Friday, October 7, 2011

Why such a pack of therapy hounds?

Many of us first world parents have too much free time. I know it doesn't feel that way, but how else could one explain the massive amount of "intervention" to which many modern, healthy, normal children are subjected?

Case in point: a grandmother with whom I'm acquainted mentioned this week that her two-year-old grandchild is seeing a therapist because, wait for it: she doesn't like to get dressed in the morning. The kiddo in question is a healthy child with an average activity level and average vocabulary.

Had I been sitting in a chair when I heard this, I would have fallen out of it. I assured the granny lady that the Grape pitches a fit about removing his pajamas at least every other morning. He's two. He's asserting himself. For no good reason by adult standards.

Most mornings, we need to get out the door. So the Grape hollers like a drunken banshee while I pluck him from his crib, disrobe him and get him dressed for the day. Is the behavior annoying? Of course. Is it worth seeking professional help? Not so much.

Evidently much ado is made about the pencil grip exhibited by four-year-olds these days. I know several tots whose teachers have referred them to therapy because of nonconformist crayon holding. I have, to this day, the most awkward pencil grip of any person I know. I think it's because I busted my hand in the first grade.

Fortunately for me, my teacher was too busy dealing with the kid who ate paste until he yacked to make an issue of my little pencil rebellion. That is, if she even noticed, which I kind of doubt.

Yesterday, in the sandbox across the street, a mom was pleading, in a whiny voice that made my skin crawl, with an apoplectically hysterical toddler who was screaming, hitting, flailing and throwing toys. She kept trying to ask the girl how she would feel if someone (some imaginary abstract person, I guess) struck her.

Meanwhile, the normal afternoon crew of nannies sitting nearby rolled their eyes and muttered to each other that the poor kid just needed a nap. Indeed.

The kid continued to flail, and the mom continued to grovel for civility, for at least fifteen minutes. Other children stopped and watched the spectacle. The mom's mommy friend asked, in the middle of the tantrum, if tantrum girl was autistic, and started urging the lady to switch pediatricians. I removed myself from the vicinity before something scathing could escape my lips.

Most toddlers who throw tantrums are perfectly normal, developmentally speaking. Empathy, i.e. this how-would-you-feel line of inquiry, isn't their strong suit. The Grape is a super verbal kid, but he doesn't, even in his best and brightest moods, show a lot of evidence of abstract thinking. He, like most toddlers, experiences glimmers of empathy when actual events unfold in front of his well-rested eyes. Not when presented as hypotheticals. And certainly not when he's already mid-meltdown.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's wonderful that we have intervention for those who truly need it. Speech therapists help thousands of pre-school aged children who literally don't speak at all. A range of services exist for kids who actually present with autism or attention disorders. But I wonder how much pushy parents of healthy children siphon strained public school resources away from those kids who actually need early intervention for one or many real issues.

And then there's a twisted minority of parents who actively push to have their offspring diagnosed with some learning impediment, so that Junior can be held to a laxer standard. That makes my blood boil. What favor, exactly, are they doing their kid by insinuating a fake handicap?

But I digress. The rush to find a cause for every setback and every tantrum leaves me cold. They're toddlers. They get tired faster than we do. They're asserting themselves as independent beings for the first time in their little lives. That they do so over things that, to our adult minds, seem trivial only underscores the point: Kids don't need therapy just because they don't behave like mini adults.

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