Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Disorder Called Childhood

The problem with seeing whether something is "wrong" with a child is that children are all so weird to begin with. We allow a wide range of behaviors that are unusual or excessive or peculiar or just downright irritating because they strike us as being due to growing pains, temporary glitches in the development of mentation, an eccentric mix of hormones and adrenaline and whatever additional chemicals might be bouncing and colliding about in the small body--ever tending, we believe, toward balance and stability.

Terms that become meaningful in maturity--autism, Tourette syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, along with a hundred others--are not so defined in the child, because the child is a walking, talking, bouncing, ricocheting, blabbering, unpredictable quirk at baseline.

We wait for life and experience to mold and make adjustments--like setting the mix of fuel and air in a carburetor. We wait for socialization to smooth the edges and file down the splinters. We add our own two cents, the parental salt of instruction and boundaries.

It is a process. It is the process.

What then when the child grows, enters puberty and adolescence, and brings along his old bag of quirks. They become no longer the elements of a growing process, but complexes now, disorders, suddenly set hard in the psyche, and sometimes quite crippling.

It is then that we think back and see the harm in what seemed harmless, the problem in what seemed merely a natural progression.

I observe my young stepson, 9 years old, and from the standpoint of one who is privileged (which is to say that I have already been on the painful side of watching the quirk become the complex with my own son), and I cannot help but wonder.

I note that he constantly talks, and that when he runs out of words he simply blabbers. I note that he will sometimes repeat phrases over and over, a section of dialog from a cartoon for instance, or just a single word. Sometimes when he seems to be silent, I will glance in the rear view mirror to find that he is sort of whispering to himself.

Is this odd for a child? No. Would it be odd in later years? Yes.

On the other hand, my step son from my second marriage was rather like this as well. I remember worrying then that there might be something wrong. And yet at 21 years of age now, he has become his own flip side--quiet, sedate, a man of few words--in short, perfectly "normal."

I guess we are just left to wait and see. Hope and pray. Listen and advise.

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