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ADhD, Autism, Behaviour, Book, Children, sensory integration

Introverted Body Temperaments

Introverted Body Temperaments

It is thought that one of the most important differences between introverts and extroverts is the effect social life has on them (Laney, 2005). Introverts tend to be exhausted by a lot of social interaction; they recharge by being alone and need a lot of down time. Whereas extroverts recharge by being in social contact with people and may find being alone tiring. Another important distinction is that introverts value “being” while extroverts value “doing”, this give them very different social status in north American culture.

Here is a helpful description of some of them that I found on the blog parentfromscratch:

“ When they have had a busy, stimulating, or stressful day, they need alone time. Introverted kids need time to process the activities, interactions, conversations, information, and their emotions from the day. This is a giant stress release, and not getting it is treacherous for an introvert’s psyche. (…)

Introverts need to develop a connection with someone before they’ll talk comfortably. There must be a trust that that person will listen, a trust that she’ll understand, a trust that the child will be taken seriously. This leads to being cautious in getting to know new people that look like “shyness” (or rudeness, my addition).

Introverted kids process their feelings internally, they do not wear their emotions on their sleeve. Introverted kids prefer play dates to play groups. One-on-one encounters allow people to get to know each other much more deeply, which is the kind of interaction introverts crave. I would venture to say that the deeper levels of relationship only occur in one-on-one encounters, introvert or not; that it is impossible to truly get to know a person when you’re always in the presence of others. But for introverts, single-friend play dates are less stimulating than being in a large group of activity and are more conducive to meaningful conversation. This is an introvert’s need that balances out their other need for alone time.

Introverted kids enjoy activities that allow their minds to wander. Any opportunity to think, pretend, get creative, solve problems, daydream or otherwise get inside their head is welcome. Great introverted activities include reading, writing, sketching, jump rope, roller skating, fishing, painting, bike rides, gardening, playing catch, swimming, hiking, swinging, climbing trees, puzzles…the list goes on.”[1]

My own experience of my bodily introvert son, has taught me that there are major differences in how introverts operate socially. The difference in their responses to social stimuli is believed to stem from neurochemical balances in the brain. According to brain researchers Stephen Kosslyn and Oliver Koenig, quoted by Laney, acetylcholine and dopamine trigger the nervous system. They are the main link between the brain and the body while functioning at opposite sides of the autonomous nervous system[2]. Dopamine activates in the sympathetic nervous system and acetylcholine operates in the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic system is the fright or flight system while the parasympathetic is the rest and digest system. Studies show that introverted temperaments are dominant on the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, which uses acetylcholine as its main neurotransmitter, the “put on the brakes” system. Extroverts are dominant on the sympathetic system, which uses dopamine as its main neurotransmitter, the “give it gas” system.
These neurotransmitters trigger very different behaviors: “Acetylcholine triggers the brain’s ability to focus and concentrate for long periods of time. It slows down the body when it is awake so the brain can concentrate. (…) Acetylcholine activates another reward system. It’s subtle but very powerful. “[3] This reward system, released when a person concentrates on one element for long periods of time, is powerful for brain dominated by Acetylcholine (introverted temperament) but hardly noticeable by brain governed by dopamine (extroverted temperament). Dopamine on the other hand, controls rewards that promote novelty-seeking behaviors, quick actions, and the urge to move quickly in order to get more of them. A jolt of dopamine to an introvert can cause anxiety and overstimulation.

For introverts, the stages of social development are radically different than those of extroverts. This is an problem in our culture since it promotes socialization at an early age. Often, the early separation from their parent at the age of two happens at a time when they are in need of attachment to their mother. The separation becomes a form of trauma. I experience this with my first son who started having terrible nightmares when we attempted daycare. I ended up removing him from that environment.

