Many of us have interacted with a “quirky” child in our lives. Perhaps your child has mentioned a classmate who has frequent meltdowns when the teacher says it’s time to move from one activity to the next, or who has trouble getting along with their peers. Or perhaps you’re raising a quirky child yourself: one who exhibits several behaviors associated with autism, but who isn’t actually on the autism spectrum.
In 8 Keys to Raising the Quirky Child: How to Help a Kid Who Doesn’t (Quite) Fit In, part of Norton’s 8 Keys to Mental Health series, author Mark Bowers shares practical tips for identifying, assessing, and helping the quirky child succeed. With his wealth of knowledge and experience from his years as a pediatric psychologist, Bowers offers a confident, parent-friendly approach to appreciating a child’s unique traits — and working with them rather than against them.
Bowers first guides parents through the process of identifying a child’s particular traits. Parents of quirky children often recognize that their child differs from others, but may have trouble pinpointing which behaviors are “normative,” as Bowers prefers to say, and which are more unique. For example, quirky children are often “depth-seekers,” and will talk exhaustively (and knowledgeably) about a single subject.
To an adult who spends little time with other kids, the quirky child may simply appear to be overly intelligent, with a typical childhood obsession for a subject (trains, for example). To a quirky child’s peers, however, such behavior quickly stands out. Combine depth-seeking behavior with trouble socializing, emotional outbursts at transition times, and strong reactions to sensory experiences such as tastes and textures, and you’ve got the profile of a quirky child.
Bowers is careful to note throughout the book that his suggestions are for children who have not crossed over into pathology: for instance, he’s not talking about those who have been placed on the autism spectrum, but about those who may share just a few traits and not meet all of the diagnostic criteria.
Once Bowers helps the reader identify a child’s particular quirks, he gets into brain function, how to provide guidance on social skills, and how to tailor responses to behaviors to meet the child’s unique needs. He also offers a guide to developmentally appropriate behaviors, which gives readers a chance to track a child’s behavior and understand the difference between normative and quirky behavior at the different stages of development.
Each key had a lot to offer both parents and educators. The straightforward, visually organized structure of the book made it easy to follow. And Bowers provides an abundance of resources, as well as convenient take-home points at the end of each key, which may be helpful to the frazzled parent seeking guidance at the end of a long day.
I was especially impressed with the author’s emphasis on setting a quirky child up for success. Bowers describes the A-B-C model of behavior — antecedent, behavior, consequence — and encourages parents and teachers to identify varying antecedents to negative behaviors, so that, if possible, the child can be in an environment less likely to trigger those behaviors. (Indeed, certain environments, he writes, are often an antecedent.) Modifying the antecedent, Bowers writes, may work better than trying to use consequences to motivate a quirky child to change how they act.
Of course, following all of the tips in the book will not erase the reality that raising a quirky child can be an exhausting process, one filled with trial and error. As Bowers points out, once a particular challenge has been conquered, the quirky child will then move on to the next behavioral challenge, leaving the parent with the feeling of beginning all over again. But he encourages readers to approach each hurdle or failure with a “get back on the horse” attitude — something that may help the parent of any child.
8 Keys to Raising the Quirky Child: How to Help a Kid Who Doesn’t (Quite) Fit In
W. W. Norton & Company, July 2015
Paperback, 320 pages