The U turn: Dibs in search of self

Neerja Singh

I ride past several school bus stops on my morning cycling rounds. Having been a teacher for the most part of my life, uniforms and school bags attract my eye. And I watch the children standing in wait of their lumbering transports. The children are young, beautiful with lives full of promise ahead but what I see on their cherubic faces is a grim glumness. I have seen distance gazing, fatigued body lounging, there are irritable frowns, some simply appear resigned to the day coming on and I pedal by wondering at the anomaly between what schools aim to do and what they seem to end up doing.

Do we empower our students with a benevolent and hopeful view of life ahead? Do we add to their feeling of self-worth and dignity? Do we give them a sense of safety and reassurance? Do we allow them space and permission to make mistakes?

Ask yourselves?

dibs I recently met a bright young woman at the Instituto Cervantes where we both studied Spanish. On being asked what she saw as a young person’s greatest challenge today, she answered simply, “The fear that life does not permit a U turn!” She was of the opinion that a dread of retribution and abandonment kept young people from living their lives to the fullest. “If I had the confidence that my people would accept me, no matter what, I would take the risks that must be taken to explore my deepest potential,” her wistfulness struck me as resonating the majority view of not just our young but even those of us who are well past our mid-lives.

This mother of all turnabouts that my young friend pined for is recorded in Virginia Mae Axiline’s book Dibs in Search of Self. The story is in essence about the snatching back of a rich young life, a turning around, the healing, the growth and opening up of tiny Dibs. He is a little boy who is so sad and hurt that he has withdrawn from the world around him. He does not speak, does not play and is locked in a prison and is completely alone.

The book is a child therapy classic and chronicles a series of play therapy sessions conducted by the author and clinical psychologist for Dibs. Despite signs of being a gifted child, his parents and most of his teachers perceive him as having an emotional and cognitive disorder. Over a span of about one year or so, Dibs learns to express himself, cope with his emotions and interact socially with his peers and family. When he is eventually tested at the end of his therapy, he scores in the gifted range with an IQ of 168.

The take home from this book for teachers is the enabling relationship Axiline builds with the boy. Like her, we need to make place for our students, allowing them to be. No expectations, no demands, no judgments and god forbid any criticism. The young need a safe space devoid of tensions and hostility. They need our life force poured into them. We ought to honour their pain and confusion and despair. The thing to do would be to just echo their chaos and puzzlement so that they can move on. They have to be given time to explore the world in their own way.

None of this is practical or feasible in the environment we have constructed to educate our children. There is this obsession with the right and the wrong way of doing things, there being only one correct answer. We judge too much, we point out mistakes far too often, we are too quick with advice and our expectations are way unrealistic. We do not believe that our students have great inner strength and resolve.

Dibs in Search of Self is a story of the triumph of the human spirit. It is to be flagged so as to constantly remind us that we can and must raise children who are sincere and have a strong sense of justice and conviction.

The enduring lesson that every parent and teacher can teach their children from Dibs’ true story is that losses are not permanent. They are merely curves from which a U turn is possible leading to brighter, lighter, and mightier paths.

The author is a freelance communicator with a background and training in teaching and media. She has authored Googly Gaathas, an anthology. She is also a winner of Litagram’s “Viral Story Contest.” She writes short and swift stories that spin and stun. She maintains a blog at She can be reached at

Interested in the book?
Dibs in Search of Self is available for sale online on and flipkart. It is also available in the ebook format for borrowing from Alternatively you could also download a pdf of the book from the Internet.

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