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A Lifespan Developmental Analysis of

Finding Fish: A Memoir


by Antwone Fisher

The story of Antwone Fishers life as an abused child growing into adulthood is an
inspired companion to the study of developmental psychology. The book powerfully illustrates
the impact of abuse during the various psychosocial stages of this African American boys life,
as well as the triumph of his character as he grows into a well-functioning, talented young man.
The purpose of this essay is to analyze Antwone Fishers life in the context of topics learned in
the Lifespan Development Psychology course. I will focus primarily on the four topics of;
Ericksons Trust vs. Mistrust crisis, the impact of abuse, the growth of concrete operational
thought and resiliency factors.
Trust versus Mistrust
Psychologist Eric Ericksons first stage of psychosocial crisis of identity occurs from
birth to approximately 12-18 months. Erickson thought that in order for the infant to feel secure,
the infant must have its basic needs met for food, emotional and physical comfort and shelter,
along with close contact with the caregiver given with consistency, continuity and sameness
of experience. (Berger, 2014, p. 150). The baby then develops a sense of trust, which will
carry over into other relationships and allow feelings of security and hope throughout life, even
when threatening situations occur. (McLeod, 2008, Trust vs. Mistrust section). Failure of the
caregiver to provide this care results in infants developing fear and mistrust of others and of their
place in the world. Anxiety and insecurity may continue into adulthood and impact emotional
development, relationships, academic achievement and all later stages of development.

Antwones first foster mother, Mrs. Nellie Strange, provided that essential care as was noted in
his caseworkers reports.
Baby Boy Fisher is doing beautifully in the foster home, where he is receiving much love and
security . Antwone crawls all over the place, stands and walks holding onto things, he says hi
and bye bye . Foster mother was observed holding the two-year closely in her arms as one
would hold a three-month-old infant . he is lying in her arms contentedly like an infant. (Fisher,
2001, pgs. 22-23)

In our textbook, Berger (2014), describes the importance of social context in the growth and
emotional development of babies that has it basis in the symbiotic relationship between infant
and caregiver. Synchrony is the rapid, coordinated, mutual exchange of responses that occur
when a parent interacts with the baby. The baby smiles and the parent smiles back, the parent
makes soft vocal sounds and the baby makes a similar response, or smiles, kicks legs, etc.
Attachment is the emotional bond between infant and caregiver. Secure attachment is when
infants seek proximity to and contact with a preferred caregiver that is reciprocated. The adult
responds and the child is comforted. Around 8 months to 2 years, the secure child exhibits
separation anxiety, which is a normal cognitive maturation response to the babys realization
that he/she is separate from the caregiver and this all-important person may not return. Social
referencing is another aspect of social context learning. For example, when a baby looks to the
mother for information about how to react to an unfamiliar object or event, her facial
expressions, emotions, words and gestures gives the child information on whether to pick up a
toy or stay away from a sharp object. Contrasting baby Antwones experience with a study done
with Romanian orphans during the 1990s, emphasizes the damage done to infants when
deprived of nurturing care and social interaction. This early deprivation became noticeable when
the older babies were adopted and became overly friendly to strangers throughout childhood,

which is a sign of insecure attachment. At age 11 they scored 15 points lower on the WISC IQ
test, and as young adults many have serious emotional or conduct problems. ( pgs. 141-147)
Impact of Child Abuse
A feeling of being unwanted and not belonging had been planted in me from a time that came
before my memory. (Fisher, 2001, p. 27)

Child maltreatment as defined by our textbook (Berger, 2014, p. 232) includes abuse,
which is a deliberate action that harms a childs physical, emotional or sexual well being, and
neglect which is the failure to provide for a childs essential physical and emotional needs.
When Antwone was nearly four years old, he was placed into the foster home of Mr. and Mrs.
Pickett, an older couple residing in an African American community with their older biological
children, grandchildren and three foster children, Antwone being the youngest. For the next 12
years he was subjected to chronic, systematic physical abuse, emotional and psychological
abuse, as well as sexual abuse by a female neighbor lasting until he was old enough to avoid
her at age eight. He was eventually rejected by Mrs. Pickett at age 16 and pushed out of the only
home he had ever known.
The Picketts provided food, shelter, clothing and access to school. Their neglect came
from lack of supervision. Antwone nearly died in a house fire when he was four, started by Mrs.
Picketts grandsons, because he was afraid he would receive a beating if he left his room. It is
interesting to note that his adult female neighbor who was also sexually abusing him saved him
from the fire. The environment of this home was also devoid of any emotional or nurturing
support when it came to Antwone and his older foster siblings, named Flo and Dwight. Special
treatment was reserved for a later addition to the household, a small boy with good skin and
features (resembling whites) named Keith.

