Born naughty! by @emma_rachels

Review and reflections of this fascinating UK TV Show

Channel 4 broadcast a TV show named Born Naughty to understand whether troubling kids are born that way or whether the struggling parents just need better methods to cope with the behaviour. Some children are naughty because they have an underlying disorder such as ADHD or autism. However, some children may have just learnt how to avoid punishment at home and this is transferred in the classroom and other situations. This programme enabled quick assessments of the children to understand whether they needed.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Emma Cree and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

Episode 1

In this episode, we met 9-year-old Honey and a 6-year-old boy called Theo. Honey has been excluded from school for her behaviour being too hard to handle in a classroom environment with her threats to kill pupils pushing the school to breaking point. At this point, the police were called in where Honey was restrained by 2 policemen until she calmed down. However, there are times when Honey can be VERY well behaved and loving especially towards animals – so it isn’t that she doesn’t know-how. The parents discussed how they were always thought to be of blame and sought help thinking this was true. But whatever methods they tried they didn’t work on their particularly difficult daughter – they needed answers.

The “Born Naughty” programme was able to call in many professionals to see if Honey needed a diagnosis and the best way to go forward to manage her behaviour. Honey was diagnosed with a mild form of Autism called Pathological Demand Avoidance (sufferers struggle with the demands and expectations of everyday life). It would seem in this case that, although the term is rather demeaning, Honey was born naughty. Her parents were so relieved to learn that their child had a diagnosable problem and there was, therefore, something they could do about it. Furthermore, it meant that they were not bad parents and that Honey just needed extra measures to avoid her tantrums, despite what they were told.

Theo was a boy who would disobey his mothers every request and would be very violent with her. Theo’s grandmother thought his mother was just lazy and not strict enough with her parenting and his behaviour was just a result of this. When Theo was just with his Grandmother he would behave very well and would even read with her on a morning – but when his mother came down the screaming matches and poor behaviour kicked in. When Theo and his mother met the team they did extensive tests as Theo’s mother believed he had some sort of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – unfortunately, it turned out that a that he had just learnt how to get around punishments and act up. But it’s not all bad as the team-taught Theo’s mother how to overcome this with parenting methods that would stop his naughty behaviour.

Episode 2 

In this episode, we met Bobby and Jessie Jai. Bobby presented with challenging behaviour as he wouldn’t touch food unless it was chocolate, chocolate yoghurt’s or sweets. His parents were concerned that he had a fear of food. He was terrified of putting certain foods in his mouth their smell and the texture – this was despite the fact he really wanted to eat them such as pizza. When he met the therapist he explained that there was a voice in his head telling him that he shouldn’t eat whatever was put on his plate.

Now in other reviews, this has been the first sign of a young eating disorder – but as said in the show it may just be a way for him to explain what he thinks when he eats. This is rather controversial and may need further investigation which was not seen in this episode of the TV programme. It was decided in the end that Bobby just needed to override these thoughts and was given a sticker chart to help him try new foods – this was seen to work almost immediately in the clips.

Next, we saw little Jessie – Jai at just 3 years old, she had delayed speech and was behind her sister’s development when she was at the same age which caused the parents to become concerned. They suspected some sort of speech disorder as she found it very hard to communicate with people even her family, she would also throw a temper tantrum at any time which they believed was due to not understanding the situation.

On first assessment, she was found to play normally and interact perfectly fine with the first professional leading to a speech disorder. However, on the second assessment, the next professional noted other features of Jessie-Jai’s behaviour of how she wouldn’t make eye contact and would copy a lot of what was said in speech and play – this lead to a mild autistic diagnosis which was very overwhelming for the mother as she felt this was scary.

But once the team had shown her how to cope with her daughter’s difficult behaviour she seemed more relaxed and happy there was some way to help her daughter which may lead to her having a conversation with Jessie-Jai.  Now a lot of reviews have looked on this little girls filming clips and noted the careful editing to show her as “normal” to begin with and then in the following clips really show her problems in development. I look at this as a thought-out process to show just how difficult it is to detect such disorders and how in particular girls are very good at hiding the social delays making it harder for diagnosis. It also highlights why many professionals are needed to assess a child’s behaviour to understand whether it is “normal” or whether intervention is needed.

Episode 3

Image from Episode 3, Channel 4.
Image from Episode 3, Channel 4.

