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How to Support Your Unique, Quirky Child

Your child behaves differently from others - it's endearing, but is it OK? Put your mind at ease, and find ways to celebrate your child's unique nature.

By GreatSchools Staff

A boy receives a train set as a gift from his father, but after a few standard runs, decides it's more interesting to crash the trains, and does so repeatedly. Another boy stubbornly refuses to wear his coat in the winter because he sees other children in thinner coats. A little girl thinks nothing of standing on tables and singing at the top of her lungs in public.

You might think those children's unusual behavior would have a negative effect on their development. Not so - those are childhood stories about Steven Spielberg, Albert Schweitzer and Madonna.

Some children are a little quirky and quite different from other children their age. They may be creative, insightful and courageous, but they also may have to struggle with peer rejection, loneliness, taunts and frustration. Their behavior may overshadow family events, or make their siblings irritable. In a world that expects conformity, how do you make sure your unique child is happy and well-balanced?

What's Going On?

The first step is to make sure that there's not an underlying issue. As you watch your child develop, you'll see behavior that is within the average developmental cycle for a child his age. It's a pattern of behavior that might trigger a sense that something is not quite right. Some parts of the pattern and some general examples are:

  • Extremes: Very needy or very withdrawn; much too loud or much too quiet.
  • Struggles with communication: a delay in speech development, rambling or interrupting conversation traits, difficulty understanding nonverbal cues, like facial expressions.
  • Slowly developing or delayed motor skills: clumsiness or difficulty in performing simple physical tasks, like getting dressed.
  • Sensitivity: disturbed by loud noises, irritated by the feel of some things on the skin (like a shirt label), bothered by wind or the brightness of the sun. Undersensitivity may be an issue as well: a child who twirls and spins uncontrollably, likes to run around naked or roll around in the mud or the dirt.
  • Obsessing: playing the same game again and again, in a particular way without variance.

In their book Quirky Kids: Understanding and Helping Your Child Who Doesn't Fit In, Drs. Perri Klass and Eileen Costello call that trigger the "pivotal moment." They state that "one extreme performance may be what it takes to crystallize in a parent's mind all the floating anxieties and worries of many months." The "pivotal moment" is not just one moment of extreme behavior, but the last in a series of "impossible-to-explain-away behavior that resonates with the parent's long-considered and long-avoided fears."

If you think there might be an underlying issue to your child's unusual behavior, then getting a professional opinion or a diagnosis is an important step. Don't be alarmed at the prospect. Dr. Stacie Bunning, one of GreatSchools' consulting experts on child behavior, says, "Many times parents will avoid consulting a specialist out of fear - they are afraid of being blamed or judged, or they fear that their child will be forever 'labeled.' In fact, obtaining a professional opinion can be viewed as an aspect of information gathering,as parents work to make decisions about what is best for their child." She points out that one aspect doesn't necessarily make an entire personality. "There is so much more to an individual child than her particular diagnosis - strengths, skills, and unique traits should be celebrated, too."

