By Rita Sommers-Flanagan and John Sommers-Flanagan Free Spirit Publishing, 2002 Review by Lizzie Perring, Dip Mus., Cert Ed., MA, Dip Counselling and Psychotherapy on Jan 6th 2004
In this book, the wife and husband co-authors, Rita and John
Sommers-Flannagan, have promised to "Help Kids Who Don't Fit In, Can't
Fit In, Can't Get Along, Are Too Fearful, Sad, Anxious, or Angry, And
More..." Working in the field
of Special Educational Needs myself, I hoped that this book support parents in
talking down so-called Special Needs, by see behavior in context and by
reasoning how behavior and thinking develops.
Hence the title "Problem Child or Quirky Kid."
Plunging in I
found that, using the royal "We," Rita and John proffered answers to
many troubling scenarios, case studies, and questions, resourced from their
professional experiences. The book has
many helpful and positive messages. Its
exploration of "What's Normal" felt a bit worrying at first, but the
authors' offer close referencing to child development and the anomalies of age
and context, soothing my concerns initially.
However, an anxious parent may well find that this book compounds
anxiety rather than alleviating it. It
has promised to talk down difference or at the very least, reason with it. I have the impression that many parents of
troubling children get trapped into heat-seeking. By this, I mean that they may rapaciously devour the sorts of
checklists, criteria and potential diagnoses proffered by Rita and John in this
book, in their desperate struggle to explain their child's behavior, rather
than anything else. Many such parents
get locked into desperate searches for professional help and access to
specialized services to support their child at any cost. This book is not calm enough to allay such
desperation. It does not deconstruct
the myths it promised to engage with.
It masquerades as down to earth and common sense.
What would I like
to them to do differently? Well, I'd
like the authors to grapple in the first place with the Nature/Nurture debate,
thereby helping parents to consider the huge significance of their role in
their child's behavior. Attachment
Theory could be alluded to in order to support this. Then there are Howard Gardner's theories of Multiple
Intelligences and the whole filed of Emotional Literacy. All these offer strongly referenced and
authoritative voices to empower parents to understand their offspring.
In their chapter "Problems with Attention, Hyperactivity and
Impulsivity," the authors offer a plethora of diagnostic materials before
offering any reassurance. The assertion
that these behaviors aren't a concern if they are not "interfering with
basic areas of ... life such as school" is tucked away underneath a
set of criteria that will enable any worried parent to make their own
un-professional judgment on the child's difficulties. I want this message emblazoned everywhere. It's surely the core message that all
responsible professionals should be delivering to parents. If the "Quirky Kid" is getting on
with life in their own idiosyncratic way and feels successful and reasonably
happy, why stir up parental anxiety? Being a parent is troubling enough as it
It is things like that in the sequencing of the book that I find
troubling. My most radical response
would see this book re-edited and all anxiety-building materials stripped
out. For instance, I do not like to
hear children categorized as "Resistant, Anxious, or Sad",
because that is never all they are. "What
elseare they?" I would
like to ask. I also feel that in any
book about children I want to hear children's voices and views
represented. Just in case that's not
enough, I find the literary quotes heading each chapter are the indulgence of
adults and distracting.
What I want in a book like this is more about communicating and relating
to children. More about adult anxiety
and how this affects children. I want
to commission a companion book from children, entitled Problem Parents of
Quirky Adults, because I have feeling that it's not fair to have one
without the other.
Lizzie Perring, Dip Mus., Cert Ed., MA, Dip
Counselling and Psychotherapy, lives in Coventry, UK. She writes about herself:
I am a mother and grandmother with long career in
the field of Special Educational Needs.
I have specialized in supporting children with emotional and behavioral
difficulties and their families. I
haven't forgotten my own experience of emotional and behavioral needs as a
child. I am a firm advocate for
Children's Rights and for Children's and Young People's Participation.