Carol Fertig of Prufrock’s Gifted Child Blog put up a post last week entitled The Gifted Introvert. No real new information, but it’s a useful reminder that understanding–and honoring–introversion in highly gifted children is crucial for parents and educators. She writes:
Many teachers (and parents) are extroverts. It is very difficult for an extrovert to understand an introvert. Therefore, an adult may see the introverted student as someone with a problem, not as simply someone with a different personality type. This may lead to attempts to get the young person to be “friendlier,” to work in large groups, to talk more often and more spontaneously, and to be more outgoing and interactive.
There is nothing wrong with being an introvert. It does not need to be cured. It simply needs to be understood and accepted.
Fertig includes the following list of characteristics of introverts taken from Introversion: The Often Forgotten Factor Impacting the Gifted:
- Are territorial—desire private space and time
- Are happy to be alone—they can be lonely in a crowd
- Become drained around large groups of people; dislike attending parties
- Need time alone to recharge
- Prefer to work on own rather than do group work
- Act cautiously in meeting people
- Are reserved, quiet and deliberate
- Do not enjoy being the center of attention
- Do not share private thoughts with just anyone
- Form a few deep attachments
- Think carefully before speaking (practice in their heads before they speak)
- See reflection as very important
- Concentrate well and deeply
- Become absorbed in thoughts and ideas
- Limit their interests but explore deeply
- Communicate best one-on-one
- Get agitated and irritated without enough time alone or undisturbed
- Select activities carefully and thoughtfully
Many years ago I figured out that C. is in fact an introvert. Now people who see C. interacting with friends, participating in a discussion or speaking in public might find that hard to believe, but it’s true. I would call her a well-socialized introvert. She can pull off the exterior signs of extroversion–she can be loud and “out there” and loves the spotlight–but only with an enormous expenditure of energy. Caring for your Introvert, a piece by Jonathan Rauch which appeared in The Atlantic Monthly a few years ago, captures this well. (He also wrote a follow-on piece entitled Introverts of the World Unite!). She is definitely one who needs solitude to recharge her batteries and who needs her personal space.
My hunch is that C.’s natural introversion may in fact account for some the school difficulties she has had over the years. All the comments from teachers that she needs to learn to “fit in” and be less “prickly,” her dislike of working in groups, her discomfort in sharing personal information during literature analysis, the low-level stress created by the constant sensory onslaught that is the typical school environment (think crowded halls, noisy lunch rooms). Just imagine school as a compulsory six hour a day, five day a week party and you can start to imagine the toll it can take on an introverted child, the effort it can take to be “on” for that amount of time. It’s why many kids fall apart when they get home. It’s why parents of stressed kids often hear teachers say, “Why, Susie seems just fine at school…”–and are made to feel like like over-reacting crazy parents.
I know something about this introvert/extrovert disconnect because I live it every day in my own household. My husband is also a well socialized introvert; I kind of straddle the fence. However M., our younger daughter, is a *total* extrovert. She’s the one who wakes up and says “So, what are we going to do today?” when the rest of us would be perfectly happy spending the day reading the paper and puttering around the house. Who can roll from one 24-hour sleepover right into the next. Who even wants to *ski* with someone…as in talking/shouting while going down the mountain together.
This complete mismatch of temperaments between my two daughters is one of the biggest sources of friction between them, and it affects the entire family. Each one is just being who she is. But in combination? Whew! Add in some gifted overexcitabilities and some adolescent hormones for good measure…and watch out!