Once in a while you come across a book that you fall in love with. You find yourself becoming a part of the character’s life, wanting what he wants, crying out when you feel his pain and rejoicing every time he discovers a new side to himself. It’s amazing how Dibs isn’t even half my age and I can still relate to him so much.
It has always bothered me when it comes to those research methodology books which continuously debate over empirical data and case studies. Of course the most preferred one is empirical studies, with huge sample sizes which are subject to rigorous statistical analysis and hence have a higher reliability and validity while a case study is deemed as just one isolated event. This book should be shoved right into the faces of those who do not believe case studies are important, cause if you read this book you realize why sometimes a story of one child is all that is needed to gain a better perspective.
Barely 6 years old and rejected even before he was born, you come across Dibs who is a highly withdrawn child. Believed to be a mentally retarded child and a great disappointment and epitome of shame to his parents, you are introduced to him at a point in life where everyone has given up on him. His last shot at hope is a play therapist who has been given the rights to study him and use those videos for research purposes.
What is interesting here is to see how mere reinstatements of the child’s words, is the only real form of conversation the therapist has with him. There is no nudging, no extra questions, no pushing to achieve, absolutely no attack on him to come out of his shell (which is why I believe he came out of his shell). It also helped that he had an environment where he could choose whatever it is that he wanted to do. Given that the room had a whole range of material that included sand, figurines, clay, crayons, paper, paints, brushes, doll houses, etc., it wasn’t a surprise that the child was able to project his feelings, role play them, vent out his emotions through play without having to worry about consequences. What we learn over here is clearly how play therapy works, where the therapist is merely the facilitator who provides the right Carl Rogerian conditions (unconditional positive regard, empathy, congruency). Along with this the child has a whole range of toys to choose from. Variety obviously helps as we don’t want his expression to be limited because of lack of availability of particular toys.
One of the other important lessons you learn over here is that of neglect. Indeed, anyone who still has the nature vs nurture question may want to reconsider their stance. When you read this book, you see both nature and nurture in extremes and yet see the result of their interaction. Born to two high functioning individuals, he is definitely high functioning himself, but the nature of his rejection is so high, that you see him withdraw completely from his environment. So while he is absorbing everything he hears, sees and reads (he learnt how to read pretty soon), he also stubbornly refuses to interact with those around him, as a punishment, out of fear and a whole range of emotions that I worry a child his age shouldn’t be experiencing.
Apart from the above, the biggest lessons you get from the book is understanding how you should be addressing the child as a whole, not just his intellectual needs, but also his emotional, behavioral and social needs and that a lag in one area would hold him back. We, as teachers are often too caught up in academic work, to stop, pause and consider how the child feels. One amazing activity done by a third grade teacher illustrates this point. She asks her students one simple question ‘What do you wish your teacher knew?’ And here’s what she finds
The end is worth as much as the rest of the book. You read an open letter Dibs wrote when he grows up. One that his therapist chanced upon accidentally. He talks about how he protests against the suspension of his friend caught cheating. Now your first impulse to cheating is obviously it is wrong, unethical and unfair and hence suspension being the next logical step. Dibs argument, of course, changes your viewpoint. I won’t tell you his exact views on it because I rather you read the book and then his thoughts when he’s older to see the full extent of growth that this child has experienced.
All in all, this book teaches you to address the child as whole, highlights the importance of nurturing a child, introduces you to play therapy, makes you recall how awesome Carl Rogers is, all while you join the character on his journey as he deals his demons, makes peace with his past and grows into a happy person that he deserved to be.