Neuroscientist Dr Johnson, a research scientist at the University of Iowa, and other researchers have shown that introverts and extroverts had different amount of blood flowing to different part of the brain: “Extroverts had lower blood flow in the behavioral inhibition system in the frontal lobes, but more activity in the back of the brain, in areas that underlie an intense thirst for sensory and emotional stimuli.“[4] Whereas Dr Johnson found a drastic different in how the brain of introverts functions: “Introverts had higher blood flow in the frontal lobes – home to the system that inhibits behaviors and promotes planning and thinking before acting. “[5]

Interestingly, there seem to be a spectrum of sensory sensitivity and temperaments in gifted children, which lead to either ADHD or Autistic type symptoms when out of sync with what we consider “normal” behaviors. Could it be that behaviors regarded as Autistic or ADHD are related to how introverted and extroverted children deal with imbalanced social, sensory, emotional and/or chemical stimuli? What if ADD and ADHD marks the intense under-sensorial and emotional stimulation of children with a dominant extroverted nature or a sensory seeker? And what if autism marks the intense painful chemical, emotional, sensorial stimulation of sensory under-responsiveness of defensiveness to the point of shutting down?

Having children whose behaviors could easily be labeled as ADHD and autism, I have observed that what can seem to be drastically different behaviors appear to correspond to a similar “broad” environmental attention ability and sensitivity. The main difference in behaviors in my own children seems to stand from two elements. First, the dominant body temperament, an introverted child or adult will withdraw into an internal world as they tend to live in their head whereas extroverts physically become hyperactive as they tend to exist much more in their body. Second,a hypo (underwhelming) or hyper (overwhelming) reaction to sensory and chemical input will translate the input as a pleasurable experience when hypo-sensitive case or painful when hyper-sensitive to it.

In both cases, they hyper focus to reduce sensory input, but the resulting behavior varies greatly depending on the dominant sensory temperament. One will either act out in the case of an extrovert or withdraw for an introvert in accordance to certain sensory inputs. But I have noticed that my children are not introverted or extroverted. They seem to have some of both traits that come out with different level of comfort in different situations. The extroversion comes out when one is in a new environment and needs to explore, for the other one it is the reverse, he feels safe when he knows the environment extremely well. The issue has become finding the triggers of their over-excitability.

Looking at the characteristics of these different groups, it became obvious to me that these categories identify varying forms of perceptions, or advanced forms of broad attention, and should be understood as forms of intelligences. What if the narrow and broad attention of the brain we examined in chapter 2 is not just about mental processes, but also intrinsically tied to the senses? What if there exist ranges of sensory processing sensitivities that correspond to narrow and broad attentions abilities within the senses? Let’s just think of sight, we have narrow and far sightedness, why wouldn’t there be the same phenomenon in all senses? I was glad to find out that indeed, alternate forms of sensing and attention that humans call upon have already been related to alternate forms of intelligence (Gardner & Hatch, 1989).

Previous: Highly Sensitive Children, Next: Attention Spectrum of Intelligence


[1]Dr. Laney-Olsen, Marti (2005). The Hidden Gifts of the Introvert Child. Workman Publishing Company; 1 edition. P. 10.

[2]According to the Dorland’s Medical Dictionary, the autonomous nervous system is the part of the peripheral nervous system that acts as a control system functioning largely below the level of consciousness, and controls visceral functions.

[3]Dr. Laney-Olsen, Marti (2005). The Hidden Gifts of the Introvert Child. Workman Publishing Company; 1 edition. P. x.

[4]Johnson, Debra, L., Wiebe, John, S., Gold, Sherri M., Andreasen, Nancy, C. , Hichwa, Richard D. , Watkins, Leonard, G. and Boles Ponto, Laura L. (1999). Cerebral Blood Flow and Personality: A Positron Emission Tomography Study. American Journal of Psychiatry 1999; 156:252–257. Retrieved at: http://journals.psychiatryonline.org/data/Journals/AJP/3697/252.pdf

[5]Johnson, Debra, L., Wiebe, John, S., Gold, Sherri M., Andreasen, Nancy, C. , Hichwa, Richard D. , Watkins, Leonard, G. and Boles Ponto, Laura L. (1999). Cerebral Blood Flow and Personality: A Positron Emission Tomography Study. American Journal of Psychiatry 1999; 156:252–257. Retrieved at: http://journals.psychiatryonline.org/data/Journals/AJP/3697/252.pdf



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