Comments from readers

"ok so my 7 year old son is a normal child except that's he likes to talk in class or sometimes skips the line at lunch he reads 60 words a minute instead of 90 words per minute so the teacher suggested that he gets evaluated for special ed. to catch up in his reading and maths to me all i have to do is work with him in the areas in which i know he is just a little behind in ...i don't know what to do but i really do not want hm to be put in special ed class just because he skips the line or plays in the cafeteria at lunch time or doesn't read fast enough should i changed his school ? "
"I have a 6 1/2 year old boy that is on the 'autistic scale'... somewhere... some things he does, like crash his cars and play 'racing games' is awesome and he thinks it HYSTARICAL and belly laughs to see things fall apart and get mangled... seem so normal, then others, when he won't climb the playground equipment and watches everyone else have fun and seems so lonely lets me know he isn't.. it makes him pretty darn quirky..and me more than sad in those moments.. It's hard not to mention his intelligence, innate abilities on the computer, reading, verbalization and math make him a 'darling' to some teachers and an oddity to others. I'm very worried about 1st grade... He had an amazing Kinder year and the teachers, aids and principle know him well as just the happiest, quirkiest kid around... but I don't want him labled, so nothing is formal insomuch as a diagnosis... we all just know.. and deal and struggle some days.. but he is just happy go lucky, loves people, is very smar! t and sweet... and by other children, sometimes flat out ignored...He has always been bothered by sunlight, although getting better this summer. Tags used to be an issue, but better over the last year... I have to say, there are somethings I give in about (food primarily because he has to eat chicken nuggets and cheesy garlic bread it is right now) but most other things I tell him to deal with... If he wants to be normal and move along in life, he will have to deal with things he doesn't like... And because he is so high functioning... it works. Crowds not so much and at Disneyland he asked to go home... it was 'much too crowded and he was scared' SO quirky it is... love him too much to even worry about it. He will be successfull because that what is in his destiny.... Teachers - watchout... he knows more about Trivia, Computers and Corporations, logos, cars and racing than you can imagine... and he WILL tell you about it. "
"if you go by this article, everybody could be quirky. what is NORMAL anyway? "
"I'm a bit worried now after reading your article. I have 2 quirky kids. But my daughter does have pretty severe reactions to a tag on clothing or tiny bits of elastic, and aversion to bright light, two of the things you mentioned in your article. It doesn't say what these could be signs of? Could you explain or give me more info? I did mention this to her pediatrician years ago and he wasn't concerned. She seems to have outgrown the light issue, but clothing is still hard to find for her, because the slightest bits of threads or designs on the clothing can cause much stress. "
"I have to say that I found your article interesting. After reading the comments posted, I felt the need to add my story about my gifted 'quirky' 14 year old! My child has always had little quirky ways that my husband and I just love! He gets along well with others, but does allow only certain people into his world. They must meet his intelegence level. He has more friends than we ever thought possible. He always lives by the words 'to thine own self be true'! He does his own thing and does not let peer pressure get to him. He does very well in school and we have had the good fortune of GREAT teachers through the years! His gifted teachers really understand him. We really do accept and celebrate his uniqueness!!! We love that he does not follow the 'norm' of todays society!!!!"
"Hi All, I hope some of you can help. My son is 5 yrs old and an only child. You may call him 'quirky' but i am not so sure. Since pre-K he has had socialization issues. He prefers to sit and eat alone at school. He will not play with other children at the park, he will prefer to sit and do nothing or push his cousin in the stroller.When he does talk to other children, he speaks to them authoritatively, telling them what to do and what not to do. Not bossy just matter of factly. And if they do not listen-he dismisses them because they are not listening. In school and camp-he is practically invisible. He doesn't speak up to participate and when he does, he speaks in low mumbled tones. Quite the opposite from the rambunction 5 year old tearing through our house laughing. Several teacher have expressed concern because of his social inactiveness as well as him telling them he doesn't want to have friends or to have fun. And he cries for the littlest things. My son seems t! o have anger and coping issues. If he is angered, his day is shot. Eg. He slipped in the park, a classmate laughed. My son refused to eat lunch and participate for the rest of the day. He is even becoming unmanageable..telling the teachers he hate them and will not do as he is told. They are baffles because then know him to be so quiet and shy, it shocked that he would be blatantly rude and disrespectful. This all stemmed from the earlier incidnet of slipping. His father and I are taking a look at ourselves, but we so confused. We monitored his television program. He is a Noggin and Disney child. He has never experienced abuse of any sort in the home. We bend over backwards to try to get some sort of stimulate from him, by doing all sorts of aquarium, park, museum, beach. We even invite children his age to tag along so he can interact. Both my and my husband families are large. They all love my son immensly. Yet they are quite confused and feel we should seek counseling for his anger and coping abilities. Are we overreacting? If not, what type of counselor should we see? The article states diagnosis to be made, but diagnosis of what? I do apologize for the long entry, but we are stressed and don't know what to do. Every other day it is something different. My heart breaks as I drop him at camp and watch him get his breakfast tray and walk to the end of the table where no one is sitting instead of sitting with his classmates. I look at him and wonder if he truly unhappy and why. In all my trying to do everything right as first time parents...did me and my husband miss a very critical step in social development. Any info ..greatly appreciated."
