Posted by: Hannah | 10/04/2011

baby Einstein… or not

Recently the fabulous Not Mary P (who I am totally internet-stalking now, I’ll bet she’s bloody relieved we don’t live in the same city) wrote a post about one of the kids in her care and whether or not she is, perhaps, not that bright.

It was written with love, and that’s obvious – but we can’t all be rocket scientists or brain surgeons, and that’s just the way life is.

I am blessed to have two very bright children of my own. Scary-smart. Like, “the school system is already letting the oldest one down because they refuse to challenge him at the level he should be” smart. (I spoke to a teacher friend of mine once and he said that gifted children often fall through the cracks; children with learning disabilities or more severe challenges are generally given appropriate resources & targeted curriculum goals, while gifted children are usually left to their own devices. But all that is a post for another day.)

It so happens that my current crop of kids to watch are generally pretty smart, too. And my nieces are also bright. For whatever reason, most of the kids in my life don’t struggle much with language, or grasping concepts. They react well to challenges and for the most part understand and respond like much older kids.

And then there is Very Quiet Boy.

Sidebar: I’ve written about him before, and a drive-by no-name troll said some very hurtful things in a comment I ultimately chickened out on and didn’t approve. And then I deleted the post, which I have since regretted. If you are a new or random reader, know this: I keep this blog as anonymous as possible, I don’t use any identifying details, and also – my space, my rules. You don’t like honesty, get lost. I’ll take reasoned input but not accusations and insults from someone who doesn’t even have the balls to identify themselves when shitting all over me. Thanks.

So – Very Quiet Boy. He’s actually my longest-term client; he’s been coming full time for a year now. He’ll be three next month. He’s very sweet, loves animals, being read to, colouring books and cars. He doesn’t talk in complete sentences around me (not very often, anyway – when he does it’s such a rarity that the other children always remark on it). He cries loudly but talks so softly when he does talk that I have to ask him to repeat himself several times. I often feel as if we’re communicating at cross-purposes; his parents swear that at home they can’t get him to stop talking, whereas here it’s a major bloody challenge to get him to start.

The kids in my care are loosely divided – in my head – into “the big boys” and “the little girls”. I never know where to put Very Quiet Boy on that spectrum. By age (3 next month) and preferred activities (playing superheroes), he should be with “the big boys”. By verbal skills and ability to follow directions, he should be with “the little girls”.

He needs to be told things over and over again. He doesn’t follow directions well; crafts in particular stymie him utterly, and we do really, really simple crafts. Today was a case in point; we made a simplified version of the ever-popular handprint turkey. Here’s what we did:

  1. talked about Thanksgiving, and what it means (“we say thank-you for the things we have! yes, like Lego!”)
  2. traced our hands with spread fingers on a piece of brown construction paper (I did the tracing)
  3. coloured in the shape
  4. added beaks & feet (I helped the little kids with this part)
  5. yay! behold turkeys!
Or at least that’s we tried to do. Very Quiet Boy needed his fingers spread out for him because saying “please spread out your fingers!” in my very best Miss Fran from Romper Room voice while demonstrating with my own hand wasn’t working. As I traced I had to keep stopping him from curling his fingers back up.
As soon as everyone had their hand shape, the other kids started colouring and talking about turkeys… VQB flipped his paper over and drew circles. And spirals. Like a tiny druid trying to invoke the spirits. (Aside: If you don’t want to do the craft, I don’t care. Honestly. It’s just a suggested activity. But he just looked so confused. And when I gently said “would you like to colour your turkey?” he said “don’t know how” in his usual whispery quiet voice.)
This happens a lot. Last week we made coasters out of salt dough, decorated with seeds. He didn’t seem to understand my instructions (“press the seeds in like this”) no matter how many times I explained, and demonstrated, and walked him through it.
He also has a very hard time keeping up with the other “big boys” (3.5 and 4) and the constant ebb & flow of their creative play. They have a loosely-constructed ‘game’ that runs from day to day, with characters and voices. Because he won’t (can’t?) talk, they quickly lose interest in trying to include him. Again, I see him having difficulties comprehending the instructions they are giving him.
Despite my best efforts, he often seems to be alone, babbling to himself in his own peculiar style of English (I understand maybe 50% of the words) as he plays.
I find myself repeating the same simple instructions over and over again. I wonder sometimes if it’s his hearing, or if this is normal for a kid his age and I’m being unfair because of my limited basis for comparison, or if it’s me, or if he’s just a little slow and that’s OK too, because he is, as aforementioned, a sweet-natured kid who will probably live a happy and uncomplicated life.
I wonder.