Antwone and Dwight were frequently tied to a post in the dark basement of the home and
left for hours. This usually precluded whippings by Mrs. Pickett or her husband, using a belt or
switch. Mrs. Pickett, the primary caregiver, administered the most brutal beatings, once
whipping Antwone to the point of unconsciousness at age eight. Mr. Pickett was usually
uninvolved in any interactions with the foster children and worked two jobs. Mrs. Pickett
considered herself and her family as higher status Negroes, being decent and good Christians.
Her husband was a lay minister of his own denomination on Sundays. As her foster charges were
the unwanted illegitimate offspring of no account n*****s, they were worthless and deserving
of her contempt, constant name calling and soul crushing insults. (Fisher, 2001, p.37)
The other members of the Pickett family were unwilling or unable to protect the children from
the woman they thought was their mother. Antwone notes that only Mercy, a Pickett daughter,
ever showed him any kindness they were small gestures a soft look, a warm pat on my
shoulder, a gentle voice but I counted and collected them and never forget them. (Fisher,
2001, p. 67)
A research article on the impact of persistent abuse notes the significant alteration of
the childs brain chemistry and vascular system due to the bodys response to stress.
When a child experiences an abusive insult, the glucocorticoid, noradrenergic, and vasopressinoxytocin systems are activated; this highly adaptive response allows for survival in a dangerous
environment..persistent abuse results in reduced cerebral volume and enlargement of the
ventricular system..alterations in the hippocampus of children that can result in agitation
and disturbances of sleep patterns. (Hagele, 2005)

These neurophysiological changes occurring in children with histories of abuse resembles those
of military veterans returning from long term combat duty, when neuroimaging tests are
compared. The researcher added that these chronic persistent changes can lead to psychiatric

disorders such as PTSD and Major Depression. For abused children, short term and long term
outcomes show increased risk of serious heath problems, decreased academic success, alcohol
and substance abuse, increased unprotected sexual and other high risk behaviors, dysfunctional
interpersonal relationships and parenting, and increased use of public and private resources.
Antwone began kindergarten at six years old and was reported to be a cooperative child
who received above average marks. He remembers that he felt a sense of freedom and relief at
being away from his home. However, by the first grade the unrelenting stress of abuse caused
his school performance to deteriorate, I became extremely shy, walking with my head down,
stumbling over words and had to be reprimanded for daydreaming in class. (Fisher, 2002, p.
61). He had to remain hyper vigilant (constantly insecure and scanning the environment) in
order to survive. I resigned myself to living in a combat zone. This meant learning to be on
constant high alert, reacting to most situations either with flight or fight, and seeing others as
either friend or foe (Fisher, 2002, p. 63). Antwones academic progress remained poor and he
was teased and excluded by his peers. It was decided to retain him for the fourth grade. These
years between six and eleven correspond with Ericksons Industry versus Inferiority stage of
identity and school success is crucial to the healthy development of social skills, employment
opportunities, completion of high school and competent self-esteem.
After being told for years that he was retarded, bad and unwanted, Antwone had given up
hope of being rescued by his caseworkers or any biological family. By this time he had learned
the meaning of foster child, as another cause of shame and embarrassment, but also the
beginning of realization that something was very wrong with Mrs. Pickett, and it was not his
fault.

Growth of Logic
Children in the pre-operational phase of cognitive development, around 3 to 5 years of
age do not yet use reasoning processes, but they do think in symbols, not just sensory and motor
information. Symbolic thought means an object or word can stand for something else, including
something that is pretend or invisible. ( Piaget 1958, Berger, p. 186 ) Pre-operational thought is
egocentric, everything is from the childs perspective, i.e. the four year old Antwone would look
out his bedroom window and believe he caused the snow to melt because of his superpowers. He
would also think that he was the cause of his abuse by his caregiver, that something was wrong
with him. Magical thinking and fantasy are also prevalent at this stage. Antwone would
imagine the Picketts and others were aliens, pretending to be humans. He would fantasize about
having another family that would come and take him home if only he were good and pleased
them. (Fisher, 2001, pgs. 33-35)
Year by year the childs ability to reason logically about direct experiences and
perceptions grows. This growth is described as concrete operational thought, in that thinking is
applied to visible, tangible, real things, but not abstractions. (Piaget 1958, Berger, pgs. 252-259)
Antwone makes the connection between Mrs. Picketts insult, your no account Mama and not
having a bank account. (Fisher, 2001 p. 63) A turning point comes when he and his foster
siblings are cruelly denied any of the Halloween candy they had collected by Mrs. Pickett. He
realizes that the other children he knows do not have mothers who would do such a mean thing.
Concrete thought enabled Antwone to see Mrs. Pickett as a damaged human being, not an alien
monster. He is not related to her and this knowledge provides great relief to his self-concept.
Resiliency

