Making It

UNDER CONTROL: Kirk Martin, with a brain model; son Casey plays guitar to stay relaxed.
UNDER CONTROL: Kirk Martin, with a brain model; son Casey plays guitar to stay relaxed. (Copyright Keith Barraclough)
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By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, July 27, 2008

KIRK MARTIN was the son of a military man, and when he had his own son, he approached the child the same way his father had approached him: loudly.

The problem was that that method didn't work well with Kirk's son, Casey, who had been diagnosed with ADHD, among other conditions. After much trial and error, Kirk found that the only thing that improved Casey's behavior was calmness. Out of this discovery, Kirk has built a business, called Celebrate Calm, which offers workshops for parents and teachers, and is rewarding both financially and emotionally.

Kirk, 42, grew up in Baltimore and went to college at Towson University, where he majored in international business and marketing. He and his wife, Anita, have lived in about 10 states, moving most recently to Ashburn in 2003. Along the way, Kirk had a lot of different jobs, mostly brand marketing for consumer products such as Cottonelle bathroom tissue and No Nonsense pantyhose. When Casey was diagnosed, Kirk had a new focus. That's when he dived into medical, psychological and educational research, and tried the various approaches that led to Celebrate Calm.

His thinking is not that something is wrong with "intense" children, a term used to describe children who can be volatile because of conditions such as ADHD, oppositional defiance disorder, and sensory integration and anxiety disorders. Instead, Kirk says, he believes they are simply wired differently and have "gifts, talents and passions" that are not compatible with traditional educational settings. Rather than asking how to "fix" these kids, he says he asks, "What are the advantages, what are the ways we can work with this mind to obtain good results?"

The central tenet of his approach, for parents and children, is "I am responsible for myself," he says. "That's it." Kirk says he learned "I can't control my child; I can't control his behaviors and attitude. But I can control mine." After modeling calm behavior for his son, "I now have a teenager who instead of freaking out every 15 minutes over everything is now in control of his own emotions," Kirk says.

Kirk started sharing his insights with Casey's teachers and holding "camps" at his house for children with similar behaviors. His approach included incorporating movement into learning. "Because our strategies were working and they were very practical," Kirk recalls, "people began seeking us out." He would work all day, hold sessions for kids two nights a week and all day on weekends, and "I began to work myself out of a corporate job."

Now Kirk travels the country giving a variety of workshops on how to handle intense children. A two-day workshop typically costs $1,500 for professionals and $600 for parents. He has also recorded a series of self-help CDs and has put Casey, who is 15, in charge of CD sales.

Herbert Hoover Middle School in Potomac hosted a one-night Celebrate Calm workshop in late spring after learning about the program from a parent. "We received very positive feedback from staff and parents who attended the session," Principal Billie-Jean Bensen says.

Kirk has more than replaced his former corporate salary of $120,000 plus benefits. But the rewards are also more personal, such as hearing Casey report, "People come up to the [CD sales] table and tell me how much your stuff helps them."

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