Category Archives: bullying

Is it Ever OK to Make Fun of a Child?

Picture of a blue sky with fluffy clouds. Caption says "Children are only bullied on a continual basis if the bully's behavior is encouraged by the adults in their life"

Picture of a blue sky with fluffy clouds. Caption says “Children are only bullied on a continual basis if the bully’s behavior is encouraged by the adults in their life”

I’ve blogged about this before, and I will continue to blog about it until those who are “grown-up” get it: Kids bully other kids when their behavior is encouraged by the adults in their life

Several weeks ago “friends” posted a picture on Facebook of a child in a stroller. They were treating it as a people of Wal-Mart style pic with which they made comments that they assumed were funny. I looked at that picture and saw a child who was too large for the stroller leaning back hiding her face. In hiding her face, I saw a child who was overwhelmed by the crowd and noise. (it wasn’t clear if it was a mall or theme park or other place, just that there were other people there) In the stroller I saw a child who was perhaps a runner or who perhaps had mobility issues. When I suggested that perhaps the family couldn’t afford a wheelchair the glib comment came back that if the child needed a wheelchair then the government would have provided one.

Sigh. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where all of our medical needs were met by some benevolent caretaker, where there were no wait lists and no need for extended health care coverage? I bet it would be sunny every day and no one ever went hungry either.

The reality is that even here in Canada, children do not get the supports that they need automatically. And if you can’t comprehend that, just ask any parent of a child with special needs.

I mean it’s lovely and wonderful in your life that you don’t have a child or know anyone with a child who has extra needs. But that does not ever give you the right to make fun of someone else’s child. Ever.

Even if this child was not overwhelmed and was leaning back chatting on a cell phone (as was indicated in one of the comments), even if this child did not have mobility challenges and is not a runner, even if this child is simply too large for the stroller, ANY comments that make fun of this child are bullying. When you make fun of anyone, it is bullying.

As an adult, what kind of example are you setting when you bully a child? You are telling your children, your nieces and nephews, your neighbours, your friend’s children that differences are not ok. That bullying is not only ok but that you support and encourage it.

When you do not allow that kind of behaviour in your home and in your life, when you open a discussion about differences, when you become inclusive rather than exclusive, then and only then will we start to see the end of bullying at school.

Think of it another way, when we make a behaviour socially unacceptable, like we did with smoking. Once it was common to see adults smoking in a car with kids in the backseat. Now we look at that behaviour with disgust. That change was made in less than a generation.

I will leave you with a slight digression, if you don’t mind. It is about how children should handle other children that they just don’t like. A couple of friends and I have discussed this many times in the face of some classroom situations we’ve seen in the last few years. We have unanimously agreed that our children do not need to pretend to like everyone. But they must be polite.

Why can’t adults do that in the workplace and set an example for the children in their lives?

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Negative And Then Positive End to the School Year

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted anything.

Lots has been going on, but in an effort to be positive, I haven’t focused on the crap that’s happened at our school and the behaviour that teachers believe they can get away with when it comes to our children. And this time I’m not referring to the teachers of our child with Asperger’s, but rather our daughter and the rather cold, nasty teachers she had this year. But by not writing of it, I’ve been stuck and unable to form a full post (several drafts await editing/saving though)

I find it very stressful confronting anyone and yet I had to do it with them and carefully used the correct language about how as adults in a position of authority need to choose their words and expressions carefully. That dismissing the hard work of a student as “not worth their time” is not an appropriate way to speak to anyone, let alone a child. I called a very last minute meeting with the principal, frustrated at how my child was in tears yet again over class work and how her teacher was treating her. I gave him no option, sending him an email that I was on my way to the school and expected him to meet us in the office. To his credit he did, and actually called the two teachers in question out of class to join us. But that was the only positive part of it.

Excuses to justify their actions were made (two teachers, one English, one French backing each other’s bad behaviour up in an unprecedented show of callousness at our meeting) and I called them on each one. I spoke to one then the other teacher. Both replied with a cold “Ok” clearly indicating “yeah whatever.” The principal lifted his head off the table (yes really!) long enough to look at me when I told him (in front of the teachers) that their behaviour was unacceptable, that instead of supporting and helping their students they were destroying the children’s confidence.

Then without preamble or apology the teachers stood up, left our (admittedly last minute meeting) and left for another meeting. Rude, cold and unbelievable that they are teachers! (If they had offered an ounce of politeness that they’d had a prearranged meeting already then I would have been fine with them leaving, clearly my words were not having an effect) I spoke a bit further to the principal, though my words seemed to have little effect.

When we got in the van, my daughter and I had a few good minutes of saying all the bad things we needed to say, and the joy in getting to say bad words I think took a bit of the sting out of the situation for her.

My husband followed up with the principal and was told that he and the vice-principal had spoken to the teachers about their behaviour in the classroom. I was doubting how effective this was until this week when my daughter told me that after that day both teachers refused to pick her to answer a question even when she was clearly the only one in the class with her hand up. Really? Child-ish, petty, nasty behaviour from an elementary school teacher?! Sigh.

On a much more positive note, we toured our son’s new school for next year. It was a tough decision to move him for his last year of elementary, but as I’ve noted above their current school isn’t a nurturing, supportive environment. From the moment we stepped into the office we were welcomed. The SERT, a lovely lady, introduced us to several people from the principal, to teachers, the librarian and a custodian. All welcomed us with big smiles and told us that we would love it there. We spotted a former classmate of my son’s and he was welcomed to go say hi to her.

