Under-publicized Affliction Plagues Thousands of Children
BANGOR – Tyler Zimmeran, aged 20 months and six days, might have someday turned into a 30-year-old man who has no idea how manipulate objects correctly, were it not for the alert intervention of his father Sunday.
The boy held a toy fishing pole backwards, poking the handle at some wooden fish in a pretend pond at the Maine Discovery Museum.
A few seconds later, his father, Rob Zimmerman, 33, of Orrington took the pole and turned it around, gently placing the handle in the boy’s little hands.
This alert intervention, which he had to repeat twice, may have saved his son years of wedgies, swirlies, and other forms of ridicule stemming from trying to hold objects the wrong way.
Tyler suffers from what experts call “Self-Directed Exploration Syndrome” (SDES), a condition in which small children learn through independent exploration and “trial and error,” which, as Zimmerman and other concerned parents point out, is “mostly error.”
Early warning signs include “not understanding how adults see things” and “playing with items that aren’t meant to be toys,” says Dr. Caroline Triester, professor of child development at the University of Maine.
SDES affects thousands of children in the United States, “but there’s very little in the media about it,” warns Triester.
Children like Tyler must be redirected to interpret the world as an adult would, she adds. If that does not work, doctors can prescribe medications like Innovan or Creatigone.
Triester spends hours a day observing children at the Discovery Museum as part of her research.
“Kids climbing on the hood of the child-sized tractor-trailer truck is another classic example,” she points out. If you see your child doing this, she recommends telling the child to get down and go pretend to drive the truck the way it was intended.
“If you don’t, he will treat vehicles like playground equipment for the rest of his life,” she says. “You’ll see him at 40 years old, out jumping up and down on the hood of a Mack truck parked at the rest area, and you’ll wish you’d been a more involved parent.”
A good rule of thumb: if your child has not yet mastered a skill he or she may need later in life, get started teaching it right away. It’s never too early, experts say.
Rob Zimmerman has taken this advice to heart.
“The other day I saw a child climbing up a slide at the playground,” he says. “It made my skin crawl, even though the she was the only one there. I shudder to think what kind of mistakes she’ll make later on.”