Quirky Kids: Understanding & Helping Your Child Who Doesn't Fit In
I envy those lucky Boston parents, who have easy access to Drs. Perri Klass and Eileen Costello as their children's pediatricians. My late father was a pediatrician, and I love my children's pediatricians-but I could see myself picking up the phone and seeking guidance from either Dr. Klass or Dr. Costello about any issues that trouble me about my own children.
Rarely have I come across as reassuring, wise and useful a book as this one. The authors, both Harvard-trained pediatricians who are currently on the staff of Boston University School of Medicine, tackle the potentially troublesome topic of what parents can do when they have so-called "quirky kids".
They don't dwell on the labels or diagnoses (although the authors certainly provide comprehensive information about pervasive developmental disorder, sensory integration dysfunction, Asperger's Syndrome, autistic spectrum disorder, as well as many, many others). They don't write in technical, complicated language that could make any parent feel as if she just wandered into a thicket of jargon that obscures the reality of her child. Perhaps most important, the authors don't reduce children to their diagnoses, never losing sight of the individual.
The purpose of the book, Klass and Costello write, is this: "Parents come to see us at our office with stories, with patterns, habits and behaviors that they've noticed in their babies and their toddlers, their preschoolers and their elementary school children, and they ask our opinion: Is this normal? Is something wrong? We hear stories about toddlers whose tantrums seem off the scale by comparison to their siblings, about young children with intense obsessive interests, about children who don't talk on schedule or who do talk but in peculiar ways, about children who don't enjoy the games that delight the other members of the playgroup...And as we watch parents struggle with a multitude of assessments, diagnoses, therapies and medications, we have come to appreciate that life with a quirky child can be complex and difficult. We wrote this book to help you navigate and to help you do what you most want to do: know and recognize and appreciate your own child and help him grow and thrive."
A little later in the book, the authors reinforce this message. They write, "The truth is, of course-as every worried parent knows-that not every quirky child grows up to be a successful but quirky independent adult. However, the ability to succeed in life and to function independently depends on the whole package that is your developing child, not just the quirky aspects."
Quirky kids are in good company, at least according to literary models-like Professor Henry Higgins or Sherlock Holmes-or path breakers like Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson and Mozart.
With a reassuring tone, lots of examples from parents who have "quirky kids" of their own-and interjections about successful adults who undoubtedly were quirky back in their own childhoods-Klass and Costello explore and examine a variety of behaviors that can make it clear to parents that their child is somewhere outside the "normal" boundaries (a three-year-old who won't wear clothes that have flowers on them, a six-year-old who can't bear loud noises, a nine-year-old who doesn't know how to speak with kids in the lunchroom because all he wants to talk about is astronomy). And they point out that many quirky children have so-called "splinter skills," like a tremendous musical talent, or ability to work with animals, that can be a positive in dealing with their peer group.
They don't sugarcoat the topic, either. "Family life with a quirky child is more fraught with tension, more difficult and subject to all kinds of stresses, to more intense versions of the usual stresses," write Klass and Costello.
The authors address issues like how to negotiate the playground with a quirky toddler; find play dates that work; handle family gatherings-and the relatives-when one's child doesn't quite conform; find understanding and compassionate babysitters; negotiate school, both with and without an individualized education plan, as well as homework, after-school activities like sports or religious training, and figure out the strategies to successfully move through pre-school, elementary, middle and high school.
They also describe what various therapies and interventions do-like occupational and physical therapy, speech and language therapy, play therapy-and how children may benefit from such programs. They also reassure parents that it's okay to step off the diagnostic/intervention treadmill, if a parent feels his child would be better off relaxing after school instead of being carted off to yet another appointment with yet another specialist.
This is definitely a book that would be of tremendous value to any family that lives with a quirky child-and an important addition to a school psychologist's professional library shelves.
Finally, write Klass and Costello, it's important to remember that "the world needs its quirky children, its quirky adults, its quirky minds and its quirky sensibilities; for all the challenges they face, quirky people enlarge and enhance life for us all."#