I visited my cousin, Dr. Mark Goldstein, in his ENT practice office today in NY and was amazed to see happy looking kids marching through, some of them, I assumed, with some serious medical problems realted to, well, ears, nose or throat. I've been wondering lately why kids take serious medical problems so well, while adults tend not to.
When I told my daughter, age 13, the other day that I have a mysterious acute hearing loss in my left ear which I may not recover, she shrugged, and said something like, "At least you got your other ear." I shared with her how amazed I was at her positive attitute and asked her if she would be bummed out if she, say, lost an arm. Her response: "Nahhh, I'd just learn to do great things with the one I've got."
Of course, the "idea" of enduring discomfort is very different from actually enduring that discomfort. But still, many kids (like my own) don't seem to fear the consequences of serious medical problems, and even maintain positive attitudes about those possibilties. And, many kids who do have serious medical problems are able to maintain very positive outlooks and cheery dispositions.
Docs have these great phrases for talking to patients about the consequences of sudden bad news, saying things like, "it looks like your in for a "lifestyle change" (used often by GI docs when they are recommending colectomies, and so on). The big point here: we got something to learn from kids about maintaining a productive and positive outlook in light of, ahem, lifestlyle changes!
I've blogged before about the differences between individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurotypicals with respect to response to reinforcement. A mistaken notion, though, is that individuals with ASD's are indifferent to social reinforcement and praise... they may like it, but don't have the skills to produce it (you know, basic social stuff like make eye contact, smile at people, say reinforcing things to others). The mistake caregivers and others may make, then, is to give up and stop delivering high levels of praise and other positives (who reinforces the reinforcer?).
My friend Andy Jacobs passed this one on to me from Amman, Jordan, where he heads up a big film program. It's funny and instructive at the same time and reminds us all to keep up our high rates of reinforcement.