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Thursday 25 Jul 2024

Ordinary Child Syndrome
David Simmonds

After wrestling with the subject for decades, psychologists have finally agreed upon a moniker for a troublesome condition that is said to affect almost 40% of children. And they may also have found the perfect spokesperson.

"OCS" is the professionals' acronym for "Ordinary Childhood Syndrome". Let's have Dr. Charles Lebrun, president of the American Association of Child Psychologists, explain it to us.

"An ordinary child is neither a gifted child nor a challenged child. He's always one of the last kids picked when teams are chosen. Her only hope of winning a prize on public speaking day is when a flu virus is going around. He never gets to play saxophone in the school band. She may make the cheerleading squad, but she's always on the bottom row of the pyramid.

"I could go on, but I don't think I have to". No indeed: we can all see something of ourselves, or someone we love, in those examples.

But aren't these just the slings and arrows of the growing up process? Lebrun isn't giving much ground. "Look at the culture in which these kids grow up" he said. "Everyone is expected to 'give it 110%' and strive to be a superstar, whether it's Michael Jordan on the basketball court, Madonna on the pop charts or Bill Clinton on the make. Most children with OCS will recognize that those lofty goals are beyond them, and consider themselves failures just as they should be marching into adulthood confidently.

"You may 'give it 110%', but that may land you a career pinnacle as district sales manager for a linoleum company. No one should feel rotten about being able to put a roof over his head and feed his family.

"And besides", he added, "what's wrong with 'giving it 91%': don't we all need a little time for daydreaming?".

Lebrun - a nondescript fellow with a globe shaped head, one or two wisps of curly hair, and a perpetually bewildered expression - was working himself up to quite a passionate pitch at this point, so I stopped him and asked what his childhood ambition had been. "NFL place kicker" he replied unhesitatingly: but I could never find a reliable holder - male or female - and I spent my college years wondering why. So psychology seemed the natural place to try to find the answers".

And did he suffer from OCS as a child? Lebrun wouldn't answer the question directly, but did comment that he had grown up among a group that included "smart aleck girls who always had an answer and a musical genius who could make Beethoven sound good on a toy piano".

A child with OCS may exhibit intense hostility towards his or her elders, said Lebrun, and may also experience feelings of self loathing and isolation. He said his profession has often called this experience "adolescence", but it is now more properly classified as OCS.

Lebrun's organization has recognized two standard - and remarkably effective - treatments for OCS. One is the technique of "positive role modeling" - identifying with well known figures who have risen above struggles with their ordinariness to achieve, if not greatness, then some public standing. Lebrun identified as examples former president Gerald Ford, novelist John Grisham and "The Simpsons" police chief Clancy Wiggum. "Having a positive role model can pull a person out of the depths of OCS" said Lebrun. He cautioned, however, that it is important to stay away from exposure to truly remarkable people - "your Nelson Mandelas and Mother Teresas".

A second technique, known as "situational accommodation", is widely employed and entails conditioning the OCS sufferer to feel at ease with his or her own limits. "A lot of this needn't involve prescription drugs like Ritalin and Valium", said Lebrun. It is as simple, he maintains, as offering the subject an intensive exposure to two widely available substances: television and beer.

"The effect is remarkable" said Lebrun. "As little as six weeks' recurring exposure to some combination of the two will result in an SSSA (Statistically Significant Situational Accommodation) rate of well above 60%. When the two are used in combination - perhaps most notably with NHL hockey, which combines television, beer and a barely perceptible level of brain activity - the effect is even more stunning."

Lebrun and his colleagues still dream of a world in which there are no treatments -because there is no OCS. "In my world, every kick would have a fighting chance of going through the uprights", he said.

You're a good man , Charles Lebrun.

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