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About introverts, sensitive persons and those who are shy. A few thoughts.

Perhaps you recognize yourself or your child in this story: A bright young girl came in to see me for a HANDLE screening. She was slow to warm up (she preferred for quite a while to sit away from me and let Mom take care of the conversation) but eventually she joined me and took her time answering each of the questions I asked her. I was told that the child’s teacher was concerned about her shying away from social interaction, and I was asked if there was something I could do to help. During the screening I explored, among other things, her level of sensitivity to touch, to sound, to light, etc. I knew that if any of these issues came up, I could address them in her activity program and make her more comfortable in her environment. But in this case, these issues came up minimally if at all.


The question of how much overlap there may be between shyness, sensitivity and introversion has been interesting for me for quite some time, not just because of my work, but because of my personal life experience. So let’s start with sensitivity. I think you’ll enjoy Elaine Aron’s questionnaires that will help you find out if your child or you are highly sensitive:



You’ll note that sensory hypersensitivities are only one element of being “highly sensitive”. Some 15-20% of people fall under this category. It is normal, it is innate, it happens in many species of animals (at about 20% of the population) and it has advantages, such as heightened awareness, as well as disadvantages, such as getting overwhelmed more easily. The majority of people who are highly sensitive (about 70%) are introverts, according to Aron.

So what are introverts? I’ve recently read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and found that it’s been very helpful in getting some answers. There doesn’t seem to be one definition. Any one of us is somewhere on the spectrum of introversion/extroversion as a result of our innate temperament and other personality traits, as well as of our life experiences. Here’s Susan Cain’s quiz. Introverts prefer less stimulation. They often work more slowly and deliberately than extroverts, and often prefer to focus on one task at a time. Introverts may have strong social skills but prefer to devote their social energies to close friends and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, enjoy deep conversations and dislike conflict. They often take on professions that involve much study, introspection or solitude (think: authors, scientists, truck drivers).They do their best work on their own, rather than in teams. They are not risk takers and they enjoy solitude. 


Now just like you can be calm or anxious whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you can be shy, or not, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. Shyness is a fear of social disapproval or humiliation. It is learned, and it is inherently painful. A shy person may turn inward, since socializing causes anxiety, and an introvert may feel shy if she always gets the message that something’s wrong with her. Different cultures treat introverts differently. The same child I described above could have been, in another culture, been admired for her careful consideration of every question before answering. But in the US, her preference to spend time with one or two friends, rather than a large group, is treated as if it is a “problem”.


What am I suggesting? That diversity in temperament and preferences, both in adults and in children, be accepted and embraced.


iPad apps for Autism

iPads apps can be used for communication, learning and entertainment. Some of the apps I list below can be fun and useful for people who don't have autism, so take a look. I owe what I know to Dawn Ferrer, SLP, of Morning2Moonproductions, co-author of the That's Silly app, whose lecture/demonstration I attended recently. Before we even go into the apps themselves:

  • Consider protecting the iPad with a very strong rubber cover, preferably with a strap that will allow you to hold it, rather than hand it over. Gumdrop is one such cover. 
  • Dawn recommends holding the iPad by your face, so that when you move the iPad away, eye contact may be maintained. 
  • If you buy an app you can use it on up to 5 devices that you own. Some of these apps can be used on iPhones and other devices.
  • An iPad can be used for communication through pointing, as well as for learning various skills. Take note, however, that communicating through sign language tends to transition to verbal communication more easily than communication by pointing does. 
  • Moms with Apps is a blog that supports family friendly developers. Every Friday is app Friday, and often several apps are offered free or at a reduced price.
  • Autism Apps lists various relevant apps by categories and makes recommendations. It is not comprehensive, but it is searchable 
  • In addition to the list below, consider looking up learning to sign using apps.

And now to some recommended applications

  • Image Finder allows you to search for images, which you can use then for discussion, comparisons and description. Best if you do the scrolling and choosing. Even when you set the program to prevent inappropriate images from showing up, there could always be some that you'd rather not share with your child/client.
  • Mytalk, for communication using images and recorded words and phrases.
  • Special Stories - which allows you to put together quickly a series of images with text and sound. It can be used to work on routines or explore an event as it happens: take a couple of pictures with the iPad, add to them a written sentence and a short recording, and voilà, you've got a motivating social story.  
  • Cake Doodle by Shoe the Goose allows you to "Make a cake" on your iPhone or iPad (much less messy than in your kitchen). It has sounds but they don't tend to be overstimulating. Different hand movements are required to grate, sift, squeeze etc. 
  • Speech Tutor - is a fascinating app with an animated mouth demonstrated what needs to be done to create a particular sound.  
  • I Write Words - to work on handwriting
  • Dexteria - a set of hand exercises to enhance fine motor skill development and promote handwriting readiness. 
  • Use Eric Sailers apps for speech 
  • Geek SLP has good apps for language development, as well as interviews and info about free apps.
  • The Buddy Bear series from Iinguisystems addresses categories, basic questions, comparatives/superlatives, opposites and other language topics. These apps are rather expensive, however.
  • My first AAC is a communication application for toddlers and preschoolers with delayed speech or severe speech disorders.
  • Toca Boca, which are Swedish apps, are excellent. Toca Band allows you to play with sounds (it's really funny. Watch their trailer). Toca Store is another recommended one. Toca Boca often announced freebees. 
  • Watch mouth movements while singing Happy Birthday and other familiar songs in Vast 1 Songs
  • AppMATes are toys that interact with the iPad. They support finger grasp and other skills. They seem to be cheaper at Target.com - 2 for $10.40
  • Hamaguchi has fantastic apps for language development. 
  • Speech with Milo, which can be used with or without music (I liked it better without) can be used for first phrases.

