boy-1563004A little over a decade ago, I was consulted by a young couple regarding their nine-year old son. The school had recommended counseling. They felt his shyness and lack of participation in class was concealing a deeper problem, perhaps abuse, depression, or other issue.

The boy had once participated freely in class, but by mid-year, he never raised his hands and looked like he was daydreaming. The parents took him to a specialist who felt he might be on the autism spectrum and recommended therapy. They wanted another opinion.

Although I no longer had a private practice, as a favor to the extended family, I met with the parents and requested an interview with this teacher and school counselor. They weren’t available, but they told me if the parents agreed, I could read the initial letter the school had sent to the parents outlining their concerns. I also read the pediatric therapist’s recommendations.

I finally met with the boy who appeared to be on the quiet and shy side, it is true, but there was simply not any pathology or other problem that I could find after two meetings. I found he had many wonderful traits, such as an extreme ability to focus on complex topics without being distracted.  Once he understood that I didn’t assume there was a problem, he opened up and displayed an unusually bright mind and gentle nature.

In terms of maturity, he appeared to be slightly above his age level. I asked him if he had problems participating in class and he told me, haltingly, that he used to participate more, but the teacher would constantly joke, “Oh, not you again,” when he volunteered answers. He felt his contribution wasn’t wanted.

The parents were loving and their other children had no more than the usual sibling rivalry, and even after a few sessions, I could see they were a healthy, caring family. The other children were a mixture of rambunctious and shy, and I noticed that the father was a soft-spoken, gentle man, while the mother was more outgoing and gregarious.

My conclusion? The children were very much like their parents, some more like the mother, and two, including the nine-year old, were on the shy side. The boy was bright, found his own ruminations more interesting than his teachers’ lectures, and possibly belonged in advanced class, although I was unable to make this recommendation with total confidence as I didn’t feel I had the educational expertise to do so.

I recommended that if the parents or the boy felt at any point that his shyness or quietness was preventing him from being happy, having meaningful family, peer, and other relationships, was hampering his scholastic achievement or otherwise wasn’t serving him, then they could contact me. But until then, I saw no need for therapy or other treatment.

Last spring, I was invited to the boy’s college graduation party. He had skipped one year of high-school and finished a four-year college degree in three years.

His major was in the hard sciences and now he has been accepted to a few top graduate programs in his field. He’s going to one of the best in the country.

When I called to congratulate the family (I was unable to make the celebration) I spoke to the young man I had evaluated all those years ago. He said:

“Because of your recommendations, I was allowed to be myself. Thanks.”

Lesson learned: It’s okay to have personality differences outside the mainstream. Shyness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can actually reflect a thoughtful, deep-thinking nature. We have to allow personality differences to exist and not judge people on these differences or pathologize them. Not everyone needs therapy.