Raising a “Quirky” Child

5 Tips for Raising a Quirky Child

While we want to celebrate what makes each child unique, there are times when we see our children standing out from the crowd and we worry they are standing alone. Our hearts ache when we see our children left out of play, gossiped about, or ostracized from the group because of the little quirks that make their personality their own.

As a parent, there is a fine balance between allowing our little quirky child to brave his own path, and helping him learn and understand the way people interact, why they act a certain way, and how we may better “fit in” at certain times. This is learning that is ongoing, as our quirky kids will experience new situations throughout their lifetimes. But as parents, we can often be by their side, helping them navigate the nuances of the social world.

20130829-200426.jpg1. Practice entering into a conversation or play scenario. Initiating a conversation with another child gets trickier the older your child gets. It’s often hard for a child to come up with a way to enter play. At your child’s level, role play some ways to join a conversation. Hi there… I love Legos, especially Star Wars ones! Can I play, too? Practice together, then let your child practice with another parent or sibling.

2. Be straightforward and matter-of-fact about social rules. After you witness an awkward encounter, talk with your child about appropriate ways of interacting. It’s great to say hello and smile when we see our friends, Aidan. We don’t want to hug or kiss them, though, because we need to respect their space. We save our kisses for Mom and Dad.

3. When you know a tricky situation is coming up, prep your child ahead of time. Give them some strategies on how to interact. It’ll be fun to see your friends on the soccer field, Sarah. Let’s smile and say “hi” when we get there.

4. Problem-solve with your child. From problem behaviors to extreme anxiety, the best solutions usually come from letting your child have their own voice. If they are part of the brainstorming, they will be that much more vested in a solution.

5. Give them a chance to express shyness or anxiety in a loving environment.  Everyone gets stressed or anxious by tricky situations. Let them know that you are there for them and will try to help them if they have a question.

Your child’s quirks may one day reveal themselves to be his strengths and individual glory. Celebrate him, support him, and love him for his gift to the world.

Advertisements

What’s an Aspergirl?

When they hear the term “Asperger’s Syndrome”, many people picture a male with eccentricities, sensory sensitivities, poor social skills, and areas of giftedness or hyperfocus.  “Aspergirls” – the term made popular by Rudy Simone, an adult female with Aspergers – highlights the subculture of females with Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as the unique characteristics displayed by female “Aspies”.  One of my favorite, original “Aspergirls” is Dr. Temple Grandin, who has done wonders for the subculture of Aspergirls by sharing her frank and honest personal experiences with the world.

Young females with Asperger’s Syndrome are often overlooked in the early years and do not receive a diagnosis until their teens or beyond.  They are often shy, introverted, and bookish, characteristics which are more socially acceptable in females than in their male counterparts.  Aspergirls usually have areas of strong interest, like males, but again these often manifest themselves in more socially acceptable ways, such as having an interest in fairytales, horses, or art.

The lack of a diagnosis, however, means these girls are often dealing on their own with sensory overload, social confusion, and feelings of insecurity and frustration.  As Rudy writes in her book “Aspergirls”: “If there is no diagnosis then there is a vacuum – a hole in which to pour speculation and fill with labels.”  With diagnosis comes support -whether from therapist and professionals, within an IEP program at school, or from support groups with like-minded girls and families.

I highly recommend reading “Aspergirls” by Rudy Simone if you would like more information about your child or children you work with.  The book was frank and blunt, and Rudy gives practical advice to young girls, women, and their parents.  If your daughter exhibits characteristics of an “Aspergirl”, there are many things you can do at home.

1. Praise and encourage.  Aspergirls are often very emotionally vulnerable, and they need heaps of positive reinforcement.

2. Seek out information online.  Resources like Rudy Simone’s website: www.help4aspergers.com and www.aspie.com offer a lot of helpful information.

3. Find a support group in the area.  Social skills groups run by speech-language pathologists work on pragmatic language skills and peer relationships.  Two groups I know about in the Portland area include: www.artzcenter.org and www.campyakketyyak.org

4. Support your child’s areas of strength.  Those are the areas where they will shine.  As Rudy wrote: “Life is about making a contribution, not about being popular and fitting in.”

5. Create a soothing, quiet environment in your child’s room at home.  Soft music, comfortable pillows, and soft lighting help ease the sensory overload.

6. Help your child maintain a healthy diet and get exercise.  These can help with intestinal issues and alleviate depression and anxiety.  You want to help teach your child what they need to manage their Asperger’s.

7. Love your child for who they are.  You can support them and guide them, but you can’t change them. Forcing them to be someone different will only result in hurt, loss, and alienation as they grow older.  Help them fit the pieces of their life together.

20120222-135724.jpg

Eye rolls and sighs

I spend an unusual amount of time trying to convince middle school boys that I can help them.  Ah, middle school.  A time when the social complexities can make your head spin, and the students that have a hard time keeping up are left clueless on the side of the crowd.

As a speech-language pathologist, I work to build social communication skills for many students.  For the child who has difficulty making eye contact and can’t think of anything to say, or goes on-and-on about one topic without understanding that you really don’t want to hear any more about cars, imagine the path they take through the hallways of your local middle school.  It is a frightening image for a parent.  Long gone are the cozy walls of the elementary school where your child’s one teacher understood his or her nuances, building a rapport with your child to give him structures and guidance.  Welcome to middle school, where texting and instant messaging spread jokes, gossip, and the latest news faster than teachers or parents can even keep up.

As parents we can set our children up for as much success socially as possible.  We can teach them to say hello politely, to inquire about others (“What could you say to Jimmy when you see him?”), and to make sure to listen when someone else has something to say.  However, there comes a time when a child needs more help, more instruction than what a parent can provide.  And, frankly, these middle school students with social engagement weaknesses are no more interested in listening to their parents than their more typically-engaged peers.

That’s when you seek out some help.  Michelle Garcia Winner is a favorite expert in social communication challenges that students may face.  You can follow her blog here: http://www.socialthinking.com/what-is-social-thinking/michelles-blog.  Besides working individually at school or privately with an SLP, many of these children do best when exposed to social language groups, where they can work on language within the context of a peer group. 

Parents can be a support, recognizing their child’s strengths and acknowledging their child’s weaknesses.  Every student needs activities to be involved in outside of school, whether Boy Scouts, martial arts, or a computer club, in order to build peer relationships and encourage growth.  The self-confidence that comes from excelling at something can carry a child through some of the toughest middle school times.  Martial arts and Boy Scouts are two activities that I recommend to my families.  They build social skills and allow opportunities for engagement with peers while maintaining a very strong structure and consistent expectations and guidelines, which these students often need.

The best thing about a middle school student, with the eye rolls and sighs and the “Why are you sooo lame?” exasperation, is that they won’t be in middle school forever.  And hopefully, with a little guidance and lots of patience, we can help them enter high school with even more tools under their belt.