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“She’s hyperactive, you know.” Mrs. Bryant said it with deep concern. Then, as if to mitigate the cause of her concern, she added with an embarrassed giggle, “I guess Erica got it from me.”
With considerable astonishment I realized that Mrs. Bryant was genuinely upset. But why was she under the impression that there was something wrong with her daughter, and that it carried the label “hyperactive?” Eight-year-old Erica had just spent almost two hours in my office with no sign of any disturbance. What I had seen during the psychologicalneurological examination was a lively, charming, and a quite average eight-year old. Two hours was enough time to see that Erica had no problems paying attention, or staying with a task. Where could her mother have gotten the idea that this was a hyperactive child?
It came from the new classroom teacher. Erica had been noisy in class. Being a lively and charming youngster, her friends had joined her in the noise. That was more than the new teacher could take. She sent Erica for evaluation. The evaluation turned unfortunate. The child, nervous in front of strange adults, whom she interpreted as unfriendly, had tried to be extra lively to win them over. That did it! Erica was labeled “hyperactive” instead of “nervous in front of not-so-friendly adults.”
Why had she been relaxed with me when I tested her? Probably because we were old friends. I was the doctor who periodically examined her sick little brother. And her brother looked forward to those visits with its wonderful toys. Psychological examinations in experienced hands can be great fun, not at all threatening. Their purpose is to find out what a person can accomplish under normal conditions, not what stress and duress will produce.
Fortunately the story of Erica had a happy ending. Rather than placing her on Ritalin, as the school had demanded, her parents switched schools (this was before home schooling was a relatively easy alternative in New York State). Her new homeroom teacher was a lively elderly woman who enjoyed a noisy classroom. In the new school Erica escaped further evaluations. As she grew older she channeled her wonderful energy into helping her parents with their blossoming catering business. On graduating from high school she became a full-fledged partner in their business which her husbandto- be eventually joined.