Is Your Child Falling Behind?

by Rick on August 23, 2019

Commenting on Diagnosis Can Blind Us to Leadership Opportunities, Iseult wrote about Feargal who did not speak until he was 4 1/2:

He obviously understood everything that went on around him; his hearing was checked and found to be fine. This was many years ago, before people jumped to look for a “spectrum” to tag onto a child. In the family, he was the fastidious one. He was the household alarm clock, and made tea and toast on for the family when they arose. He dressed in a bow tie for his first day of school. At the age of four-and-a-half, Feargal began to speak in full, correct, sentences. In retrospect, his parents took the view that as he always liked things to be ‘just so,’ he had decided not to speak until he knew he had mastered it. His parents never stressed him, or pushed him, they were confident he would come to himself in his own time

That reminded me of two brothers in two Montessori classrooms at my first school in Kansas City, one four-years-old and one five. After six weeks of school, their teachers came to my office to tell me they were concerned about both boys. “For six weeks they have done nothing but wander around the classroom. I think we should get them tested.”

I was open to the idea, but said, “give it another week, then go ahead and set up two separate parent-teacher conferences.”

One week later the teachers were back in my office: “It’s amazing! The day after we met with you, both of them began to work with the materials, and one week later they have zoomed past their peers in the amount of work they have done. It’s like a miracle.”

Of course, it wasn’t a miracle. It’s more like Feargal. We tend to think that if the kids aren’t doing it, they’re not learning it. But some humans learn by watching, not wanting to do something until they know they can do it right. It’s a wonderful “syndrome.” Sometimes I wish I were on this “spectrum.” Maybe there is a pill for it.

Regardless of what teaching method is going on –Montessori, Progressive, traditional– most American adults are caught up in the pyramid model of our culture. Even if they try not to play the pyramid game, they are still at least a little seduced by the myths of the pyramid model:

  • Another parent reported: “I watched my oldest child wait and watch before he would leap. He was not a ‘try and try again’ or a ‘fail early’ kind of child. He was easily frustrated by failure. Often, however, he seemed to know how to do something at a high level of performance ‘all at once.’ One of his early teachers said to me, “Some children seem to have a building block kind of brain…they are mentally creating the experiences through observation that others actually physically do. So it appears that they learned something ‘all at once.’ I am increasingly concerned that early labels limit our observations of children with early ‘diagnosis.'”

Yes, labeling is not good, and early labeling can cause serious, long-term disabilities. When parents and teachers diagnose children, they often ignore five obvious things about us humans:

  1. We are unique
  2. We are complex
  3. We know things about our own problems
  4. Our brains are “working the problem” on their own
  5. We are not the same person today that we were yesterday

What we ignore is critical. To say that a student has “social anxiety disorder” is about as helpful a diagnosis as giving a person who has a hot forehead a diagnosis of “Fever.” There is always the question of what to do in this unique situation.

Hey, You Guys, It’s Not a Race!

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