2012-09-05 / Arts and Entertainment

Garrison’s Own Painter & Pediatrician Unveils Two Books

By Annie Chesnut

Above: Dr. Gergely and friends at the Butterfield Library event. 
Below: Addy, as projected on the Library’s wall.  Photos / Annie Chesnut
Above: Dr. Gergely and friends at the Butterfield Library event. Below: Addy, as projected on the Library’s wall. Photos / Annie Chesnut

Addy is a charming and colorful, but ditzy, little girl with a tousle of curly hair and energy to burn. She lives with a loving family that is often challenged, but never defeated, by Addy’s slightly skewed approach to life.

Addy is prepared for every holiday, but can’t seem to figure out which one she should be celebrating, so she brings Christmas spirit to Thanksgiving dinner and makes Easter eggs for Valentine’s Day.

She is excited about going to school for the first time, but gets herself all packed up a full day ahead of time. And, when she does make it to school, she leaves her backpack on the bus, or forgets to change out of her PJs, or brings the family cat to class by mistake.

Addy is the brainchild of Peter Gergely. We know him as the source of the delightful illustrations that

accompany our own Katherine Whiteside’s “Gardening Gusto” column in the PCN&R every week, and the illustrator of Whiteside’s book, The Way We Garden Now. You may know him as Doctor Gergely, the Garrison pediatrician with a well-established practice on Route 403.

On Friday, August 24, the Julia Butterfield Library, in Cold Spring, welcomed Dr. Gergely and about 15 young readers—many of them Gergely’s patients—and their parents to a premiere of Gergely’s two new children’s books, Addy and the Holidays, and Addy Goes to School, as yet unpublished. Two more books are in the works, too.

After greeting the doctor in this unfamiliar setting, the smaller members of the crowd gathered on the rug for a slide show/reading of the books, which offer whimsical, engaging color illustrations and clever, limerick-style text.

Adults and kids alike were enchanted.

Addy is clearly a character with whom we can all identify. After all, who hasn’t totally missed an important event, or shown up somewhere having forgotten a thing or two?

What’s unique about Addy is that for Gergely, and for parents who have raised kids like Addy, she also represents a more serious condition— attention deficit disorder (known colloquially as ADD or ADHD—with the “h” standing for “hyperactivity”).

“I wanted to write a series of fun stories about a little girl with ADD and discuss, story by story, the situations such children often find themselves in, and offer simple practical solutions without the mention of ADD or pharmaceuticals,” Gergely told us.

ADD has been a buzzword in parenting and educational circles for decades now, and it’s still a lightning rod for controversy. Among the questions that arise are: Does ADD even exist? Is it just a convenient way of labeling kids who don’t fit in to traditional classroom molds or teaching styles? Should kids with ADD be medicated? And are parents who choose to medicate their kids just too lazy or uninvolved to help them perform better without resorting to drugs? What does a “typical” ADD child look like? And for that matter, what does a “normal” kid look like, really?

Gergely told us: “ADD is part of a larger spectrum that includes other conditions which involve levels of neurotransmitters [brain chemicals], whether it’s dopamine (ADHD, depression, anxiety), serotonin (anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder), or adrenaline (ADHD). All the neurotransmitters play a role in these disorders to some degree thus, the overlap.”

ADD has also been shown to be genetic, Gergely said, usually through male genes, “Since boys are four times more likely than girls to have ADD.”

The aspect of ADD that Addy’s family and teacher help her to cope with is poor executive function, a term that covers a range of daily behavior, including planning, decision making, and troubleshooting.

In Gergely’s books, Addy’s family and her teacher provide her with tools—like a calendar and an organized chart of daily things to do (and not do)—that assist her in making sense of her daily life.

“I use charts all the time,” Gergely said. “Ask any of my patients and most of them will tell about their ‘Dr. Gergely chart.’ I start them as early as two years old.”

Nowadays many school districts provide ADD children with an individualized learning plan, or 504 Accommodation. “It takes the individual child into account and tailors a plan to suit that child’s needs. In many cases, medications can be avoided or delayed until the upper grades,” Gergely said.

The trick, of course, is to recognize the condition early. But ADD is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis, Gergely noted: “As with the general population, some kids with ADD are brilliant and shiny, and others, not so much. You can’t generalize.”

“I like taking care of children like Addy and a lot of the scenes are taken from real life office moments,” the doctor told us.

Based on the happy response of the small Butterfield “focus group,” Gergely clearly has a fully developed cache of writing and illustrating talent to fall back on should he ever decide to retire from medicine.

You can learn more about Dr. Gergely at www.gergelypediatrics.com.

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