Resilience has been defined as the ability to thrive, mature and increase competence in
the face of adverse circumstances or obstacles. (Gordon, 1996, p. 63) Resilient traits have been
identified as easy temperament, secure attachment, basic trust, an internal locus of control, an
active coping style, enlisting people to help, making friends, and a desire to help others. Antwone
Fisher exhibited several important resilient traits, which helped buffer his self concept against
the accumulated stress of long term abuse. He received biological strengths from his young,
healthy, parents of average to above average intelligence. His pre natal development was not
compromised by exposure to environmental toxins or maternal drug and alcohol abuse and his
birth was normal and without complications. Antwone benefitted greatly by his secure
attachment to his first foster mother during his first two years of life. Her nurturing care enabled
Antwone to feel secure and establish the essential developmental milestone of basic trust. From
this solid base based Antwone was able to trust important mentors when presented with the
opportunity throughout his life. He flourished under the support and care of his teacher Mrs.
Profit during the 4th through 6th grades, experiencing school success and making friends,
therefore helping to establish another crucial developmental milestone, that of industry or
competence. These were crucial years for the growing boy in strengthening his self-concept and
self-esteem. Brenda Profit became more than a teacher to me: in fact, she was the woman
closest to a mother that I would ever know. (Fisher, 2001, pgs. 122-129) During this time
Antwone was also able to start resolving his spiritual emptiness. Although having a more
internal locus of control helped him escape into an inner world rich in imaginings, Mrs. Pickett
was able to plant the seeds of badness in him and his foster siblings. They were routinely told
that they were such bad children even God would reject them. Antwone cognitive strengths and
protection of his young foster brother helped him to recognize that he was a good person.

Although Mrs. Picketts favoritism of the light-skinned Keith causes Antwone to feel disgust for
his darker skin, he had compassion for the bullied child and stands up for him against the older
foster brother and other children in the neighborhood. Some of Antwones negative self-image
about his darker skin color, which was prevalent in his all African American community,
becomes mitigated by the social changes occurring in America of the late 1960s and early
1970s. He could take pride in the flourishing musical careers of The Jackson Five and other
recording artists and relate positively to nationally recognized civil rights leaders, as Martin
Luther King Jr.
I believe that it was through the complex interconnectedness of resiliency factors and
biology that Mr. Fisher was able to survive his life in the combat zone of his childhood. That
he has flourished and achieved success is a credit to his abilities and his willingness to do the
difficult emotional work of healing. It may be through the process of life span development that
some abused individuals come to separate out the effects of abuse from their self-concept.
(Sachs-Ericsson et. al., 2010, abstract)

References
Berger, K. S. (2014). Invitation to The Lifespan. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Fisher, A. Q. (2001). Finding Fish: A Memoir. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Hagele, D. M. (2005). The Impact of Maltreatment on the Developing Child. NC Medical
Journal, Volume 66, Number 5, pgs. 1-2.
Sachs-Ericsson, N., Gayman, M.D., Kendall-Tackett K., Medley A., Collins N., Corsentino E.,
Sawyer K. (2010). The Long-term Impact of Childhood Abuse on Internalizing Disorders
Among Older Adults. Journal of Aging Mental Health, May, 14(4) pgs. 489-501.
Banihashemi, L. (2012). Childhood Adversity Affects Adult Brain and Body Functions. The
Guardian.
Retrieved from
http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/oct/16childhood-adversity-adult-brainfunctions

Reflection
Doingthisprojecthasbeenanemotionalrollercoaster.Ihaveworkedwithabused
childrenforyearsandIwasinspiredandhopefulasIreadMr.Fishersmemoir.Ithinkthis
projectenhancedmyunderstandingofdevelopmentalpsychologybybeingabletotracethe
developmentalstagesofhumandevelopmentthroughthegrowthofthislittleboy.Frominfancy
toyoungmanhood.Thebookprovidesacontextforthemeaningofdevelopmentalstudythrough
thereallifejourneyofonehumanbeingexposedtoextremeconditionsofstress.Ihadnoideaat
theonsetofthisprojectthatIwouldexperiencetheresistancethatresultedfromtheonslaughtof
emotionsIfeltwhenwritingaboutthetormentenduredbythischild.Ifeltdeeplysaddenedby
theexperienceofmymotherwhowasalsoanabusedfosterchildandwasthrownintoaperiod
ofdepression.Iwasamazedbythepowerthisexertedoverme,asIhavedealtwiththeseissues
longago.Thisillustratestomethenecessityoftheongoingworkthatneedstobedoneon
importantissuesthroughoutthedifferentstagesofEricksonspsychosocialstages.ObviouslyI
amapproachinganotheroneofthesecrises,thatofoldageandIneedtousethiscrisisasan
opportunitytoresolvearoundmymotherasanagingadult.