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February 14th, 2013
12:19 PM ET

Psychologist on boy held captive in Ala.: ‘No more media, please’

Almost 10 days have passed since the FBI sent a rescue team into the bunker in Midland City, Alabama, where 6-year-old Ethan was held hostage for nearly a week by Jimmy Lee Dykes. On Wednesday, he and his mother spent time with Governor Robert Bentley. They also spoke with television personality Phil McGraw. During the interview Ethan's mother told Dr. Phil that despite the smiling photos, her son is acutely aware of what happened to his abductor and his bus driver. This morning, clinical forensic psychologist Patricia Saunders weighs in on the interview and what Ethan faces ahead.

Saunders, who has served as a clinical psychologist for over 30 years, says “It’s kind of hard to tell how and autistic child or a kid with Asperger's syndrome processes these kinds of experiences” although “it’s not that dissimilar from the way a normal kid” would process a similar situation.

She adds that Ethan’s exaggerated startled response is a sign that he has acute stress syndrome and that is a “normal reaction.” Saunders adds that the behavior Ethan has displayed, “suggests that he’s frightened and the only person he feels safe with is his mom.”

A grownup’s job is to communicate to kids that we are there to protect them and help them feel safe, says Saunders. She adds, that although Ethan’s mother is showing him that he will be protected, she needs to tell him he will be safe and “of course we can’t promise that but kids his age need to hear that.”

Regarding how future interviews might affect Ethan, Saunders says “it depends how tuned in he is to social interaction which is one of the problems with kids on the autistic spectrum.” She adds, “I’m pretty conservative when it comes to work and with kids and trauma and I would say no more media, please.”

Filed under: Hostage standoff
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Frances Capps-Palmer

    I live in Opelika, AL; an hour and a half southwest of the world wide anchor and beginnings of CNN in Atlanta. I have been a fan for years. CNN is how my day starts. Today I listened to Dr. Patricia Saunders' interview on Starting Point in the NYC studio regarding the little boy from Midland City, AL that was kidnapped and held hostage. As a retired school counselor and mother of two grown sons, I cannot agree more with her insight and knowledge. But one of the Starting Point panel members seemed to think Alabama was backwards and behind, without access for the little boy to receive the psychological care that he needs after this trauma, i.e. Alabama does not have what we have here in NYC. Perhaps he forgot that the internationally known University of Alabama in Birmingham is world wide renowned for all medical and mental research and treatment. No, the little boy, Ethan I think, will not be able to receive extensive psychological treatment in his hometown of Midland City, but first of all he obviously lives with an incredible Mom in a loving, supportive community with doctors, clergy, and school counselors who will refer him to more intensive therapy and psychological support. And.....he will not have to go to NYC to find it. It is only about 4 hours away, here in his home state. Thanks for listening.

    February 14, 2013 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. ourladysilencedogood

    I was very disappointed to hear that one of the gentlemen on this morning's panel felt that the boy from Alabama would not have access to the appropriate level of mental healthcare because he lives in the South. As an educated woman who has undergone several years of psychiatric treatment in Alabama to help me overcome a debilitating phobia, I am disgusted that some people still believe that we in the South are eons behind everyone else. There is ignorance everywhere, unfortunately. Honestly, I expect a little better from CNN.

    February 14, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply

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