Quirky Kids : Understanding and Helping Your Child Who Doesn't Fit In- When to Worry and When Not to Worry
The toddler whose tantrums scare all the other kids on the playground . . . The three-year-old who ignores all his toys but seems passionately attached to the vacuum cleaner . . . The fourth-grade girl who never gets invited to a birthday party because classmates think she's "weird" . . . The geek who is terrific at math, but is failing every other subject. Quirky children are different from other kids in ways that they-and their parents and teachers-have a hard time understanding or explaining. Straddling the line between eccentric and developmentally impaired, quirky children present challenges that standard parenting books fail to address. Now, in Quirky Kids, nationally known writer/pediatrician Perri Klass and her colleague Eileen Costello, a seasoned pediatrician with a special interest in child development, finally provide the expert guidance and in-depth research that families with quirky children so desperately need.
A generation ago, such children were called odd ducks or worse. But nowadays, they are often assigned medical, psychiatric, or neurological diagnoses. The diagnoses often overlap or shift, but the labels can be frightening. Klass and Costello illuminate the confusing list of terms applied to quirky children these days-nonverbal learning disability, sensory integration disorder, obsessive-compulsive behavior, autistic spectrum disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger's syndrome-and explain how to assess what exactly each diagnosis means and how to use it to help a child most effectively.
Quirky Kids takes you through the stages of a child's life, helping to smooth the way at home, at school, even on the playground. How do you make it through mealtime, when emotions often erupt? How do you help the child's siblings understand what's going on? Is it better to "mainstream" the child or seek a special education program? How can you make a school more welcoming and flexible for a quirky child? How do you help your child deal with social exclusion, name-calling, and bullying?
Choosing the right therapy for quirky children is especially difficult, because their problems fall outside traditional medical categories. Coping strategies might include martial arts or horseback riding, or speech and occupational therapies. Klass and Costello cover all the options, as well as offer a thorough consideration of the available medications, how they work, and whether medication is the best choice for your child.
Drs. Klass and Costello firmly believe that the ideal way to help our quirky kids is to understand and embrace the qualities that make them exceptionally interesting and lovable. Written with upbeat clarity and informed insight, their book is a comprehensive guide to loving, living with, and enjoying these wonderful if challenging children.
Boston pediatricians Klass and Costello address a growing parenting issue: when to worry and when not, how far to push for diagnosis and/or treatment when a child's "quirkiness" becomes concerning. Broadly defining "quirky" kids as "the ones who do things differently" (they may exhibit skewed development, temperamental extremes or social difficulties), the authors explore such confounding and complex syndromes as anxiety disorder, attention deficit disorder, Tourette's syndrome, oppositional defiance disorder, Asperger's syndrome and other problems. Reassuring but frank, Klass and Costello walk parents through the steps of helping a quirky child, beginning with talking to the child's pediatrician, coping with the parents' sense of loss of a perfect child, getting a diagnosis and negotiating the maze of evaluations and evaluators. Parents of quirky kids share many similar dilemmas, such as whom to tell, how to deal with social and peer issues, or how to handle homework. The authors present a thorough discussion of the many therapies and medical treatments available, but also advise parents to keep their own lives in balance as they search for answers, warning that "making your own single quirky child into your life's mission can be dangerous." The book is a good place for parents of quirky kids to start their research, though some may find the title off-putting and a bit quirky itself.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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August 30, 2004
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Excerpt from Quirky Kids by Perri Klass
"My Kid Is Different"
So what do you do when you're worried about your child? You wonder and agonize, you scope out other children, you read books on child development and parenting magazines, and you go looking for help on the Internet. You talk to your spouse or your best friend or your own parents or your day-care teacher. Maybe you lock up all the worry inside and say nothing to anyone, because you can't help feeling that by speaking the words, you will make them come true. Finally, usually, you ask your child's doctor. Maybe you make a special appointment and come in to discuss your concerns, or maybe you just wait for the next regular checkup and then you mention it, more or less in passing, needing to say it, hoping to be reassured. As pediatricians, part of our job is to look over babies and young children and decide whether their development is proceeding normally and on schedule.
We see our patients for short, busy interludes, often at moments when they are feeling more than a little bit stressed-out. Think of the one-year-old, cranky after a long stint in the waiting room, less than eager to be handled by a stranger, maybe remembering all too well that this too-chilly room is a place where they stick you with needles. So, as pediatricians, we examine kids and watch how they behave, but we rely most of all on parents to tell us what's going on. We know that many behavioral and developmental problems are subtle and hard to judge, and we worry that we may be missing something. On the other hand, part of our job is to reassure. If we sent every child who takes a little longer to walk for a full orthopedic, neurological, and developmental assessment, we would hardly be doing anyone any favors--not to mention what would happen if everyone who was a little slow to talk got a full oral-motor workup and a brain scan.
Is Something Really Wrong?
All children have bad hours and bad days and even bad weeks. Many children have difficult developmental stages or particular developmental tasks that they find frustrating and even miserable. Many parents who find themselves sufficiently and persistently worried enough to request diagnostic workups and medical and developmental evaluations end up looking back on something that turned out to be nothing more than a difficult episode in an otherwise straightforward childhood. A persistent worry doesn't tell you what the end result is going to be, but it does signal a need to pay attention and ask the right questions.
Medical students famously diagnose themselves with every syndrome they study. And as parents, reading about children and the various things that can go wrong in their health or development, we measure our own children against the most ominous medical syndromes.
But if you've picked up this book, your concern is more than the occasional reflex anxiety that falls under the heading of parental love. You may be worried that your child is somehow developmentally different in a significant way. You may already have started making your way through the maze of diagnosis and assessment, and you may in fact already have had a diagnosis--or a label or a formulation--assigned to your child. But wherever you and your child are in this journey, it probably all began with some worries that somehow he was different: worries that didn't go away with the morning sun or disappear when teething ended or move to the back burner when you found a better day-care center.
The First Signs
For many parents, this nagging worry that something is wrong comes early in the child's life. Maybe it's an unusually intense expression of a standard baby stage: the infant whose colic doesn't end at twelve weeks or the toddler whose tantrums reflect an underlying frustration out of proportion to the "average" toddler. Maybe it's an unusual pattern of behavior or interaction--the baby who won't make eye contact, the toddler who plays obsessively with only one or two toys. Or maybe you're looking at developmental delays or differences that are just too numerous or too intense to write off as a variant of normal.
We knew John was different from the beginning. He had a lot of trouble learning how to nurse. I remember this nurse at the hospital saying he's got a sucking disorder. I knew once I got him home, he would be fine. He was, but he nearly starved to death in the process. It was three or four days before he got the hang of it. Then, for the first four months, it went OK. I went back to work, started giving him some formula. But he couldn't make the transition to eating. His intake started dwindling. I remember thinking, "It's because I've gone back to work." With baby food, he couldn't figure out what to do with it when it was in his mouth, and from four to nine months, he had a totally flat growth curve--didn't gain any weight at all.