In the first 3 years of his life, we were so busy dealing with our son’s eczema and various severe allergies that we really didn’t pay any attention to his personality. Then he started school. School, which is unkind to boys to begin with, has a way of sharply underscoring the qualities that set a child apart from others. Our son was dreamy, distracted and had a tendency to keep to himself. He would look anywhere but at the teacher but be able to answer any questions on the subject being discussed – a parlor trick that caused no end of amazement to the adults interacting with him.
This was over half a dozen years ago, when behavioral disorders were not as much in the cultural mainstream as they are today. Still, we knew he was not like the other kids. I would like to say that we were enlightened enough to know he didn’t need to be tested, but it was most likely the social stigma which kept us from getting him a ‘label’.
Over the course of the years, the 3 guidelines I followed every time I wondered if he really needed external intervention were as follows –
– Could he make eye contact and carry on a conversation?
– Was he coping at school?
– Did he have the ability to make friends and keep them?
So long as the answers to the three questions were in the affirmative, I decided he was ok – different but ok.
Now an excellent article in Newsweek discusses ‘quirky’ kids and how the definition of normal has changed over the years.
More and more, kids who once would have been considered slightly out of step with their peers are emerging with diagnoses of sensory-integration dysfunction, dyspraxia and pervasive developmental disorder, to name a few.
I know this is true from personal experience. If ‘normal’ is a band in the behavior spectrum, that band has been shrinking dramatically. I notice that my son feels less and less out of place as the years go by, not because he has changed in any noticeable way, but that many of the kids around him have behavioral ‘issues’ that once would have just been called personality traits.
The Newsweek article goes on to say –
If we examine ourselves and those around us….we have to admit that everyone is, to a certain extent, odd….So when we worry about our kids’ strange behavior, is it because they deviate from our own expectations of what life should be like for a ‘well adjusted’ 5-, 7-, or 12-year old, or is it because the person in front of us is struggling way more than she should?
I guess the middle road between a behavioral diagnosis from experts and ignoring a potentially serious condition is to make sure your child is capable of coping and navigating his or her world. After that, it is up to us to celebrate your child’s differences.
The postscript to our experiences with our son’s quirkiness is that 6 years after he was born, we had a baby daughter. She is the poster child for ‘normal’. No matter how thin that band of acceptable behavior gets she will always be plumb in the middle of it. She is an uncomplicated child, a joy to have around and a breeze to bring up. And yet, I sometimes catch myself wishing she was a little more imaginative, a little more generous, sensitive and thoughtful – a little more like my quirky, difficult son.