ADHD Without Drugs - A Guide to the Natural Care of Children with ADHD by Sanford Newmark, MD

Read this one. Really, don't just skim it. You'll have a better understanding about what ADHD really is, when it can be managed without drugs, and how to go about changing your child's diet - reasonably, gently, without going into extremes. You'll find out about a few blood tests that are really important, and suggestions regarding several relevant holistic approaches. There's an important chapter about parenting, which if you take to mind is likely to lessen the conflicts and stress at home. 

What I'd love to see in a future edition: a segment on the importance of supporting a child's neurodevelopment - gently, respectfully, playfully. Yes, I think HANDLE is very compatible with Dr. Newmark's work.



Challenging the Myths of Autism by Jonathan Alderson

This is a readable, fascinating, well researched and important book. Alderson discusses affection, stims, IQ, imagination, critical time period to change, evidence based treatments, and more. How's this: "Children with autism should be pushed to socialize as early as possible." A myth. Did you know that? If there's a person with autism in your life, reading this will be a good investment of your time.


Preventing Your Child’s Meltdowns During the Holidays

You may have missed this report which was available to some before the holidays. Either way, there will be more holidays and more meltdowns, so I hope this will help. 

The holidays are coming up, and if you’re a parent, especially a parent of a sensitive child, then you know you’re going to be dealing with some meltdowns.

The purpose of this report is to go over four causes for meltdowns, and six things you can do to minimize those meltdowns by being better prepared for the holidays.

What can cause a meltdown?

  1. Assaults on the child’s sensitive senses:

Smells, light, touch, sounds. These can be perfumes, cooking smells, blinking holiday lights, clothes that are scratchy, loud music, loud conversation

  1. Change of routine

There’s no school, family is visiting, or your family is going to grandma’s. Sensitive kids may be stressed by all of this even if they don’t particularly like school, or they adore the family members they’ll get to see, or they think that grandma’s is the loveliest place on earth.

  1. Change of diet- perhaps you’ve been very careful in your day-to-day routine to avoid foods that your child is sensitive to, but then during the holidays there are other foods around, other people’s cooking, and your child may be exposed to foods that he or she is better off without.
  2. Parents are often stressed around the holidays, and this stress is contagious. You may have a lot of shopping to do, and perhaps you’re taking your child with you, you may have a lot of cooking or cleaning or whatever other preparations, and you may be less patient with your child and less able to offer the quiet, pleasant time that you normally would.

So what can you do about it?

1. Adjust your expectations. Expect that your child will melt down, expect that some family members will criticize you or your child. Try to be patient. Don’t blame yourself or your child.

2. Prepare your child. The fewer the surprises, the better. Of course, each child is different, but they may understand you even if you can’t get a confirmation from them. And when you prepare your child, try to do two things –

            Tell your child what to expect regarding the next day’s schedule, such as – we’ll get up at eight and have breakfast and drive to aunt Marilyn’s, and you’ll get to play with Peggy and Marie or watch TV with them until lunch, and then… whatever.

            And try to prepare your child to the sensory input he or she will be facing. For example: Uncle Denny will probably play the piano and sing holiday songs, and he’ll have a Christmas tree with colorful blinking lights, and it will probably be quite warm. There will be a strong smell of cooking of such and such foods.  

3. Prepare your family or guests. You can tell them things like:   

Johnny doesn’t like to be touched or hugged. He’ll initiate physical contact when he’s ready for it. Johnny will be much more comfortable with you if you don’t wear perfume, and if your clothes are from natural materials rather than synthetics.

4. Watch the food like a hawk. If you’ve been very careful with your child’s diet, avoiding foods that he or she may be allergic or sensitive to, then during the holidays you should be even more vigilant because some of the food may be cooked by others. You’d want to know the ingredients in the foods others have prepared, or even ask them in advance to modify their recipes as needed. I’ve heard of a child who was brought into the emergency room twice because grandma just couldn’t believe that her bean dish made him sick the first time around, so she just had to try it on him a second time. Grandma may also think that part of her job description is to spoil the little ones and let them have the treats they normally don’t get to have at home.

5. Watch for signs of a pending meltdown. You know your child best, so perhaps you have your own special clues, such as extra giggling or bounciness or certain hand movements which indicate that your child’s behavior is about to go out of control. Judith Bluestone, the founder of HANDLE, listed several signs of stress to watch out for. Some of these are red ears, changes in breathing patterns (holding his or her breath or hyperventilating) or changes in muscle tone (tightening up or needing to lean or sprawl more than before). Take your child to a quiet room to have a break from the mayhem, if possible before the meltdown.

Last but not least, watch your own stress level, for your child’s sake and for your own. Ask yourself what of all the preparations are a must, and where you can lighten up your load. You may be surprised to find out that some people have a really happy holiday even if they bought a turkey that was already cooked. Ask yourself if it’s really a good idea to have family stay over and even sleep in Johnny’s room, or if it’s more sensible to have your in laws stay at a hotel. Take care of yourself.