No one is born a parent; no one really is a perfect parent. Dibs: In Search of Self is a perfect example of this as both parents had no idea how to raise a child in a loving, compassionate home. Dibs’ mother stated from the get go that the boy seemed to have it out for her and he was responsible for ruining her and her marriage. The father was completely wrapped up in his work and studies and made sure he’d made no time for his children. Additionally, his children had been instructed to stay out of his room while he was home. Once Dibs’ sister is born, he is again pushed further away as their mother spoils the little girl. Eventually, however even the sister is sent away to a boarding school.
I am not so sure I enjoyed this book as I felt rushed reading it (by the author) and that it were too abbreviated in its entirety. I have read other case studies through my child development studies, and those works were much more detailed. This book felt more like a story being told, instead of in-depth observations. I was expecting the author to elaborate on the issues surrounding Dibs’ behavior, rather than just explaining them away as the mother and father.
Dibs was lost in his world with very little connection to any other human beings. His parents’ lack of parenting and nurturing caused his internalization where he couldn’t control his feelings because he could not understand them. Through play therapy, Dibs learned he could control the tap water in the play room sink, he could control who was buried in the sand, he could find himself by working out what his feelings were and what they really meant. However, he couldn’t get the nipple back on the baby bottle. He’d splash in the water, turn it down to a slow trickle, turn it on full force and he would sing to it, yet he repeatedly asked Miss A to replace the nipple on that bottle. (Axline, 1964, p. 159) This showed me that he indeed was an adolescent who desperately needed support, which he was not getting from home.
The father’s response to Dibs’ chattering after his Thursday session really bothered me. Instead of interacting with his son, he shut him down, effectively causing Dibs to react negatively. Dibs screamed at his father that he hated him. (Axline, 1964, p. 80) I had my mom read this book to give me some feedback and about half way through it, she’d stated that she’d read it once before. She was about 16 years old in 1978 and her mother was reading it for a college class. They would read it aloud to her and her siblings after dinners during her semester. She recalled how uncomfortable she felt hearing the book. “In those days, you didn’t talk to people who had children like Dibs. You didn’t look them in the eye, you didn’t ask them anything. You avoided them like a disease, because that’s almost what they were. When people would converse about them, it was always in hushed tones. We would always hear how bad people felt because the child was retarded or manic.”
During the interview of Dibs’ mother, she stated: “There was no place we could send him.” (Axline, 1964, p. 87) This intrigued me because it seemed very cold for her to want to just get rid of her child, but again in talking to my mom, that was how it was in that time period. It was standard practice to send problem children off to boarding schools or private practices to keep peace in well to do families. Again, Dibs’ sister was eventually sent to a private boarding school herself, even though she was labeled as “a perfect child”.
“When I was a child, a problem child or one with disabilities or with any behavior problem was taken out of public schools. We grew up with them for a time, then one day they were gone. We were scolded if we talked about them or asked about them in public. I can remember a little girl I was in Girl Scouts with until we were 12 years old. When we started the 6th grade, she had to go to another school because she couldn’t read or write like she was supposed to. I never saw her again and I remember my mother telling me not to talk about her anymore. I didn’t understand it until I was in my late 20’s. She was dyslexic and had severe learning disabilities. The school passed her up until the 6th grade, when the school system decided she needed more help than they could offer.” (Interview quote from Roberta Baldwin, 04/21/2013)
I think it’s interesting how far we’ve come and how much procedure has changed for helping children with disabilities, abuse, emotional issues, etc. I am absolutely relieved that the change was for the better since I have a nephew with physical disabilities who will have all of the support he will need to become successful in his world!