Chapter III: Heeeere’s Jerry!!
Gloria got up, went to the door, and walked out to the van.
“I’m praying he’ll be good, Dr. Cima,” she grimaced, “but I can’t guarantee it.” Gramma Eleanor began to cry, again.
Before Jerry arrived, Gloria said they never knew what to expect when Jerry came home. Sometimes he’d have a smile on his face, other times his face would be beet red from anger. He might ask for an apple, or toss his backpack at his mother. It was common for Jerry to be the only child in the school van, “for safety reasons.” Good day or bad, whether alone or with other kids, there was an extra staff member assigned to sit next to him, to and from school.
We decided it would be a good idea for me to meet with Jerry alone so, as planned, I followed Gloria outside. I met the teacher’s aide, and “escort,” John. He told Gloria that Jerry had a “mixed” day. He was “good” in the morning, but “he became very agitated in the afternoon, so we had him in a ‘time out.’”
“Time out” meant he was taken from the classroom, and a staff member was assigned to supervise him in a separate and isolated room. No teaching occurred. It was supervision only, so Jerry wouldn’t disrupt the classroom. John was twenty-something, liked his job, very nice, and very poorly trained in child management methods.
Jerry was a normal sized 9-year-old, maybe a bit smaller than most, but not by much. He was slender and he looked in good health. He had light brown hair, he was fair skinned, and he was dressed nicely by his mother. However, his clothes were disheveled, as though he had been wrestling. I learned later, while being escorted out of the classroom to his “time out,” Jerry had to be restrained by John and another aide at school. I remember thinking, when I first saw him, he looked like an angry Dennis the Menace.
In her most cautious voice, as though she was trying to avoid an “outburst,” mother started to introduce me to Jerry. I interrupted, just a little, as I smiled at Jerry. I learned during my conversation with Gloria and her mother that he liked baseball.
“Hi Jerry,” I said, “I’m Dr. Cima. Wanna play catch?”
“Yeah!,” he answered.
He dropped his backpack, ran to his room, got a ball, and came back outside – with a good looking grin on his face. For the next 15 minutes or so, we played catch, and we were having some fun. He wasn’t very good at playing catch, as though he hadn’t had much practice. He was going to get some, we both found out. For the next six months, whenever I came to his house, he wouldn’t talk with me until we played catch, for about 15 minutes or so. It was our routine, and a small price to pay, having some fun with this fun-loving Star. That, and not coincidentally, he got better and better at catching and throwing a ball, and I was able let him know it.
By the way, when you can, it’s a good idea to meet a child, for the first time, when he’s at his best, not his worst. How does he behave when he’s happy? What does she like to do? What energizes him? What entices her interest? Besides, I knew all about Jerry at his worst, as attested to by his mother, grandmother, teacher, and social worker.
We had a short conversation, mostly about things he liked to do, nothing about things he didn’t like to do. He was wary. I was just another adult in his life, probably there to “boss me around, like everyone else.” It’s worth pointing out, Jerry was bright. That is, he could read adults very well. He knew how to provoke, or charm, as needed.
He told me liked to play, that was clear, and he told me he liked to draw. I learned from mother he did a lot of drawing in his room, using pencils from a set she bought him. I saw a few of his drawings. They were very colorful, some were well done, for a promising artist. If there was a “theme” to his drawings, I didn’t see one. There were pictures of animals, cactus, and unnamed people. No particular “emotion” jumped out at me either. These were mostly drawings of his surroundings. He didn’t keep many, and not many people had seen them.
About 45 minutes or so passed and I declared Jerry, to myself, as perfectly normal. He was, of course. At his best, he was cute, he was happy, and he was fun. To be sure, he was driving adults “crazy,” and they were ready to restrict his movements at a moment’s notice. Still others were clamoring to give him some sort of “medicine,” also intended to restrict his movements, and to get him to finally “pay attention!!”
If you were expecting this to be about how we “changed” or “fixed” Jerry, well, you may be surprised, though I hope not. After all, this blog is called “Your Kids Aren’t Sick.” That includes Jerry. He didn’t need “changing” or “fixing” and, from a temperament perspective, that’s not even possible. Instead, as you will see, we helped adults change their behavior, and Jerry’s followed. This is always true, and usually denied, by adults – especially professional adults.
I was confident we could help mother and grandmother. They had “lost control” of their child some years before, for reasons that really don’t matter (I’ll give some details at the end of this tale). I knew mother and grandmother felt defeated. However, I also knew they wanted Jerry to remain at home, despite their doubts. Please remember, as a wraparound program, our mission was to keep the family whole. With a few child management techniques, and some modeling by our team, mother and grandmother would be “back in control” in a relatively short period.
