By Perri Klass, M.D., and Eileen Costello, M.D.
A book review by Sarah Garrison
Common sense is not so common. – Voltaire
I admit it; I was prepared to hate this book. The title, Quirky Kids, felt like a slap in the face, after the years I have spent trying to find answers and solutions for what was happening with my child. I was truly relieved and gratified to find that the title is the weakest part of this wise, helpful, encouraging book.
The authors, Perri Klass and Eileen Costello, are Harvard-educated pediatricians and mothers. They pooled their years of medical and parenting experience to write Quirky Kids, and their experience shows. Of all the books I have read on parenting issues and special needs, this one contains the most wisdom, the most common sense, and the most practical advice.
The single most important aspect of this book is its purpose. The authors’ intent is to give parents of quirky kids the information and self-confidence they need to navigate the world of special needs and special education. Perhaps you have encountered doctors who were patronizing, who tended to lecture their patients rather than listening to them. I certainly have met my share of those doctors. Drs. Klass and Costello encourage the parents who read Quirky Kids to trust their instincts, trust their own knowledge of their child, and question everything – including the content of this book.
I would like to take a moment to note what Quirky Kids is not. It is not an in-depth look at any neurological disorder or learning disability. It does not include detailed descriptions of the causes or symptoms (although a fair amount of time is spent discussing the etiology of autistic spectrum disorders, and the roles played by genetics and environment). This is a book primarily for parents who are just beginning to wonder if there is a problem, or for those parents who are still navigating the maze of treatments, diagnoses and professionals, trying to glean useful information from the flood of statements and opinions. If you already have a working diagnosis, good doctors, and a cooperative school district (or you are a happy homeschooler), Quirky Kids will offer you little beyond a virtual hug and reassurance that you are doing the best that you can. There are a number of very good books available that address specific disorders, and you would be better served by one of those.
Quirky Kids begins with the question “Is Something Really Wrong?” The authors discuss the differences between typical and atypical infant and child development, and when a parent really should worry about a child’s behavior. From this point, the book turns to the nuts and bolts of managing the child’s issues: what to look for and expect from your pediatrician and from specialists, what to expect from an evaluation of your child, who performs the evaluations. The authors discuss the various medications and therapies that are available, as well as issues that may arise in social and educational settings. Different educational options are described with their benefits and disadvantages, and the authors frankly discuss the hurdles parents are likely to encounter in attempting to obtain an appropriate educational environment for their child.
The authors make a concerted effort to present all options evenhandedly and with as little bias as possible. When they do have a bias, they present their opinions and concerns openly. The authors admit that they cannot imagine themselves homeschooling their own children, but they acknowledge that homeschooling can be the best solution in some situations. Similarly, as doctors they feel they cannot recommend alternative treatments as there is a lack of research to support the claims of the treatments’ effectiveness, but they also are reluctant to discourage a family from following a path that seems to be working for them. Medications and therapies are presented with their advantages and disadvantages, along with what research has shown about the effectiveness of any given treatments.
As for that title: I am not going to refer to my child as quirky, any more than I was inclined to take Dr. Cabbagehead’s advice three years ago and begin referring to my severely twice-exceptional child as merely “eccentric.” However, upon reflection I believe I understand why the title was chosen. In Quirky Kids, the authors endeavor to address the needs of children on a broad spectrum, from the seriously disabled to the merely “quirky.” Most of the available research has been conducted on the most severely affected individuals, thus we must extrapolate from the research conclusions to find what works for mildly affected children. Moreover, there simply are more “quirky” individuals than there are severely disabled. In my experience, I also have noticed that many parents are likely to react with defensiveness or hostility when they are told that their child might have a problem. I can see how the book’s title might draw in parents who are wondering why their child behaves a certain way, but are unwilling to admit that something might be wrong.
Having read so many books and heard so many experts blaming poor parenting or the mother in particular for a child’s issues (I am looking at you, Dr. Brazelton, Dr. Dobson, Dr. Laura, John Rosemond), it is heartening to read a book that takes a hard look at those notions and at current research, and reminds parents that it is not all their fault, that they are their child’s best advocate, and tells parents that they can wade through the mixed messages and find what is best for their child, without utterly martyring themselves and the rest of their family in the process.
Reading Quirky Kids is like having coffee and a conversation with dear friend who has already traveled down this path. It offers comfort, encouragement, information and common-sense advice without pronouncing judgment on your decisions. I heartily recommend this book for any parent who has just “landed in Holland,” or who is just beginning to wonder if they should worry about their child.
Sarah Garrison lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons, one of whom is twice-exceptional, the other too stubborn to assess. She has homeschooled her children for the last five years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check out her blog at The Best-Laid Plans.