Friday, July 19, 2013
I wrote this post for Hopeful Parents. But, since I haven't been here to write anything much lately, I wanted to share it here as well.
This week, for the first time, something happened. I heard another child say something hurtful about my son.
My daughter has a friend who sticks up for her regularly and makes sure that my daughter is included, even when it means fighting with HER best friend. And many of my daughter's classmates asked me this school year why my daughter is so "weird" (especially in the first half of the year). That doesn't bother me so much.....kindergarteners are very open and the only way they will learn and understand is to be taught. When they asked me this questions (and other similar ones), I always told them the truth -- that she doesn't see things in the same way as everyone else. That she's just has smart as everyone else, but she thinks differently. There are some things that she does really well, and others that she has to work at, just like everyone else. But these aren't necessarily the same things as her classmates.
But my son is more alone. He doesn't have any friends and he shows no interest at this point in making a friend. And he spends his school days in a self-contained Special Education classroom. Whenever someone tries to be his friend, he rebuffs the advances and continues to do his own thing. Three boys were playing. It was 2 against one, but it was a water gun fight and sometimes that's just the way it goes. My son was having fun and was asking them to shoot him again. So, I just sat back and watched. The only reason he was playing with these boys is because they were shooting him with a water gun, something that intrigued him. He wasn't doing anything to harm anyone -- just giving them an easy target. Therefore, when I heard the words come out of this 5 year old's mouth, a barracuda (in my form) jumped back at him.
I informed the child who said this that he was being "mean" and I used the word "bully". I also asked him how he would feel if someone said these things about him and reminded him of the "Golden Rule". And, I informed his mother, as she wasn't there to witness what was said, who promised me she would talk with him about what happened and help to bring home the message. But as I'm writing this a few days later, I'm still seething. And I know this probably has happened before but I just didn't see it and that it's likely to happen again, even if it's not the same child.
You see, I know that they other kids make fun of my twins in their own ways. This is what I'm afraid of. This is what worries me when I send him to school every day. This is what I fear is happening on the playground. My daughter, however, has at least this one defender (and I'm confident there are a few more). However, for my son, he doesn't see these behaviors as wrong......because I don't know if he even realizes that it's happening. Because he is so much in his own world, I don't know if he will ever notice it. He certainly has never told me anything about it. But him not telling me doesn't mean he doesn't notice. If he truly is oblivious, I have no cause to worry.....what he doesn't know or understand won't hurt him, just the people around him who love and care for him. But if he does understand.....and doesn't know how to say anything or stand up for himself......that's the worry.
That's why I have entrenched myself as much as possible in the school. I need to be able to see (without interfering when it's not necessary) what is happening to my children on a daily basis. I need to be able to have conversations with their teachers and make decisions for my children until they prove to me that they can do this for themselves.
My son is Autistic. He was initially diagnosed (at 30 months old) as Severe Classic Autism, but since then has learned many skills that make his current doctor question that diagnosis (she calls him a more severe PDD-NOS). He only seeks input from his family and his teachers (once he feels comfortable with them -- it takes a while). His behavior is like a 3 year old (even though he's 6.5 years old). He is verbal, but I wouldn't call him conversational. Since language emerged at all, he has always been very echolailic. You usually have to ask him the same question five or six different times and in different ways before you can really trust the answer. And sometimes, you need to check up on it. He loves to repeat things that he's seen and is currently obsessed with street signs so he will constantly tell you what street he wants to be on. He really is his own person and he does his own thing. And he sticks out in any crowd that he is asked to join.
Bullying is, in my mind, a natural behavior. By nature, we are pack animals, seeking out peers and doing our best to fit in. And, just like with wolves (another pack animal), our nature is to seek out those that are weaker and try to keep them out in order to make the pack as strong as possible. This doesn't end after adolescence....this continues our entire lives. But as we grow, we understand to appreciate uniqueness. We have to teach our children this as well. In our efforts to put an end to bullying, we need to consider that we are asking our children to change a behavior that comes naturally. That's what makes putting an end to bullying so difficult. It can be done.....I truly believe that. But I don't agree with others who say that we teach our children to bully -- they are programmed that way. We have to teach them to CHANGE the program.
Things ARE getting better. Kids are learning about the many others around them that are "differently abled" and are learning to be more patient and sympathetic. But we still have a long way to go.