My major concern was school. I had a scheduled meeting the next day with Jerry’s teacher, and others. I was sure with time, persistence, and some good work by our team, we could get Jerry to school in the morning, every day, with a smile on his face. I wasn’t sure, however, without interactive changes by the school, how long the smile would last once we did.
I brought my wraparound counselor, Angela, with me. The two of us met, after school hours, with Jerry’s teacher, two teacher’s aides from his classroom, the school psychologist, and the Principal. Wraparound was a new California statewide service in 1999, it was court ordered, and most professionals were supportive. When I asked for a general meeting with everyone, they readily agreed. They needed, and wanted, help too, so I knew we would have willing participants, at least in the beginning. The trick is to encourage the participants to become our partners in this endeavor.
For the temperament-tuned, Angela was a Champion Idealist, and her enthusiasm alone was enough to give everyone a much needed positive “boost.” She was smart, she was an experienced trainer in child management, she was good with kids, kids liked her, and so did everyone else. Her relationship with school personnel was going to be key to creating the changes that needed to occur.
The school reported, as determined in Jerry’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), that Jerry needed an abundance of one-on-one time. They assigned staff members to bring him to school and to take him home. Others were there “to be with him” at breaks, recess, and lunch. He was rarely “in the right mood” to interact with the other children. His demeanor went, seemingly, from flat to fiery in a matter of moments. They used a “token economy” in the classroom to provide “motivation” and “behavioral guidance.” They also relied on “Zero Tolerance” as their discipline program. None of this seemed to help. Without hesitation, the Principal, teacher, and aides all agreed Jerry was their most difficult “challenge” of all their students.
The psychologist also reminded Angela and me of his professional assessment. He stated Jerry is “obviously ADHD.” He said he would like to refer Jerry to a psychiatrist and that “mother is not cooperating.” In private, those words rankle me to my core. Parents are routinely chastised, increasingly often, for not giving permission to a doctor to give their child amphetamine, for a “disease” that doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, in this meeting, I listened. I wasn’t there to debate the school psychologist.
Instead, we told everyone we’d be developing a plan, and that we would like to “partner” with the teacher and aides. I said we were confident that, together, we could all help Jerry’s mother reach her goals. We also decided, at this first “team meeting,” that we were going to delay other recommendations, including psychiatric. It’s important to get everyone on board. They were skeptical, perhaps cynical, and they were expecting us to “change” Jerry. Nevertheless, we had their commitment, and that’s all we wanted to accomplish at our initial meeting.
Now, it was our turn. Angela and I needed to gather our team at the office. We needed to put together the plan.
Chapter IV: The Plan
Innately quiet, and perhaps the most artistic of the Stars, Composer Artisans make up about 10% of the population. Icons include Amadeus Mozart, Cher, Steven Spielberg, Barbara Streisand, Mel Brooks, and a personal favorite, Harpo Marx, to name a few.
As children, Stars in general are known in some circles as the “wild child,” a “firecracker,” a “little pistol,” or even a “little monster,” due to their boundless energy and propensity to attend to their current impulse. Sometimes they’ll say “he’s wired,” or “explosive” and, “he’s so unpredictable.” Those from education declare him “learning disabled,” or “learning handicapped,” and they will say has a reading, writing, or math “disorder.”
He had “minimal brain dysfunction” nearly 40 years ago when I first got into this field and, soon afterwards, he had “hyperkinetic reaction of childhood.” Modern day medics, psychologists, and therapists say he has “ADHD,” or “childhood schizophrenia,” or “conduct disorder,” or a variety of other “diseases” and “disorders.” Most distressing, if he’s quiet enough and seemingly “uncommunicative,” these particular Stars are currently being diagnosed as “autistic” during the past 20-year “epidemic” of autism diagnosers. They’ve always called him something. By the way, have your noticed? It’s almost always “him.”
Stars, even the quiet ones, have an abundance of energy and an eye for adventurous pursuits, excitement their aim, boredom their bane. It’s their nature. This can be problematic for adults – teacher and parents alike – who are responsible to provide directives to complete pursuits Stars do not like. This is when child management trumps therapy and punishment, the two dominant styles of interacting with troublesome children.
Jerry wasn’t “sick,” he didn’t have “ADHD,” he wasn’t a “little monster,” he wasn’t “disabled,” and he sure as hell wasn’t a “horrible kid.” He was a Star, a young Composer Artisan to be exact, and he was behaving as these Stars do when shame overwhelms them. Ironically, Keirsey notes that Composer Artisans “show a kindness unmatched by all the other types.” Often, unwittingly, we treat them, in turn, so unkindly.