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When the Punishment Is Too Harsh, Part II

More tales of poor ADHD child care: There’s nothing wrong with her that a little discipline won’t cure.

Little girl with ADHD sitting in corner with hands on face
Little girl with ADHD sitting in corner with hands on face

In yesterday’s post I described an incident where a substitute teacher showed a lack of skill, finesse — even plain common sense — when Natalie wasn’t attending to a task. She grabbed Natalie’s head and forced her to look at her work.

I can imagine the circumstances that led up to the incident: the sub is still asleep when her phone rings. She’s asked to sub in a first grade classroom, and she agrees.

An hour later she’s in a room full of kids — she doesn’t even know their names, let alone that 2 or 3 of the kids have IEPs. Maybe the kids are taking advantage of having a sub, and are not on their best behavior. Natalie isn’t paying attention. She’s talking to her friend Harry instead.

The sub gives her a verbal cue, which she doesn’t respond to. The sub thinks she’s being defiant, just being naughty. She doesn’t know that staying focused is hard for Natalie, and that her anxiety and the lack of calm in the room are making it harder than ever. The sub is frustrated. She gets Nat’s attention the old fashioned way — she MAKES her pay attention, through physical force. In her mind, she’s done nothing wrong.

Would it have made a difference if she knew Natalie had ADHD; if she’d read her IEP? Maybe, maybe not.

When I hired Nat’s summer babysitter, I spent some time telling her about Natalie’s background. I explained that she has ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, developmental delays, and some problems with anxiety. I gave her examples of some behaviors she might see, and talked with her about how to handle them.

We use time outs, but short ones, since it’s hard for Nat to sit still for any length of time. We use privileges — having friends over, playing with her latest favorite toy, being outside — as rewards and punishments. We don’t spank. We don’t use food as either a reward or a punishment. She should be allowed to eat whenever she wants to. If she gets “wild”, the first thing you should assume is that she’s hungry.

The first couple of weeks of summer went well. Natalie seemed happy enough when the babysitter showed up in the mornings. No complaints that she was “mean.” Until Thursday.

Natalie, Aaron, my sister Ann, and I were in the car, driving to Iowa City, where Nat had her annual appointment with a specialist at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

She told us that the babysitter spanked her and pinched her the day before. They were working on her occupational therapy “homework,” practicing Handwriting without Tears, and Nat wasn’t focusing. (Sound familiar?) When the babysitter started getting firm with Nat, Nat started to laugh. The babysitter spanked her, squeezed her shoulder too hard, and put her in time out.

The next morning when the babysitter arrived, I told her we needed to talk. I said that I understood that she might be frustrated when Natalie laughed in her face. Nat does this, and it can be maddening. But when Nat laughs, she isn’t “laughing in your face” in a defiant manner. She’s actually scared. This is a sign that she’s afraid you’re going to hurt her. What you need to do is say, “I can see that you are afraid. I’m not going to hurt you, but I need you to pay attention. You need to follow directions… calm down… pick up what you threw… chew the food in your mouth…”

The babysitter looked me right in the eye, and said this: “I don’t believe that’s what was happening. When Natalie started laughing, she didn’t even look like herself anymore. Her laughter sounded demonic. I believe she was possessed by a demon. I was being impatient with her, and the devil saw an opportunity. He entered her body to teach me a lesson. After I spanked her, and prayed over her, the demon left her body. She was completely calm afterwards. It was amazing. I believe Natalie is perfectly capable of following any direction she is given.” (Read: There’s nothing wrong with her that a little discipline won’t cure.)

I paid her for an extra week and told her we couldn’t have her back again.

In my next few posts, I’ll sort through…OH MY GOSH…I’ve been a mess ever since…blubbering phone calls to Nat’s service providers, Natalie’s return to group daycare…stuff like that.

In the meantime, I need to know: What’s your reaction? I need some reality checks. Please, I need some support!