"WHat if your child is antisocial? IF you really want your child to be happy then they need to be socialized: They need to make more than one friend as not one family nowadays is available to let their kids play. They need to know how to be safe These kids need to have culture or refinement. These kids have got ot be aware of other peoples feelings These children need to be considerate of other people. If your kids have at least these things then there should be little discussion about their quirks. If they are lacking in any of these areas it might be a consideration to start training them. Remember, your need to decide at what age your home goes from being just a safe haven for the child to being something that is that and MORE."
"Wow. I am a sixteen year old highschool student, and I am constantly having to explain myself to teachers, friends, even family. I remember as a child playing with rocks and drawing on the house with dandelions while I watched other kids hopscotch and squirt water guns. Not to say I haven't done those things and on ocassion enjoyed them. I just wasn't interested in toys and typical games as a child. I now have ended my singing career in the classroom (to the relief of many!), and have many friends with which I do 'normal teenage' things. But I still have my quirky moments, and thenk you for showing the world that's okay! ;)"
"This article really helped me to continue to embrace my 9 year old's spirited and effervescent personality. His 2nd grade year was a total nightmare. He had a very popular, coveted teacher, I'll call her Mrs. Dowan, who reduced him to a pile of nerves and depression by the end of the year. Her mistreatment of him rippled into his social life at school. He was ridiculed and often not allowed to join the other boys in games because he 'sucked'. Upon her and the principle's urging we had him privately tested the summer before third grade. All boiler-plate stuff. Didn't really fall into Aperger's or ADD, yet she recommended some medication to help with his low self-esteem and therapy with her, of course. We simply refused to put him on meds and watch his personality change. The next school year was a total surprise. His teacher truly enjoyed him, his bubbly personality, she had a son like him so she didn't mind his moments of high spiritedness, although I'm sure she was frustrated at times. There was never any sit-downs to discuss his behavior, etc. It all depends on the educator. Let's face it, they don't even get paid enough to deal with the well-behaved kids let alone a quirky kid."
"I have a 5 year old who is what you are calling 'quirky'. And I have to tell ya, she is such a joy to be around and I wouldn't want her to act any other way. I also have an 8 year old daughter who happens to be the exact opposite, and they have their moments like any other siblings, but they get along ok for the most part. I wouldn't change one thing about my 'quirky' daughter. Yes she can be embarrassing sometimes when she shouts things out, but she is such a joy to be around. You never know what to expect from her. And I thank you for this well written article, because I think that more people need to embrace their children for who they are."
"Your advice to celebrate the uniqueness of your child is wonderful. However, I don't agree that you need a 'professional' (aka psychiatrist/ psychologist) to tell you if your kid's okay. Theirs is a matter of 'opinion' not fact, no matter how 'studied' it might be. There is no scientific/medical validity to the disorders that ninety-nine percent of these 'doctors' will label your child with. Their Diagnostic Manual is designed for one thing -- labeling and prescribing your child with dangerous, untested, psychotropic drugs (Ritalin, Prozac, etc.), based solely on opinion. Check out this website: and download free booklets here: So, yes, DO celebrate your child's uniqueness! It is, indeed, a treasure. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise!!!"
"I am a thirty-one year old teacher, and I appreciate the information offered here. In school I was the outcast--too different to be accepted by the classmates in my gifted and talented classes yet also too different to be accepted by the regular education schoolmates. As I gogt older I began to accept the fact that I am different and started to embrace it. Who wants to be just like everyone else? Have you LOOKED at 'everyone else'? If you squash someone's creativity, you've robbed the world AND that person of a great and useful gift. As an adult, I was taunted my coworkers for my desire to be different, and the principal was extremely bothered by me when I simply spoke the truth or didn't fall in line with the rest of the faculty. I left that job feeling like a cat trapped in a box and scratching to get out. Things are much better now, but I must tell you that my spouse has trouble accepting me as I am. I don't always understand things the way he means to communicate them an! d I always perceive things opposite of how anyone else would. As a teacher, I now encourage creativity while still keeping the student within certain boundaries necessary for order in the classroom. Thank you for supporting the fact that quirky folks tend to be the ones to get things changed for the good of the rest. "
