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Unread May 22nd, 2005, 08:02 PM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Default BehGen: "Quirky Kids" - Good Stuff but Misses the Future*

Klass, P. & Costello, E. (2003) Quirky Kids: Understanding and Helping Your Child Who Doesn't Fit In - When to Worry and When Not to Worry. NY: Ballentine. About $15, 394 pp.

A mother returned her child to me last week because he does the same things that she and I fixed last spring exactly a year ago. I thought of a title that I saw on the B&N shelf: Quirky Kids. Klass and Costello (K&C) target a growing market of sophisticated, two-income families who have fewer children but demand that other people do more for each of them. Such parents also make earlier comparisons of their children in daycare.

The authors use a dearabby style that covers early signs, specialists, family life, extended relatives, schools (pre-K through high school), social life, and medications. K&C recognize that every child is different just as is true for every adult and that quirks sometimes change with the age of the child. Further, diagnoses, explanations, treatments, and outcomes do not line up as medical labels evolve. I welcome K&C's caution in regard to newer diagnoses and treatments that change so rapidly.

I, however, wish that K&C addressed:

1) Quirky kids often come from quirky adults. Even school administrators know this effect! Except for K&C's brief discussion of bipolar disorder, however, they ignore family behavioral histories as a clue about children's emotional difficulties. Further, except for anxiety and depression, boys usually have more disorders than girls, disorders that mothers might carry but only sons reveal. An extra X can be protective! Generations of males reveal recessive genetic effects for physical traits, we can expect them to do so for behavioral glitches.
Family history from two generations into the child's past shows us mosaics of oddities and assets and, if used carefully, should give us clues about what he does today. (Most of us recognize mom & dad in the mirror before we reach our 35th birthday! And most parents, not always happily and usually before they meet me, notice their bits and pieces in their offspring.)

2) Judith Harris (The Nurture Assumption) and David Cohen (Stranger in the Nest) are ignored along with Sandra Scarr. (No surprise, so is Steve Pinker!) Relevance: heritability accounts for more as we age. Parental environments are much less persuasive after we reach 8 years old and parents often contribute between 2-10% of the variation in many of our longterm outcomes. The remainder of the differences come from unique environments, perhaps mostly from ones that each child makes for himself for genetic reasons and less from those he experiences accidentally. Put two siblings into the family room and each will occupy the same room only half the time!

Implication: parents are a nest, a behavioral and physical insulation between their child's characteristics and the environments of other people and physical settings. Parents, like traffic cops and other environments, impose uniformity when it's important but parents also manufacture, discover, or buy worlds that satisfy their child. Children train parents probably more than the reverse and that training starts at conception. And a smart doc might ask if a first degree relative had a similar problem, what helped, and what were the outcomes.

3) Maternal investment and older mothers may underlie the increases in "quirkiness" that Klass and Costello notice (Brody, 2005). Younger mothers should, on average, be more robust both to supply fetal demands and to defend themselves. Mothers have, for example, more difficulty carrying and delivering sons than daughters. And in one or two promising studies, mothers who have daughters live longer than average, mothers of sons die earlier. In another study, single mothers of daughters are less apt to remarry, single mothers of sons are more apt to do so.

4) Mothers sometimes anguish more over their sons than daughters and there may be behavior genetic and instinctive reasons for the correlations between sons who argue and depressed mothers. Sons, after all, are usually more varied than daughters and mothers often scrutinize them according to the same standards that are applied to lovers: kindness, health, political skill, and intelligence may get micrometric attention. That is, mothers want guys of any age to excel in particular ways but not only excellence but also jail is more probable for us. Mothers and girls may be the quality control that directs, limits, or corrects male variation! (Brody, 2005) Thus, sons may be judged more harshly not because of their contrast with daughters but because both sexes are judged by females whether mothers or teachers.

5) It is usually mothers who hunt for doctors and later demand special instruction for children. In daily life and in these searches, parents sometimes amplify the talents and warts they share with their child. This is true for baseball, hunting, tatting, or drawing. It's can also be true for anxiety, despondency, impulsiveness, and manic episodes: parent and child sometimes act not only as mirrors but magnifiers.

6) K&C emphasize prompt treatment for certain "disorders." I want to agree but Russ Barkley cautions all of us: the sooner a child sees a mental health professional, the WORSE the outcomes! Certainly, more extreme children push parents to get help and earlier problems sometimes might reflect a higher genetic loading. Unfortunately, once we get an extreme kid, no one knows what to do and in Barkley's words, no one, regardless of location or training, does very well with them.

7) Some of us do brilliantly with one child but less so with a similar one, even if a sibling. Parents, however, sometimes expect clinicians to package each child into parental ideals that line up with mate selection criteria: again, kindness, health, political skill, and intelligence. Therapists can be seen as mechanics to keep the child from resembling his parents!

8) Treatments surprise us. For example, Risperdal, intended to treat psychoses, sometimes reduces arguing and builds social cooperation! Despite a little more anxiety and a bit less self esteem, the oppositional teens often like "feeling closer" to their parents! And no one dares to speculate that this particular medicine feminizes the psyche of tough kids! Furthermore, any medication or intervention can fail to help despite its promise. And any of them may impose future costs of diabetes, liver damage, or who knows what else! None of us want to poison a kid but all of us, parents, teachers, and clinicians, choose a treatment on the basis of uncertain gains and unknown costs and sometimes lose sleep after a decision. We also look for child-specific solutions in small steps and often in several directions.

