Stop Diagnosing My Daughter For Being Introverted

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Now, I know that some things about Alicia match symptoms of autism – as with anything, some behaviors will overlap between neurotypical kids and kids on the spectrum. And I know that some parents genuinely don’t know that their child’s behavior isn’t typical for their age, and that early intervention is enormously helpful. Alicia’s speech is harder to understand than many three and a half year olds – something I genuinely did want to follow up with at this appointment, and something that the nurse noticed quickly upon us entering the room. But as she was asking me these questions, Alicia was looking me in the eye as she told me about how the puppy in the book she was looking at was sad, and later interrupted to tell me – but not the nurse – a story about the picture she’d colored.

Totally typical for an introverted kid. Several of the things she was doing were already answering the nurse’s questions – except that Alicia wasn’t directing them towards the stranger in the room. No, she directed them to me, the familiar person, just like introverted adults are more likely to chat with their friends at a party than with someone new. And because of that, we got autism screening.

It bothers me that a common character trait is so misunderstood in children. If we’re not willing to distinguish between kids who are happy to play alone and kids who won’t socialize, or between kids who prefer quiet, solo play and kids who can’t hear, how can we get kids the assistance they really need?

Alicia may need some speech therapy to help her be clearly understood. Or, she may just need to care about the person she’s speaking to. Yesterday at her gymnastics class, her enthusiastic request to her beloved coach, “Mister Nick, come play scary monsters!” was clear as a bell. Her stubborn streak doesn’t help her cause – she does what she wants when she wants, not sooner – but she’s never had any regression in her speech skills. It’s just that most of her speech isn’t for anyone but herself – and she understands what she’s saying just fine.

As I write this, I can hear Alicia in her room. As always, as she started getting tired, she went to her room and closed her door, so she could enjoy her private space. She’s playing one of her elaborate imaginary games: the dinosaurs are going on an adventure together – something involving a pony. She’s singing a song to the baby dinosaur, who’s afraid because it’s getting dark. It’s imaginative and fascinating and, yes, a bit different – but it’s not a sign of a physical or neurological problem. It’s just the sign of a little girl who sees the beauty in being alone.

(Image:  Alexey Losevich/shutterstock)

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