Case Studies: “Benny” & "Mackenzie"

Benny and Mackenzie were clearly a danger to themselves and others and, if they continued on their paths, it seemed the legal system would soon be involved.

Benny had been removed from two schools because he attacked other students when he felt wronged and threatened terrifyingly specific violence – castration and dismemberment - against those he hated. Incredibly bright and articulate, his descriptions of his planned retribution were chilling to anyone who witnessed them. Friendless, his primary playmate seemed to be his mother. He reminded me of a dyspeptic old man who had grown to hate the world and its inhabitants. He even had a “hate list” he kept updating, never removing a name, only adding as his grievances accumulated. Benny was 6 years old.

A series of standard practice physicians had tested him for a variety of disorders and all results were either negative or inconclusive.

Eventually his mother took him to a naturopathic physician (ND) who asked probing questions about Benny’s history and learned he had hit his head in a traumatic playground accident when he was four. The changes in his behavior occurred within months following the accident. The ND referred Benny for neurofeedback and his transformation to a playful child without malicious intent was almost immediate. Significant changes in his mood and tolerance of others were noted after the first session. Children, whose brains are more plastic that adults’, tend to respond to the feedback very quickly.

A chillingly similar presentation came from a child we’ll call Mackenzie.

Mackenzie was the cutest four-year-old on Planet Earth. Huge brown eyes, blonde ringlets and chubby cheeks; where people found themselves put off by Benny’s presentation, everyone wanted to take Mackenzie home. At least that’s what they thought until someone or something displeased her. Then the little cherub transformed into a rage-filled demon who fought with amazing strength and stamina, breaking anything she could pick up; injuring adults and children alike. “Removed” from three pre-schools due to unacceptable behavior, she had to be closely monitored when playing with other children or animals.

When she wasn’t particularly angry, she had a passive disregard for other people which she demonstrated at nap time when she would get up and walk on the bodies of the other children as if they weren’t there, much as a reptile crawls over whatever is in its path. Even more worrisome were her articulate and measured plans to disfigure or immolate the classmates who displeased her. I couldn’t tell if her mother, Trudy, was deliberately understating the gravity of the situation or was genuinely clueless. “Other parents don’t understand Mackenzie and get upset.” I think most people who experienced her wrath felt they understood her all too well.

According to Trudy, Mackenzie had a normal gestation and birth, and had been a happy, “easy” baby. At about 8 months old, when Trudy needed to move Mackenzie’s car seat from one car to another, she decided to leave Mackenzie strapped into the seat. When she got the door of the second car open, however, she realized there were too many things piled in the backseat to fit the baby’s car seat inside. She balanced the car seat on the trunk of the car with Mackenzie facing away from the car and went to clean out the backseat. Unfortunately, the car seat was not balanced and pitched forward off the trunk. Mackenzie hit the pavement face first with the weight of the car seat pushing against the back of her head.

Trudy rushed the screaming baby to the doctor’s office and was reassured that no permanent damage had been done, apparently based on the observation that the baby was crying. Mackenzie was inconsolable for the rest of the day, crying nonstop through the night. The doctor again took this as a good sign.

From that point on, Mackenzie was a “problem child”. Her sleep patterns never normalized. As she grew, she developed a perverse sense of humor and was feared by her siblings, cousins and the neighborhood kids.

The concept of “natural born killers” is popular in our culture. Mackenzie and Benny beg the question – how many cold-blooded murderers are head injured?

Mackenzie is one of my regrets. My heart aches for her because I did not get to work with her after our initial contact. Trudy and Mackenzie’s father, Seth, were engaged in a bitter divorce. (I wonder whether it was an inherently a bad marriage or if the union disintegrated because living with a human time bomb is so wearing.) Seth insisted that Trudy was pursuing alternative health options simply to waste his money. Trudy could not return to work outside the home because no one else could tolerate staying with Mackenzie for long.

I can only hope Mackenzie eventually works with someone providing the neurofeedback she so desperately needs.