"Love it! I am a person who is quirky and it has actually taken me well into adulthood to accept and appreciate my differences. If kids get more acceptance and support of who they really are, hopefully they can be happier, earlier! "
"Just let them be! No one wants a world full of cookie cutter children and they shouldn't be made to act as such. Enjoy them while they're young and stop trying to diagnose everything."
"in this day and in age it saddens me that every kid has to be fit into some box with a disease whether it's A.D.D.,autism or some other label. Being quirky as long as the kids aren't having real developmental issues is not a bad thing. I was that quirky kid and my brother wasn't. I was reading always well above my grade level and information was like a sponge to me. I never twirled or danced in school but I was always intrigued by numbers,even though I hate math and was always creative with drawing,building stuff or writing. I remember getting screamed at by several elementary teachers because I never followed the norm. If the class colored a chicken yellow mine was brown. If my classmates read babysitter's club I had Stephen King novels. I still remember wearing combat boots with my cheerleading skirt in high school because it felt comfortable to me and I applaud my sqaud and coach for not making me change. One of my outlets was fashion since we couldn't dye our hair due to! a strict high school school policy. Nothing is wrong with quirky children but the teachers and parents need to give these kids an outlet to be themselves. As I followed through school I competed in writing,culinary arts,band competetions just for that creative outlet. Now as an adult I am still quirky and it's one of my best assets according to my friends why? Because I surround myself with other quirky people. I am a stronger person because of it and I was never picked on as a kid because of my quirkiness. I still honesty can say I embrace my differences because my parents never tried to conform me. Embrace you 'different' children for the unique gifts they are."
"Don't be afraid to seek out help for your child, even if it means she/he might be labelled. The good you can do for your child will outweigh the label you fear. Your kid doesn't fear the label at a young age, only you. ADHD needs to be treated with more than medicine; it takes consistency in your behavior, and a predictable schedule for your child to become comfortable. A psychologist can help you figure out behavior modifications that will do just as much good as the medicine that might be prescribed can do. I'm not saying that medicine is a bad thing, just that it takes more than just the medicine to make a change and help your child learn to manage his own behavior. My daughter is a mix of quirky behaviors, most notably SID, but not enough of any one to be diagnosed as SID or ADHD. We've tried to make our lives more upbeat and positive, instead of constantly correcting and berating these quirky behaviors. Childhood should be fun, even in the midst of trying to gui! de proper behaviors and sitting still for homework. We've found that humor can defuse many temper tantrums and brain freezes, so we try to teach our daughter to be a positive person."
"Great article, and super information! It can be concerning when a parent of a gifted child would blame teachers or schools for not addressing the child's gifted or quirky ways. It is the job of a proactive/involved parent to seek out the adequate school and education for their individual child. Speaking as a parent of a 'quirky' child, we live in an age that allows us many educational and academic choices. In many communities, there are schools (public, charter, or private) that support the academic strengths of gifted children. Seek them out,visit the campus, talk to the teachers, observe their programs in action. Nothing is ever 'perfect', but there are choices, and you will find the right fit for your child. "
"Another extremely helpful book is 'Raising Your Spirited Child' by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. This book helped us understand our son's temperment, stop blaming him and ourselves and figure out the positive flip side to some of our son's difficult difficult behaviors. He's a great kid overall, I just never really understood some of his tempermental issues. Wish I had discovered it much sooner."
"My three yr old son is what I guess you all are calling 'quirky'. Since the day he was born he has been on the go. He seems advanced in so many areas like music and his words are advaced for his age. He loves detail, he is the most observant three year old I have seen- more so then my eight year old. Yet in some like numbers or sitting for a period of time is difficult for him. When he was 15 months old he developed the love of guitars and started by bringing a frying pan to play at church-because we didnt have a guitar for him. Another down side is, I know he needs help. I alone cannot give him what he needs at home. It seems I would have to be doing something different 24/7 to keep him happy. He gets bored very easy and in turn wants to fight or scream. I know that I am a good mother and I am not lazy with him. But this makes me feel like a failure as a mother, because I can never do enough. Many friends and family say they do not know how I do it. My husband an! d I have argued about having him tested for ADHD. We both agree that we do not want him medicated but I feel I need some help with him to help him. My husband thinks I am am going to far by wanting him tested, even though he agrees he is a very different child. If someone out there can help me I would greatly appreciate it. I have been doing reading and found some informative information but not enough yet. anyone that would love to help or share their stories feel free to email me at"
