If Joe Had a Hammer...
There is this boy I know. We'll call him Joe. Joe takes classes at the karate school where I teach. He is very strong and very fast, two traits that are constantly on display because Joe is never still. He cannot be still. It seems to hurt him to try. When the other kids are attempting to control their bodies (no small feat for any child), Joe is spinning in circles. Or he is lying on the floor kicking his feet. Sometimes he is making loud skreetchy sounds reminiscent of a pterodactyl. Or laughing at his own private joke. Sometimes it is all too much so he just sits down. But he is a happy kid. He is a nice kid. He likes to draw, to jump on the trampoline, to punch and kick. Hereally likes to punch and kick.
Joe goes to school nearby and he can't sit still there either which is something that schools frown upon. So he struggles. His dad, who seems to be a kind and patient man, is constantly frustrated with him. I don't blame him. If I had to wrangle Joe in and out of a normal daily existence I would need some serious meds. For me, not him. Although....
I am not a doctor, or a therapist, or any other kind of expert. All I am is a karate teacher. But I have seen hundreds of kids come through the dojo, all kinds of kids. Kids who someone identified as "gifted." Kids who someone else labeled with an acronym. ADHD. PPD. SPD. And other things that end with the letter D.
No one has labeled Joe. I asked the dad what his pediatrician says about him. Nothing. I asked if he had been evaluated at school. They are just getting around to it now, after being on a waitlist since September. I asked all these things not so I could know what "disease" Joe has, but so I could be a better teacher to him. Perhaps someone else, some expert, had given his dad some tips for how to reach him. Perhaps there were strategies no one had tried yet, strategies that would help Joe learn to control himself. And although I am against it in most cases and I cringe to even type it, perhaps there is something he could....take?
I am not going to diagnose Joe. Even if I were sure what his problems are (and to be honest, I am pretty sure what letters to assign to him) it would be inappropriate to put it out there on a blog for the whole world to see when no one has had the courtesy to tell the same diagnosis to his parents. And again, I am no expert. I just teach karate.
But what I will say is this. Labels are bad. They are limiting and insulting and exclusionary. No kid should be summed up in one word, or three letters, stamped like meat bound for the supermarket freezer. No kid is just smart, or lazy, or gifted, or strong, or stupid. And to have someone tell you that your child's cute mannerisms, the way he wiggles his fingers, that funny sound he makes, the way he can't stop talking about Sponge Bob, that all these things are, in fact, a sign of a PROBLEM, it must be devastating. I know its devastating because some of you are that mom, the one who heard a diagnosis., and I saw it break your heart.
But I also know this: For many of you, with that awful, scary label came help. Help when she is screaming and kicking and throwing things. Help when he is the only one in his class who still can't write his name. Help when he is always sad or always angry or always scared. And unfortunately sometimes in order to get your child the help they need you need the label, you need the piece of paper. That is just the way it is.
Joe needs help. His parents need help. And they need it now, while Joe is still young enough to not know that he needs it. Before the teasing and the bullying. Before the frustration, both his and his dad's, overflows. Before he has been punished too many times for behaviors that he really cannot control. Before he gets left behind. I am doing the best I can but I am only one karate teacher, teaching one class for 45 minutes a week. In the grand scheme of Joe's life, I am nothing.
Yesterday a mother came into my dojo with her four year old son. "I want to sign him up for karate", she said. "He has ADHD and I am completely against medication. I did karate when I was younger and I think this will help him focus."
Good for you, mama! Not necessarily for trying to be med free (that's every mom's personal decision) but for being brave enough to make those hard choices, to try different things until you find something that works. We are all advocates for our children, no matter what needs they have, and we require every tool in the box to do our job. Even that weird screwdriver that only fits those teeny tiny screws. We need it. Every single tool. The whole box. And then some.
Someone please give Joe a screwdriver. Or a wrench. Or a hammer. At the very least he will really enjoy banging it on the floor.
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By Diane Lang