In this episode, we met Thomas and Jensen. Thomas is nine years old and obsessed with Lego. He can only see things in one way – his way making it difficult to socialise with other children. When we meet him it shows a chaotic home life with 3 other siblings and many pets. His home is also very cluttered with few places feeling calm. Thomas shares a room with his brother which he finds difficult shown through his playing up at bedtime trying to find a place for just him.

When he is faced with a particularly chaotic situation he prefers to remove himself and play alone – as seen in a home video at Christmas. His parents are seen to be confused about his behaviour but this diagnosis seems one of the easiest to reach. Thomas was diagnosed with Autism and his parents were told that they must help there son with quiet spaces for just him and different parenting methods so as to not set him off on a tantrum – which was all too easily done beforehand.

Next in this episode, we met 2-year-old Jenson who had a very worried mother. She had witnessed him years ago having a severe peanut allergic reaction and now fears he is allergic to more foods as shown by hives and rejection. This worry has come to the extent that if Jenson rejects the food he must be allergic and therefore she doesn’t want to force him to have foods that may give rise to another reaction. In one evening we were shown him reject 4 dinners until he finally finished his meal. This seems A LOT of effort and just needs a stricter routine. Unfortunately, this is just a case of over worrying as tests were done Jenson to see if he had other allergies – which he didn’t. He just needed to be shown the correct way to eat and needs a stricter routine from his parents to ensure that he eats the first meal he was given.

Episode 4

In this episode, we met Charlie and Billie. Eight-year-old Charlie is seen to be very dependent on video games and violent towards his mother when he fails or is made to do something else. There was one occasion when Charlie would go to attack his mother with a knife and push her down the stairs. But like Honey before in episode 1, he is also shown to be a very sweet boy and very loving towards his mother when he is in a good mood. From the age of 5, his mother had noted behaviour that she felt needed an assessment and possibly a diagnosis but had never got anywhere. She had file after file after file of his odd behaviour but no-one had ever recommended him for an assessment.

With the help of this TV show, Charlie was diagnosed with Pathological Demand Disorder – a rare form of Autism, just like Honey, which may explain why it was so hard to get people to assess Charlie as the symptoms are hard to detect. This is such a violent and frightening disorder and if diagnosed late may mean that vital methods to help control the anger and violence in vulnerable situations the real cause may be missed and harsher consequences than expulsion will be given such as a prison sentence. For me this TV show has shown me the true shortage of professionals to help children like this before it is too late. 

Billie is aged 3 and can have terrible tantrums at the drop of the hat and also doesn’t sleep through the night. His mother normally reads to him for 3 hours every night to get him to sleep and even then he doesn’t stay asleep all night. Now when the team looked into Billies case they wanted to really have a look at his sleeping pattern and see whether this was a cause of his tantrums. They put a video in his room and it returned surprising results – their pets would push Billie out of bed every other hour causing him to cry for his mother.

No wonder he was grizzly during the day – this, however, does have a name (something I’m not sure is needed) but it does give him a reason for the disruptive behaviour and a method to stop it – better sleep with no pets. Quite an easy thing to change and not too damaging. Unfortunately for this mother I feel that this is something that should have been avoided way before a label should have to define why her son goes into meltdown so frequently – surely you would make sure your child was safe, comfortable and away from distractions in order to get a good night sleep?

It seems, especially on review of this TV show, that each case is different and whether the problem derives from nature or nurture is not so clear cut as this title suggests. “Born Naughty” I feel is a horrible term to give to a child – perhaps they simply just learn how to skirt requests, playing up until other methods are used to cope with the disrupting behaviour. “Born Naughty” also refers to those children with a diagnosable problem so gives the label that they are naughty when actually they have an underlying reason that cannot be helped. Is this a fair label?

Each child must be reviewed to understand the distinction and therefore the best method to take forward to help their behaviour and therefore education, home life and well-being. The statement that a distinction is needed does open up another topic of conversation, however – defining the distinction is a lengthy process involving many professionals to determine where the problem is stemming from. This is what this programme captures – the fact that no matter what the cause it is so hard to get to the point of understanding what can be done to help that it can sometimes be too late. Furthermore – as stated in my latest blog the consequences after assessment and potential diagnosis from professionals can be long-lasting and have more damaging effects than good ones.

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