The following article appeared in the July issue of the monthly Gazettes distributed throughout Penrith.
Do you have a child who is different? A quirky kid? He or she does things differently to other children?
When does ‘quirky’ stop being an expression of the individual and an indication that some intervention is required?
I met a special needs teacher recently who has over thirty years experience teaching quirky kids. I put the above question to her. She said “those who could, would”. So if children in general are able to draw at the age of four then your four year-old child should be able to draw, even if she isn’t that keen on it. If your 6 year-old child isn’t making friends when other 6 year-olds have fit in nicely and found a group of children he can relate to, then your child is experiencing some limitations in his social and emotional development.
The special needs teacher also said that the labels don’t help – lazy, stubborn, aggressive, naughty, bad, stupid, a typical boy/girl, etc, – they get in the way of finding out what is really happening for your child. Is it a medical problem? A physical problem? A neurodevelopmental problem?
It’s very good advice. I’ve seen anxious children labelled as lazy. After I’ve had a chance to observe the child I have asked ‘lazy or terrified?’. The earlier that we seek help for our child, the better our child’s prospects will be.
There is too much reliance these days on Dr Google. Too many parents are trying to diagnose their child’s difficulties and apply ill-fitting solutions. I can’t tell you the number of times a parent has spoken in a parenting group about his/her child’s difficulties and the other parents have jumped in with solutions based on what they think the diagnosis could be. Or a well-meaning relative or friend has told a parent that she thinks her child has autism because she knows someone who has autism and they have tantrums just like that. Chances are your mother-in-law, friend, neighbour, or local shopkeeper is not qualified to make that call.
NOTHING beats an assessment by a qualified professional – community health, paediatrician, clinical psychologist, occupational therapist, speech pathologist. The first point of contact should be your General Practitioner (doctor) because you can get financial assistance from Medicare to help with the costs if you get a treatment plan from your GP.
Quirky is absolutely fine, but if your child is limited in one or more areas of development (fine motor, gross motor, social, emotional, intellectual) it can lead to psychological or mental health problems later in childhood or during adolescence, and it’s often much easier to get help when a child is young rather than when the behaviours have become entrenched later.
Of course, you are your child’s best advocate. So if you think that some pieces of information are missing or lacking, or you think you are not getting a quality service, it may be wise to seek another opinion. Keep pushing on because when you do find the right service for your child and he or she is happy and achieving (and possibly still ‘quirky’), it is worth all of the effort.
Family Worker and Student Wellbeing Worker
Nepean Community & Neighbourhood Services