"I have a quirky kid that was told he wasn't aspergers so he didn't qualify for special services. He is going to start middle school this year and I am worried he is going to get swollowed up in the school. He lives kinda in his own world, he is not aware of his surroundings. he gets straight A's but because of the way he is the teachers didn't recommend Honors program. My problem is getting him to do his homework. He comes home and has to go out and bounce on his trampoline. That is his quirky thing, he has to bounce. I used to call him my tigger. When he sits down to do his work he is in and out of his seat and it takes about 4 hours to finishes. What is he going to do when he gets more homework?"
"Thank you for this great article my daughter walks around with a tiara on her head talking to Harry Potter and friends. She tells me stories of things that Harry and her do while they play and likes to sing outloud made up songs. My daughter is unique and I have learned to love her uniquenes. "
"It seems to effect kids from 16-60"
"I love the fact that my daughter doesn't follow the norm. She has a great personallity and although at first some kids made fun of her it didn't phase her much. and now she is the first one to stop bullying from happening to others. She dyes her hair all different colors and wears what ever she feels likes. I love it. I think she is acutally more popular because she is not your typical 13 year old girl. I think each parent reads this article and gets what they need from it about their own different child. Wheter by choice or medical condition we all love our special person in our lives. "
"I think we have the only rising 2nd-grader who is obsessed with political economy. He watches the History Channel more than SpongeBob! This morning In carpool he asked me 'When were the Mongols defeated and why?', and, 'Why don't the Russians want us to put missile launchers in the Czech Republic?' and 'when will we run out of oil'? Seriously. Luckily, he also likes playing with Legos and going to Karate, otherwise we'd have to get him a teaching position at a college before he can drive!"
"My 6 year old has been labeled ADHD and so many other terms, but when I finally took him to his pediatrician he told me he was fine and not to always listen to what I am told about my sone to enjoy his strange behavior. He is always outside and when you watch him he is imagining himself somewhere else sometimes I am amazed at the stories he tells me when he comes back in the house and where he has been in his imagination. My Husband had a hard time with this since my 5 year old is so different. But just recently someone from work told my husband to read some articles about Quirky kids, and to let my son have a great imagination but to direct it positive and not negitavely and since then my husband and my son have a better relationship. Thank you for this well written article I am goind to take it home and have my husband read it."
"I embrace the fact that my 5 year old daughter is quirky but I am also rational and realized that her behavior was not always normal; against my families wishes she saw a specialist and my insticts were correct. Asperers Syndrome is what I narrowed it down to and her teacher brought it up in a conference- my heart dropped but I was so relieved that someone finally agreed with me.She will start 1st grade in the Fall and I am worried about how her new teacher will react; if she will be able to handle staying in school the entire day and if her new classmates will accept her. Twirling like a ballerina is cute and fun with Mom and Dad but when her classmates made fun she told me she did not want to dance in school- her friends are boys; I think the other girls notice that she is different. The school has been great and I am going to have a meeting at the beginning of the year to determine any special needs she might have- fortunately she appears very normal and is very sweet and! caring so bullies are not something I worry about- mean girls worry me but that should worry any parent. I would encourage parents that think their child is a little strange to really pay attention to their behavior; their might be something going on and if you are aware of it you might be able to help your child get along in life with a little more ease."
"Einstein was 'quirky' too. Our society has been too busy creating robots instead of encouraging intelligence. Autism and ADHD, etc. are grossly over diagnosed and misdiagnosed. Our education system and many parents have become lazy. Our country should be rewarding creativity and knowledge to help us back to our feet. Grow up, quit being embaressed, and celebrate a beautiful gift of life!"
"I THINK THIS ARTICLE IS AN INJUSTICE AND MIGHT KEEP FAMILIES FROM GETTING THEIR CHILDREN the properer DX of ASPERGERS,HIGH FUNCTIONING AUTISM OR PDD-NOS Everthing that was stated fitted a child in the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and you may not be aware how difficult it is to get the schools to climb on board with these children-and are called quirky, which doesn't qualify them for special education services. These children need a hugh amount of support which the public school system is failing to do."
"On behalf of all parents, as myself, who have such gifted children, thank you for this article."
"wow I thank you for this article. my son's school wants to label my son with Aspergers Syndrome because he is one of those kids that prefers to rad at lunch and nutrition instead of horse plays with kids. I have been going crazy for the past couple of months beating myself up thinking I ama bad mother for NOT agreeing with them. I love my 'quicky' son. He is extremly creative and shy. He allows in his world whom he chooses. Very bright and caring young man raised with morals and values. Nothing wrong with a child who prefers not to curse, and get in trouble. Nothing wrong with a child who chooses to avoid trouble then be involved in it. Thank you for giving a good nights rest. Something I havent had in awhile."