Mrs. Beilinson, the first-grade teacher, was concerned.
“Alex is doing a lot of spacing out during class,” she told his mother on the phone. “It seems like he’s in another world much of the time—staring up at the ceiling, not participating in activities with his friends. He’s even mumbling to himself and acting quite bizarre at times.” She coughed politely. “I really think you should consult with a neurologist and talk about the possibility that Alex may have ADD. We see that a lot in kids these days. I think medication could really help him.”
Elena Shurin hung up the phone and duly made an appointment with a psychiatrist, but she had an unsettled feeling, an intuitive sense that something deeper was going on with her son. Mrs. Beilinson was an experienced teacher; surely she knew all about children. But Alex’s kindergarten teacher had been thrilled with him, so why, at the beginning of first grade, had he suddenly developed these behaviors? What if Alex’s symptoms indicated something that medication could not address?
Elena decided to consult with the school psychologist. That’s where I stepped into the story.
“I’d like you to do some testing on him,” Elena explained to me in her halting Hebrew. “The neurologist wants to put him on medication, but I’d really like your opinion about what’s going on.” As a new immigrant from Russia, Elena was hesitant about the system in Israel, and especially about medicating her child.
Alex was a cute, precocious six-year-old, and he seemed at home in my office. I decided to start with a popular evaluation tool.
“Draw a picture of a person,” I instructed Alex.
He readily complied. But while most children draw a face, a body, and perhaps some limbs, the picture that Alex drew was very unusual. All he drew was a large face. There was no body at all. Across the bottom of the face he drew a big scar.
I was taken aback. “Who is this?” I asked him casually. “Tell me a story about your drawing.”
“Well, that’s me,” he said, just as casually.
At that moment, I realized something I hadn’t even noticed before. There was a prominent scar on Alex’s mouth!
I pointed to his mouth.
“Where did you get that scar?” I wondered.
“Oh,” he replied, waving off the question, “my grandfather told me that when I was little, I was running and I fell and I needed to get stitches on my mouth.”
I had a feeling that something was triggering Alex during our conversation. I could tell from the way he was behaving that there was something underlying his words; he seemed to be uncomfortable and in distress.
I had recently trained in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), a breakthrough therapy technique developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s that utilizes bilateral stimulation (tapping, buzzing electrodes, or flashing lights that move left, right, left, right) to help clients process and integrate traumatic memories so they are no longer haunted by them. The bilateral stimulation allows dual attention; the child recalls past experiences while maintaining focus on a stimulus in the present.
So I followed my instincts and plunged right into EMDR with Alex.
What developed was extraordinary.