Chances are good that if you are a successful professional today, you were a pretty bright fifth grade girl. My graduate advisor, psychologist Carol Dweck (author of “Mindset”) conducted a series of studies in the 1980s, looking at how Bright Girls and boys in the fifth grade handled new, difficult and confusing material.
She found that Bright Girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up; the higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts rather than give up.
Anna just turned five—less than half the age of the fifth graders referenced in this article—but I’ve noticed her doing the same thing. She’s very bright, and a quick learner when she doesn’t realize she’s learning, but when faced with something new or difficult, her default response is “I can’t!”
The good news is that, for all the times we compliment her for making “good decisions,” we also encourage her to keep trying when something is hard. It seems to work. She still complains, but she ends up improving anyway and then conveniently forgets she ever struggled.
I wonder if Anna’s difficulties with speech, and her gradual but steady progress in being understood, makes a difference. Unlike most bright girls, not everything has been easy for her. She’s had to struggle to be understood all her life, and her only option has been to work hard and improve the clarity of her speech. She been working at it as long as she can remember so she takes it for granted.
And maybe since everything hasn’t come easy for her, she’ll be better prepared for future struggles. Maybe, in this case, her apraxia of speech has been a blessing.