Has your child been in trouble for a behavior that the teacher interpreted as disengaged but which you knew was a coping strategy or sensory regulation technique? I know that in the therapeutic social skills groups that I run, many of the young people will fidget, doodle, or appear disengaged, but be catching every word. We work on the skill of "showing listening", but for the pragmatic reason that it demonstrates social interest, not because it actually helps with information retention.
I was listening Where We Live on WNPR yesterday and they were talking about Doodling. The gist of the piece was that doodling can serve to keep the mind engaged with the material being discussed, and is a creative act rather than a distracted one. Here is a TED talk below from one of the guests.
When I was listening to the story, I was thinking about context. Many of the children I work with in the Kids Cooperate social skills groups have autism spectrum or ADHD diagnoses. These come with the contextual baggage of institutional reactions to special needs. While an Autism or ADHD diagnosis and associated IEP ensure flexibility in some areas, there are corresponding assumptions that may mean extra scrutiny for a child who does not appear outwardly to be attentive. Even as advances in our understanding about how attention works means that work habits like doodling are becoming acceptable, your child may not be given the benefit of doubt.
Another thing to consider is the important social marker that eye contact, posture, and other outward expressions of attentiveness hold. Sometimes the appearance of engagement is just as important as the actual amount of information being retained. Today in the high school social skills group we talked about this issue. We practiced the pragmatic skills related to demonstrating listening, and then experimented with doodling while listening vs. "showing" listening.
Aaron Weintraub, MS runs child-centered social skills groups with a focus on children and teenagers with Pervasive Developmental Disorder,Asperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Shyness. Strengths-based approach in a community based setting. Groups available in Tolland, Mansfield, Willimantic, Hartford, Vernon and Coventry Connecticut.