Mimiloshen: Dire Diagnoses

Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld
Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld

It was the last day of school, and my fourth-graders already had packed their treasures and hugged warm goodbyes. As always, Ricky lingered after the others had left for a last few minutes of talk.

This was my third year of teaching, and Ricky was one of my terrific kids: fun, lively, full of playful mischief, bright, curious, restless but totally attentive when something that interested him was going on. Just a delight to have in my class all year.

When he left, I had drawers to clear and files to check. After emptying my desk, I felt something pushed way back in the drawer: a crumpled, bent file that must have been missed all year.

As I read the contents, my mouth fell open. The heavy file was all about Ricky: negative reports from his previous teachers in all aspects of behavior and achievement. Page after page described him as a serious problem, a troublemaker, inattentive, bothersome, irresponsible, disruptive, easily distracted, hyper. Had I been asked that same day to nominate an outstanding student, I would have named Ricky!

Because I had never read that file, I did not anticipate, label or prejudge. I only knew the child before me and made my own conclusions from that year of direct experiences with him.

Remember, this was the era before special education, before ADD, ADHD, OCD, ODD and other dire diagnostic acronyms. Probably, in today's very aware educational scene where we sometimes jump too easily to serious conclusions about our children's behavior, Ricky would be deemed a child with learning disorders, emotionally disturbed or hyperactive. His parents would be relentless in their pursuit of treatment. He might even be in a program for children with special needs. For sure, he would be tested and observed and probably taking medication.

Of course, I realize there are many children who truly fit the diagnostic labels, who need special programs and serious clinical intervention. We are thankful that such help is available and successful. All children need observant and informed families, but I think too many adults are ready to push panic buttons, too ready to label, too worried to see their children in a more holistic context. Too many children have letters after their names symbolizing serious conditions.

Let's try to step back before adding anxiety to our observations. Let's remember that we are all unique personalities, with our own mix of gifts and strengths. We grow in our journeys of development. We are not robots or carbon copies.

Before we rush our children to the nearest clinic, let's try to relax and enjoy, communicate and share, provide experiences that ensure success. Let's not push our children into a mold. I guess I want to say: Chill!

By the way, Ricky is now a grown man—happy with a family, a satisfying career and a relatively good life. The only letters I associate with his name are R-I-C-K-Y.

“Mamaloshen” is the Yiddish term for “the mother tongue” and we have adapted it here to represent the wisdom of Columbus arts educator, author and all-around inspiration Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld, who is on a mission to help parents raise happy, healthy, creative children.