My views concerning TS and ADHD come entirely from my own experiences. I am not in the medical or mental health fields. I did not take medications as a kid, and I have no expertise on the subject and thus have no view on the topic one way or the other. If your child’s mental health practitioner feels as though medications will benefit your child, then by all means proceed in that light if both he or she and yourself feel as though it is best for your youngster.
My views are predicated upon what I think would have helped myself as a child, as my young character is described within my story. In no way am I asserting that any “one size fits all” solution will benefit every child. On the other hand, one lesson I have learned from life with absolute certainty is that one should never think of one’s self as being entirely unique. Whatever problems one might have, it is a certain bet that someone, somewhere is suffering the same.
In the wake of reported tragic cases of youngsters taking their own lives after having experienced profound bullying at school, individuals affected have taken up what might be termed the “anti-bullying” cause. Their approach to this problem has been to attempt to change the school environment by holding schools accountable to maintain a safe atmosphere for kids to learn. They have been successful in educating school administrators and teachers and in passing anti-bullying legislation on a state level. Some give lectures at schools in an attempt to educate students as well.
I commend such individuals. It must be acknowledged that some kids have problems that make them potential victims of bullies that they cannot adjust, such as aspects of their physical appearances or intellectual abilities. It is therefore incumbent upon schools to be as vigilant as possible in protecting such kids.
Nevertheless, I believe that in regard to many other kids, such as the one in my story, this is only half the equation in solving the problem. A child can never be completely sheltered from a harsh world with harsh individuals inhabiting it. So, whenever possible, teaching coping and social skills should be the other half of the equation in ultimately eliminating the problem.
Such an approach should not be seen as “blaming the victim.” The more a child learns to act in a socially graceful manner, the better his or her chances will be for success and happiness throughout life. The formative years of childhood are all-important in deciding a person’s destiny and lot in life.
My earliest memories begin at around the age of four and one-half. Talking with others, I think this is a fairly typical point when the human mind develops to the degree that it is capable of forming long-term memories.
This is the point where I believe a child begins to function in more than a strictly reactive manner. The child becomes fully self-aware and begins to think in the true sense of the word. My definition of thinking is: The ability to predict the future from past experience in intellectualized terms.
In a sense, we might say that this is the point when a human begins life as an individual. This is when the child becomes fully aware of the concepts of “self” and “not-self” and learns to make distinctions between the two. This is when the concept of competition with others first becomes apparent within a person.
No child sits down one day at around that age and reflects to himself or herself: “Well, I’m just beginning life now. I think I shall be a nervous, high-strung, impulsive, obsessive-compulsive person;” any more than another decides: “I’m going to be a calm, cool and collected and self-confident person.” A child simply begins to act in accordance with his or her genetic nature. Children have very limited senses of self-analytic abilities and do not ask themselves, “Why am I acting this or that way?”
Lambasting a child for simply acting in accordance with his or her nature would make as much sense as buying a cat and then complaining when it doesn’t bark. We all have certain proclivities towards certain traits.
There is a link between Tourette’s Syndrome and OCD, and it is my belief that TS should be classified as an emotional disorder within the OCD grouping of disorders. As exampled on the hilarious television comedy *Monk*, people with obsessive-compulsive traits tend to be very bright. It is my belief that they process external stimuli more rapidly and efficiently than does the average individual. They also arrive at different conclusions than do others; rapidly dismissing stimuli that do not interest them; then reverting to the chronic self-reflection which is the hallmark of the condition.
It is my theory that the root cause of all emotional disorders within OC pathologies is what I term to be “acute self-awareness.”
Some people have much better vision acuity when it comes to color than does the average person, and such individuals often make great artists. For those of us with more average color vision acuity, it never occurs to us that those with a superior sense see the world more vividly than we can. Although I, of course, have had no experience with being anyone other than myself-and therefore can never test the theory-, it is my belief that most people have somewhat less of a sense of “self” than do people with OC emotional disorders and are better able to focus their attention away from themselves and onto outside stimuli. Being less self-conscious, they are more poised.
The result of this is that individuals with OC disorders, because of their greater sense of self-awareness (or self-consciousness), develop defense mechanisms to protect that acute sense of self not common to people with a more normal sense of self. Protecting self becomes paramount to the point of becoming counterproductive.
Thus, those with OCD, for example, develop elaborate, seemingly bizarre rituals akin to superstition in the belief that if this or that seemingly mundane task is not constantly attended to, and performed with a precise protocol, then some terrible threat to the self will surely emerge as a result. Through learned behavior by repetition, the condition can persist to the point of becoming debilitating.
