I walked into the school where I would be working for the next year and was stunned to see Timmy, an eight-year-old, curly haired, mop-topped imp sitting right outside of the principal’s office. He had his head down and was not talking to anyone. I sat down next to him and after just a few minutes, tears began to flow gently down his cheek. He told me that he was trying to make himself invisible so that no one could see him as they walked by, because unlike him, they were going to gym class. Why was he not going to gym class like everyone else?
His teacher told me that he was not yet ready to go to gym, art, music, or recess with the other children because he talked incessantly; he did not pay attention to instructions; he interrupted whomever was speaking; and he continuously touched others. How obstructive could a little boy’s behavior be that would prevent him from attending classes and activities that would seemingly be fun for him?
In a way, one could not blame his teacher. Apparently the last time he entered the gym, he immediately darted to the closet where all of the equipment was stored and one by one, threw each and every piece of equipment out onto the gym floor. In fact, he threw some of the balls at the other children.
His behavior was certainly obstructive. However, was there not one teacher who could try to teach him how to behave appropriately? Timmy’s teacher quickly told me the answer to that question. She said that “He just wouldn’t listen.” She also told me that she “just didn’t have the time to work with one child.” Timmy was one student in an eight-student class. Was she kidding? Her response gave me a clear picture of how she felt about Timmy and his behavior.
I know that you are asking yourself, why did Timmy exhibit these socially inappropriate behaviors? Why did he exhibit poor social skills? Timmy had a diagnosis of attention-deficit/ hyperactive disorder (ADHD) as well as a diagnosis of giftedness. The following is the accepted definition of ADHD according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5):
A persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development as characterized by (1) and/ or (2): Inattention: Six (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is inconsistent with developmental level and that negatively impacts directly on social and academic/ occupational activities: Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort often loses things necessary for tasks or activities is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli is often forgetful in daily activities Hyperactivity and impulsivity: Six (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is inconsistent with and that negatively impacts directly on social and academic/ occupational activities often fidgets with or taps hands or feet or squirms in seat often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected often runs about or climbs in situations where it is inappropriate often unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly is often “on the go,” as if “driven by a motor” often talks excessively often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed often has difficulty waiting his or her turn often interrupts or intrudes on others Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms were present prior to age 12 years. Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms are present in two or more settings. There is clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, academic, or occupational functioning. Specify whether: 314.01 (F90.2) Combined presentation: If both Criterion A1 (inattention) and Criterion A2 (hyperactivity-impulsivity) are met for the past 6 months. 314.00 (F90.0) Predominantly inattentive presentation: If Criterion A1 (inattention) is met but Criterion A2 (hyperactivity-impulsivity) is not met for the past 6 months. 314.01 (F90.1) Predominantly hyperactive/impulsive presentation: If Criterion A2 (hyperactivity-impulsivity is met and Criterion A1 (inattention) is not met for the past 6 months (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, pp. 59–60).
In fact, if children with ADHD do not learn how to diminish or self-regulate these symptoms, they may arguably spend their entire adult lives feeling friendless, devoid of spouses, and having difficulty obtaining and keeping a job.
As hard as it is for me to admit it, you can see how a child like Timmy could be annoying for other children to have around. It was just about impossible for Timmy to get children to like him, let alone to make friends. Each time I entered the classroom, Timmy appeared to be happy.
However, within a few moments, his face showed more and more sadness and hurt. Whenever he tried to talk to his classmates, they would ignore him or make insulting comments to him. His behavior would then suddenly become inappropriate. This was the cycle of Timmy’s behavior:
he would talk to his classmates; they would ignore him or make hurtful comments to him; and then he would exhibit socially inappropriate behavior that would irritate them. This cycle was prevalent during all of his classes as well as throughout lunch.
When I came to school to work with Timmy, no one wanted to sit next to him at lunch. Let us look at what typically happened. As Timmy ate his lunch, if the other children did not get up from their chairs immediately upon seeing him walking toward them and sit somewhere else, he would speak to them. They would say insulting comments to him, such as, “Oh no, here he is again, the talking monster,” or “The jumping jack in a boy’s body is sitting here, yuck.” He would then exhibit inappropriate behavior, such as purposely chewing his food with his mouth open.
The other children would then say to me that “He grosses us out.” Since Timmy clearly did not understand how his behavior was causing his peers to respond to him in a negative way, he did not do anything to change his behavior. I tried to talk to Timmy to help him to understand exactly why his peers were rejecting him, but he just did not understand. He would speak to me about feeling rejected and unwanted but just did not understand the origin of his own socially inappropriate behavior. (Rapoport, 2009, pp. xiv–xv).
Do you have a child who has experienced this type of rejection, hurt, and pain? If so, please reach out for help before his self-esteem is negatively affected.