  1. If he was five, I’d be alarmed, but there’s a pretty wide spectrum of “normal” for a not-yet-three year old. That being said, he’d frustrate the hell out of me. If you’re alarmed and want to inform the parents, you could “video tape” (what’s the term for this in the age of digital media?) and show his parents or maybe ask to see video of how he behaves at home.

    • I’d like to see the videotape of him at home, just because I honestly find it hard to believe he is that noisy & chatty ever! Although I was talking to his mom on the phone one day, and I heard a screaming banshee in the background that was apparently him. So… I don’t know. Some days I think he’s just shy and then other days, I’m not so sure.

  2. eh…I think there’s a lot of “look at my special snowflake!” in the parenting world now, and it makes it REALLY difficult to determine what “bright” or “not so bright” really is anymore since frankly, I look at some “bright” kids (including my own eldest) and think, gee, they’re just doing what they should be doing, period.

    Ros was a LOT like this kid-not terribly verbal, very passive, almost to the point of being non communicative with some people. She still gets that way when she’s stressed at all-i.e. tired, hungry, overwhelmed. I was the same way as a child, and to a degree still am. That being said, I’m not sure just how bright she is either, however, she has this alarming ability to be different with different people-her kindergarden teacher said she was reading a few levels ahead of where she needed to be at the end of the year-with me, she was barely reading! IRRITATING as all get out.

    Sounds like he’s just being a PITA…I have two of those :p It’s bad enough when it’s your own kid-can’t imagine what it’s like if it’s someone else’s. 😀

    • Oh, I know all about ‘special little snowflake’ disease, I really do. 🙂 I hesitate to throw around words like ‘bright’ unless I really mean them (and I know good verbal skills are not always an indicator of anything else!) I’d hate to think he’s just being a PITA… although that *is* a distinct possibility (especially given his potty-training issues, which is another story.)

  3. There’s a little boy who has been in class with my oldest since kindergarten (now they’re in grade two). He is pleasant and compliant; he’s cheerful and happy; he’s not bright at all. He sounds like this kid. By January of Grade One he was able to count to ten. Now he can count to 20. His speech is difficult to understand, but he does seem to understand directions. He’s had a lot of testing and there doesn’t seem to be any issues other than he’s not too bright. Which is okay.

    • Exactly this, is what I mean. I don’t say any of this to indicate that I’m worried about him, or think he needs intervention, or anything else. And I know he’s happy and enjoys life, which is the important thing. My *only* worry is that he gets left behind a lot. But I guess that’s something he’ll need to work out on his own.

  4. In my town, I teach 12 classes of students ages 4 to 15, and each class has one or two students like the one you just described. That said, since I’ve been teaching mostly the same kids for the past two years, I’ve also seen how most of these students have improved. They may not always learn at the same speed or in the same way as most of the others, but they are still learning, which is the most important thing. You quiet boy may just be developing more slowly or in a different way than your other kids.

    • I do see that he’s learned some things… I do wish there were some resources I could tap into that would help me develop some different strategies to help him learn. Technically this year he’s old enough for preschool – and would qualify for admission to grade primary at the same time as Thing #2. I have a hard time imagining (at this stage anyway) that he is ready for those kinds of milestones, but I wish I knew which approaches I use work better for him. But maybe I just worry too much. I’m awfully fond of him – he’s here all day, five days a week, so he really is like one of the family – and I’d hate to think I’m not doing right by him when a few simple changes to my approach might be just what he needs.

  5. I should add that once the quiet one starts elementary school, he’ll probably get extra help if he needs it. From the way you described it in the first part of your post, there are a lot of resources for children who need extra help within the public school system in your area. Where I am (Japan) there is unfortunately very little in the way of extra help for children who need it.

    If the lad seems happy going at his own pace and the parents haven’t expressed any concerns, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Hope this makes you feel better.

    • You’re probably right. You know very well that I am a worrier… and his parents kind of go back and forth between being concerned and not seeing a problem, so ultimately, I’ve probably done all I can do. But thanks for the encouraging words.

  6. If this was my child, I’d probably be a little concerned. My first thought was autism, but then I tend to worry a lot about that for some reason. I guess if he’s a happy little guy, then that’s what matters most.

    By the way, I admire your energy for coming up with holiday crafts.

    • I thought autism for a long time with him, but since (according to his mom) he’s only like that when he’s here, I don’t think that’s it. And thanks. I don’t know how people did the holiday crafts thing before the internet.

  7. I wonder if it IS a hearing problem?

    Then again, sometimes we do have to accept that 50% of people have to be ‘below average’ in order for the other 50% to be ‘above average’!

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