I've read many books and articles that focus on children similar to my oldest daughter. Stanley Turecki's description of the “Difficult” child was the first, followed by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's “Raising Your Spirited Child”. Kurcinka uses more attractive terms to label the challenging child, words like spirited, perceptive, and persistence. She says, “The word that distinguishes spirited children from other children is more. They are normal children who are more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive, and uncomfortable with change than other children.” This is absolutely true of my daughter. She is everything to the nth power.
Maybe you know a child like this. She is amazingly creative, and can spin delightful yarns. She doesn't make up just a few characters, she invents whole worlds. She not only loves animals, but sees herself as humankind's animal liaison; always ready to cry out against ill treatment or injustice. As a friend, she is loyal to the end, and tells me tearfully that she cannot possibly bear to be away from her very best friend for more than a week. These are the joyful moments of having an intense child.
Unfortunately, there are less desirable traits as well. He may have mercurial mood swings, outbursts of temper, and the stubborn tenacity of a mule. His discomfort with transitions may be an issue, and he may constantly question authority. Some of these children are sensory seeking; climbing and bouncing from dawn til dusk. Others may be sensory avoidant; objecting to every little bump in their sock, and refusing to wear jeans or other clothing they consider restrictive.
My continuing quest for resources led me to read The Out of Sync Child, by Carol Stock Kranowitz. After carefully marking our initials on the handy symptom checklist, I identified every member of my family as having Sensory Integration issues! Fortunately, the OOSC has a companion book, The Out of Sync Child has Fun. In this book we learned about all the exercises we could do to improve sensory processing. My kids enjoy the swinging and games, but I haven't yet managed to keep them on a steady sensory diet.
Is This Your Child? By Doris Rapp was helpful when I was trying to piece together the dietary issues I guessed at but hadn't defined. Her books cover reads, “for children who are complaining, cranky, slow learners, aggressive, hyperactive, unwell, or depressed”. Although my child wasn't a slow learner, aggressive, or depressed, I do believe that she was reacting to hidden food allergies . Dr. Rapp refers to several clues to a possible food allergy, things you might guess at such as infant colic, eczema, and ear infections. Surprisingly though, she also lists early walking – by ten months, as a symptom of toddler hyperactivity. My children tend to be early walkers, but this child in particular was my earliest walker, taking her first independent steps at seven months. It's an amazing coincidence that she happens to be my only hyperactive child!
Another book that I found helpful was Deirdre Lovecky's Different Minds. She writes about kids who are gifted and also challenged by a problem such as ADHD, NVLD, or Asperger's Syndrome. Dr. Lovecky will always have a warm place in my heart for the genuine concern she has for twice exceptional children.
Finally, a last wonderful resource for confused parents is “Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults, by Webb, Amend, Webb, and Goerss. I've read and reread it, and loaned it out to several friends. This book addresses the twin problems of gifted kids not getting proper labels for conditions that plague them, as well as being labeled with disorders that they don't actually have. Because gifted kids often are able to compensate for disabilities, they can struggle for years with hidden issues. Conversely, traits that are just part and parcel of being gifted are sometimes pathologized.
My child might be called difficult, spirited, or out of sync. She has recently been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She has symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia. On top of all of this, she's gifted, and profoundly so. Add Dabrowski's overexcitabilities (extreme responses to sensory input believed common to gifted children) onto the list and you've got alphabet soup.
What I've learned is to glean what I can from each resource. It doesn't matter so much what words we use to describe these children, except for the purpose of using these labels to gain support services, information, and coping strategies. Happy trails!