At the same time I realize that the more subtle the child's "issue", the more the therapists tend to be using an arsenal of techniques to treat the issue symptomatically, and their techniques usually aren't that different from the kind of common sense things many homeschool parents do just by observing and knowing their child.

Gee, this is way too long for a comment reply. I found a checklist for Asperger's here Checklist but of course all the questions are sort of relative and depend somewhat upon the child's upbringing and the environment he is in.

(Once again, DISCLAIMER: this is idea-bouncing and by no means professional advice or recommendation. : ))

WJFR said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
WJFR said...

Oops, my attempt at html did not work so let me give the checklist URL in text form:

Love2Learn Mom said...

Thanks, that's very helpful! I do think we're somewhere in that sublte range, but my thinking has been along the same lines. It's a good area to learn more about in any case.

WJFR said...

It also occurs to me that one other dividing line between healthy diversity and some kind of disability might be the inherent effectiveness of the person's learning and affective methods.

From what I understand, people on the autistic spectrum tend to engage in repetitive, stereotypical behavior and "perseverating" -- getting into a kind of loop or circle, not progressing deeper or moving outward. Related to this is a need for structure and ritual way beyond what is simply functional and efficient.

The other characteristic, in my understanding, is a genuine difficulty in accepting or giving affection even within one's family.... or of interacting socially and emotionally even with people the child is comfortable with.

My CP child's occupational therapist says there is some thinking that both of these problems stem from severe sensory defensiveness. If one is simply overloaded by input, one pulls back and/or locks into some safe thing. We all do it a little I suppose but some people do it very markedly to the point where it becomes counter-productive, I suppose.

I know we've discussed this before, love2learn mom, but I find Stanley Greenspan's concept of floor-time to be helpful to deal with both these problems. Good site here.

Also, I wished I'd read the book Out of Synch Child when one of my kids in particular was younger... I think some of his childhood issues were due to sheer sensory overload, and I could have helped him cope better and been more understanding if I had known at the time.

WJFR said...

One more link for anyone who's interested in this:
Is Asperger's/HFautism really a disability?
Interesting topic.

Cindy said...

Thank you for this thoughtful post, Willa.