9) K&C speculate about the causes of increased variation (if real!) in our children.
a) Maes et al (1998) found that psychopathology underlies significant heritability in our marital choices: not much else seems to! Large high schools and Internet contacts should extend our chances to find our soulmate whether for narcissism, impulsiveness, or Aspergers and successive generations should become more varied in interesting ways! "Love" may help our children to grow ever more nutty and stag beetles to grow huge claws but there is a downside: big claws have costs that lead to extinction if the relevant environments change. Quirkiness can be an asset, even a substantial one, so long as we are a wealthy nation.
b) Careers feed on discovery and territory, theories multiply like slang, music styles, laws, or tax codes. Research contests occur, however, without empirical constraints: that is, there is seldom a random selection of subjects or a random assignment of treatments to them. Many of our scientific findings become leveraged fads that collapse whenever there is a new one. Some of the variation problem on our kids rests in the showbiz genes of our professionals!

Bottom lines:
1) In some respects, our culture values thoughtful people but thinking too much sometimes predicts despondency. Although we want our child happy but not a fool, these goals may not always work together.
2) Kids are resilient: they are difficult to break, they can also be difficult to repair.
3) I respect the possibility that medications and behavioral interventions mesh with both genes and perhaps the very strong preferences that the child got them from imprinting in utero. We, therefore, look for boundaries and opportune niches instead of lectures.
4) It's a good thing that genes routinely make environments and that, starting at conception, kids really do shape adults.

Praise to K&C but I want more in their next edition. I will also assure my recent visitor that her child fails to meet K&C's standards for "quirky" and that human children have grown up for 150,000 years without pediatricians, educators, or psychologists!


Brody, J. (2005) ADHD: Inhibition, Emergent Networks, and Maternal Investment. In Michelle Larimer (Ed.) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Research. Hauppage, NY: Nova Science Biomedical Series. 41 pp.
Cohen, D. (1999) Stranger in the Nest: Do Parents Really Shape Their Child's Personality, Intelligence, or Character? NY: Wiley.
Harris, J. (1998) The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do. NY: Free Press.
Lewontin, R. (1998/2000) Triple helix: Gene, organism, environment. Cambridge, MA, Harvard.
Maes, H. H., Neale, M. C., Kendler, K. S., Hewitt, J. K., Silberg, J. L. Foley, D. L., Meyer, J. M., Rutter, M., Simonoff, E., Pickles A., & Eaves, L. (1998) Assortative mating for major psychiatric diagnoses in two population-based samples. Psychological Medicine, 28(6), 1389-1401.
Pinker, S. (2002) The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. NY: Viking.
Scarr, S. (1992) Developmental theories for the 1990s: Development and individual differences. Child Development. 63, 1-19.
Scarr, S. & McCartney, K. (1983) How people make their own environments: A theory of genotype-->environment effects. Child Development. 54, 424-435.

*Written in Barnes & Noble stores in Exton & Devon, PA: reach out & touch someone when you buy a book!
Copyright, James Brody, 2005, all rights reserved.
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Unread June 6th, 2005, 11:20 AM
John Smith John Smith is offline
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 3
Default Re: BehGen: "Quirky Kids" - Good Stuff but Misses the Future*


I'm not sure if I should have started a new thread rather than post this as a reply to this one, but I was pretty interested in some of the points you were making here, especially point 6. Basically, I'm a 23 year old guy who's had obsessive compulsive disorder since I was like, 10 or 11 or so, so I thought I'd share my experiences and the way they relate to evolutionary psychology, and treating young people with disorders in general.

I've always had a hard time stopping myself doing the obsessive compulsive behaviors, but when I was around 12, I somehow managed to become quite popular in my class at school, basically through acting the clown, doing humourous things (or at least, attempting to), etc.

Shortly after my popularity had increased, I somehow found that my 'determination' to stop myself doing the obsessive compulsive behaviors also increased. While it was still unpleasant, I found that I gradually started to stop doing things like checking every knife and fork was perfectly clean etc. I won't keep this going too long, it's probably nothing new to you, but basically, to cut a long story short, I hit adolesence late, I got seriously bullied about it, and the OCD behaviors returned.

So ultimately, I think things like OCD may be related to factors like dominance issues (it makes more sense to be more anxious when you're low in status, and OCD is anxiety-inducing. I got my status through others laughing with me, and lost it through them laughing at me), and I'm wondering if you've ever explored this with your patients? If you can teach someone to become more popular, maybe by encouraging them to get involved with sports(individual ones are probably a better idea than team ones, because such kids may naturally have poor social skills), does this generally have an effect on disorders?

Obviously, I don't want this to come across as black and white stuff- I'm not saying me getting bullied was nothing to do with other factors. In fact, I'm sure half the problem was me lacking social skills, and if I'd been braver, that would have probably stopped it too. But well, I think plenty of other people with disorders would have reacted similarly to me, so there you go.

Also, do you think other underlying instincts such as your emotional response to your environment may affect disorders? Funnily enough, even before I read about evolutionary psychology, I found that going for a walk in a forest made me feel calmer generally.

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