For those with TS, I believe the analogous defense mechanism is tics. The person will jerk his or her head, for example, in an effort to focus consciousness away from one’s self and onto the outside stimulus he or she is expected to observe. Verbal tics are analogous to a karate expert’s practice of yelling while breaking a board with his or her bare hand, as both an effort to increase concentration and avert attention away from physical pain. Through repetition, these aberrant practices become virtually involuntary.
People born with a greater sense of “self-awareness” have a correspondingly greater sense of trying to defend themselves, seeing threats, real or imagined, sooner than others. Thus, their naturally nervous or “high-strung” dispositions. Anxiety is their constant companion. This often provokes stress which aggravates the condition, resulting in a vicious cycle.
As with any other condition, the sooner it is recognized, diagnosed and treated the better the eventual outcome will be. Much of the advice I would have given myself as a kid is reflected within my story. What kids like these need most is structure in their lives and to learn self-discipline, patience and increased concentration.
Because these kids tend to be bright-even in spite of often mediocre school performances due to ADD-, they are often very defensive when it comes to criticism. (“Had anyone else spoken to twelve-year old Bobby Schultz like this, the boy would have reacted defensively from pride and dismissed the advice out of hand. Others had made similar comments in the past.”) A parent must therefore appeal to the child’s intellect and gradually lead him or her in the direction of self-realization and, hopefully, self-improvement practices.
Basically, any activity that will tend to increase a youngster’s poise and self-confidence will be extremely beneficial, along with a parent’s gentle but firm persuasion that he or she sticks to it. Youngsters like this tend to gravitate towards those relatively few activities which can successfully command their attention away from themselves. In my day, it was reading escapist fare like *The Hardy Boys* and then science fiction. Today, I would imagine it is video games. Excessive engaging in such pastimes is, in my opinion, a form of “self-medicating” and is detrimental to the child’s well being.
Two activities I would suggest-if possible-are martial arts and acting lessons; especially from a teacher who holds to the “method acting” technique where one is taught to “become” the character one is playing. By doing such, the child might learn to recognize different character types and thus might also learn to better realize his or her own nature and how others see him or her.
Martial arts lessons, such as karate classes, are excellent vehicles to improve a child’s concentration and self-confidence, as well as his or her physical stamina. It also has obvious side benefits when it comes to dealing with bullies, especially for boys.
Suggesting acting lessons might seem somewhat less practical due to financial or logistical considerations. But if at all possible, I believe they would be extremely beneficial in teaching a child social skills and poise. As I said, the method acting technique in particular, teaching an acting student to “become” his or her character while playing the part, will help the child develop an excellent intuitive and empirical perspective regarding the different natures people have and will help him or her learn more about the child’s own. Such an insight is invaluable. By learning to act the part of another-perhaps a character with far more self-confidence than the child exhibits by nature-he or she might learn to try to incorporate within himself or herself such positive traits. By practice and repetition, such a transition might become virtually “second nature” to the youngster.
The mere fact of performing before others will do wonders for a child’s self-confidence, poise and self-esteem. I know of at least one professional actor afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome. He has appeared on primetime network television programs; thus, yet another possible side-benefit. Your youngster might one day become very successful as an actor and repay the costs of such lessons many times over!
The major point to bear in mind is that such youngsters must learn to control their minds and bodies rather than allowing them to control and define them. As it is oft said, knowledge is power. By learning on an intellectual level to understand their inherent natures, children can be forewarned and thus forearmed and will be better able to face life on successful terms. As stated within my story, breathing exercises and a daily period of silent meditation, gradually increasing the time, will be extremely beneficial.
If I could choose one passage from my story that I consider the most important, it would be: “He told the boy that he simply had to learn to be patient and do things in their proper place and time and to do so with care. He explained that the youth had to learn to have confidence in the future and to stop acting like now was the only time he would ever have to play or do something else he enjoyed.”
In the case of all people who suffer from what I consider to be “acute self-awareness,” which is often accompanied by acute anxiety, there is always an underlying, often subconscious and unspoken fear that tomorrow will indeed never come. Thus, the present moment takes on undue importance in the case of such youngsters. Teaching a child to learn to cultivate the virtue of patience is paramount to the child’s chances of success throughout life. A parent must insist on this and not give in to the child’s demands for immediate gratification when such is not appropriate. One will not benefit his or her child if a parent folds.
Once again, appeal to the child’s intellect and explain your reasoning. Listen to the child’s almost certain rebuttals with patience yourself, but stand firm in your reasoning with him or her.
A parent must resist the temptation to baby such kids. A parent must use his or her wisdom of years to gently, but firmly guide a youngster into the path of right direction and insist that he or she sticks with these activities or others that might prove beneficial to the child’s entire life.
As Gary Moore, the late television personality, once put it: “Deep in his heart, no child wants a forty-year old friend.”
Donald Schneider is the author of “Pride’s Prison,” a short story conce