Without much waffle, here is Tanya, answering some of my burning questions!
BM: Describe where you are just now and the things around you; give us a peek into your life!
TP: At the moment I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my backyard. I’ve made myself comfortable in a low camping chair (that I really do use for camping), my computer is on my lap, an my bare feet are resting on the soft, freshly-mowed grass. I’m in the shade of a fairly large evergreen tree, so the temperature is ideal despite the 85-degree heat of the summer afternoon. I can see my flowers blooming: a variety of roses, a cluster of black-eyed susans just beginning to unfurl, my newly planted corner garden of lavender, daisies, dahlias, coreopsis, and more in tiny but vibrant bloom. It’s peaceful and inspiring. For optimal well-being, I need to spend time outdoors. I love writing outside!
BM: Let’s dive into the book then… When raising a child, how does a parent/teacher know if the child is just being a child and throwing tantrums or is dealing with more important issues?
TP: While of course every child is unique, with his/her own personality, there are defined stages that all experience at a given age. These stages include general ways of behaving and responding to the world. For example, a two-year-old who doesn’t have full command of her language can’t always express strong emotion verbally; thus, it’s natural for her to have tantrums. By the time that child has entered elementary school, she’s at a different developmental stage, has better command of language, can regulate her emotions more than she could at age two, etc. While an occasional outburst is still to be expected (depending on personality, some have more outbursts than others), if the tantrums are frequent and severe and there are other things going on (acting too clingy or dependent or too aloof or problems with social skills, for example), it’s a sign that there could be something more going on. The tantrums are a symptom of a problem rather than an age-appropriate behavior.
In the story, Abigail Harris can have a tantrum for very little reason (well, for very little reason as seen by an outsider. From her perspective, the tantrums have a definite reason.) Her tantrums are severe, and they can be long lasting or stop abruptly. Her behavior switches from dependent to independent and back again. (I won’t say more to avoid spoiling things!). These are not typical seven-year-old behaviors. For reasons I won’t say, she has an attachment disorder that accounts for her behavior.
Basically, parents and teachers should consider how a child acts compared to other children of similar age. Look for patterns. What is the child doing that’s out of the norm? When does this happen? Knowing these things is a great starting point for helping the child.
BM: Can Brian’s condition be quantified by severity? Say, on a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is his disorder?
TP: Definitely! One way of assessing mental illness in general is to consider how much it affects a person’s life and overall functioning. Can someone function well and just needs a bit of therapy or medication? Or are they completely incapacitated and in need of hospitalization? Or something in between?
Brian’s disorders are debilitating. They’ve completely limited his life in almost every way imaginable. On a scale of one to ten, I would categorize him a nine. He’s not at a ten because he is living his life, albeit in a very restricted fashion. He can get to work, he has an activity he enjoys. But his anxiety chokes him to such a degree that he experiences panic attacks over nearly everything, including just the thought of some things. The poor man is miserable and feels powerless to get better.
Stay tuned for Part 2! I do think she is a brilliant writer and the research that went into her book shows.