boys and girls…
When I went to Paramedic School, one of my instructors used to recite a mantra that will forever be stamped in my consciousness: Do Not Get Cornered. In that line of work, there are times that those injured or involved in an unfortunate situations do not realize that my hope was simply to help, and often times their lack of understanding turned into aggression, or even worse. Thanks to my instructor’s insistence on self protection being of primary concern, even to paranoid levels, I remained relative unscathed in eight years of emergency medicine, plus or minus a few cuts and bruises along the way and despite some pretty harrowing experiences.
Vision Therapy offers a far less stressful environment, and my greatest stress these days is writing reports on time and making sure paperwork is completed correctly. One of the worst places to reach as a therapist is complacency. We get too comfortable in our routine, with our knowledge and in our surroundings. The office begins to feel like a second home and we start to treat the kids like our friends. In a perfect world, this would be the ideal situation, but alas, our world is not perfect. The lesson of self protection though has always stuck with me, and with all the happenings in the news lately about wrongdoings to children, I’d like to share a few things that always rattle around in my brain about protecting myself from question or concern.
- Be Aware of Your Surroundings – If I’m in the room alone with a child (especially of the opposite gender), the door is always open. I’m always concerned (maybe even a bit paranoid) that I am creating an unintentional element of privacy that might be misconstrued by an adult. Better to be distracted by whatever is going on in the hall, than to raise concern. If I need to close the door for an activity, I invite a parent in too, no matter how comfortable the child is with me.
- Be Aware of Personal Space – Being a male therapist has its rewards. Most of the teenage boys respond well to me as I can still “talk their talk”, and most of the little girls like to compare me to their daddy, which always provides a little comic relief. I have had several little girls want to give me hugs and kisses before they leave the office, and although it’s cute, their request is always denied. I tell them to save the kisses for their daddy. No matter how innocent their affection, imagine if another adult were to walk in just as they began to pucker up. Might be challenging to explain to mom and dad.
- Watch Your Hands – Many of us are asked to perform exercises with children that involve pointing to, or touching, their limbs or their head. From our perspective, this may be an innocent testing battery, but to a 13 year old girl your contact might seem awkward an uncomfortable. No matter the circumstances, if I feel the need to put my hands on a patient for testing or in therapy (no matter their gender), I ALWAYS ask another staff member or the patient’s parent to join us. Most parents appreciate the gesture, and it protects me from any questions down the road if the child brings up “the day Robert touched me”. I make light of it here, but if a reference like this were ever made, I doubt any of us would see the humor.
- Perception is Everything – A doctor I used to work with was big into supplements and would readily offer them during VT sessions, if the parents allowed it. One of my favorite stories to share with fellow therapists is following a session that began with the child being offered a liquid supplement, included a standing balance activity where the patient is barefoot, and ended with an activity playing with Sherman Cards, my patient ran into the waiting room and proclaimed to his mother that “Robert made me take off my clothes, gave me something smelly to drink, and taught me to play cards”. I was mortified. He was offered a vitamin supplement per the doctor’s wishes, he took off his socks for kinesthetic feedback, and the cards were part of an activity. My rapport with this mother was great, as her son had been coming to VT a long time, so his comments did not raise concern. Still though, the other parents in the reception area had a moment of pause until it was made clear what this child was talking about.
It seems sad that given all the positives VT has to offer we need to keep these thoughts in mind, it is however the world we live in. Scarier yet would be if your integrity was questioned by an ill timed remark made by a child to their parents about something that was purely innocent, especially with the “guilty until proven innocent” cloud looming in today’s society. Still though, getting cornered is something that can be avoided with a little common sense. Remember the old saying about an ounce of prevention…