Both of us left that experience feeling at peace with our decision to move him. He feels calmer about it, less nervous. And we were welcomed to make an appointment to meet his teacher in August and get more details about his busing. Yes the bus may prove to be a challenge but so far it looks like his request to sit at the front will be respected.

Looking forward to the positive things to come, and releasing the negative experiences (not to be forgotten at all but to be set aside so that they don’t affect our summer holiday).

I’ll blog about our year end camping in another post!

Just How Hard is it to be Inclusive?

bully meme

Many years ago, when I was in College I had a classmate whom I admired very much. And not in a romantic way at all. He was the first person I had met who was so comfortable in his own skin and identity. On our first day of class, fresh out of high school for him (I of course was *so* mature having been in university prior to this), he showed up with purple hair, beaded necklaces and a shirt that loudly spelled it out for anyone who didn’t get it: “FAG”.

This was in the mid-90’s and up to that point I had not seen much acceptance at the high school level. He clearly had had lots of it, and wasn’t going to back down for anyone.

Why do I bring this up now? Because not everyone accepted him for his differences. In fact we were in the same building as the Law and Security Program which unfortunately lived up to it’s stereotype with a lot of bullying jocks in it. They used to make comments to him and push him around in the halls. One day, he’d had enough and he followed them into their class, stood at the front until he had their attention and then dared them to beat him up right there in the classroom in front of their peers. Of course no one took him up on it. But they also left him alone after that.

I’ve always admired that about him. I only wish I’d been there that day to see what he did and to support him while he did it.

Recently, a video has gone viral of another boy attempting to do the same thing.

I don’t know what’s more sad about this video a) that the kids were laughing at him or b) that he even had to do this in the first place.

Why in 2014 are we still encountering this kind of despicable behaviour? Children are only bullied on a continual basis if the bully’s behaviour is tolerated or encouraged by the adults in their life. When teachers and parents create an environment where ostracizing another student is not acceptable behaviour, then it simply won’t happen. When a blind eye is turned to it we run into situations where children are committing suicide rather than be bullied for another day.

Growing up, we had developmentally challenged children integrated into our gym, art and music classes and they often accompanied us on field trips as well. It was a part of the school experience and we were expected to participate. There was no other option. Never were these children treated as lesser than. I remember bumping into one girl several years later in high school and sitting with her at lunch chatting about her favorite boy band. I often wonder where she is now.

That was in the 70’s and 80’s, so why is it still so hard?

Yet inclusion does happen. While searching links for this post I found this lovely article out of Alberta and in talking to a couple of moms with children with special needs, I heard of a similar story where a way was found to include a wheelchair-bound student.

I wonder then, has inclusion become automatic for physical challenges such as wheelchairs, while neurological differences such as Autism are still in the dark ages for systemic inclusion?

I know it is in our school. Our son has missed out on every field trip this year. Once we chose not to let him go on an out-of-province trip when the promised support (the principal who was to be his “buddy”) backed out a few days before the trip and we knew that the teachers going simply don’t have his best interest at heart, but other times because there was no staff member going who cared to put the effort in to making sure that he was able to successfully participate. Yes this is odd, even for our school, where he has gone on every other field trip ever. But it is also representative of our experience this year. And I know that if we are dealing with it, so are other families. (as I keep hearing when I bump into them at the grocery store and the school yard and out on the street)

Why do we not yet have a system in place that demands inclusion for all children, one that does not tolerate exclusionary or ostracizing behaviour from students, teachers, and other parents? It wouldn’t have to be an iron-clad set of rules, but rather needs to be a culture and environment carefully nurtured and developed by those in charge.

exhausted by the school

Some of you may know that we’ve been having a lot of issues at our school lately. It’s been especially frustrating as we have always taken a team approach to dealing with the IEP and any accommodations.

It finally took a formal complaint about the teachers and the SERT to the board before we saw action.

And it’s still only the very basic of accommodations. And I am exhausted by the battle to get there. So much so that I sent my husband to do the last meeting at the school. I want to find that team spirit again, but the fight has taken it out of me. And I’m not sure I could have sat in the same room with these teachers and been polite. After all it took a formal complaint in their file and some intervention from the board before they would even treat my son with an ounce of respect.

The accommodation that they are doing? Chunking his work down! Not rocket science.

The big plans I had for this year about working on his social skills and group participation? Gone down the tubes. We actually had to say to the school that the gym teacher allows the kids to divide themselves up into groups and they argue over who has to take our son in their group! Really?! How about dividing them up by numbers or alphabetically or any other way that encourages inclusivity and sportsmanship?!

So… the fighting has burnt me out. I have resigned as co-chair of our SCC and will resign from the Health Action Team at the end of this year.

And it’s why I’m a bit behind on posting.

It is March Break though, and my fabulous husband came up with a day by day plan to have fun locally, so I figure that I will re-charge with our kids and have something fresh to blog about.

Start a Conversation

Social media is an interesting phenomena. Lots of bickering, mommy wars, and one of the best ways to keep posted on what’s happening in the world. And when that’s all overwhelming and too much, there are always the feel good stories. They pop up, get circulated around and everyone shares them to further spread the warm and fuzzies.

The latest one to get circulated is about a boy with challenges similar to autism who asked his mother not to have a birthday party for him because he doesn’t have any friends. Mom set up a Facebook page and the media picked it up and now he’s being inundated with birthday cards.

How heartbreaking that his mom needed to do something like that. I get it, I truly do as I share in her despair every day. Kids with autism face so many challenges that it just doesn’t feel fair to add a lack of friends on top of it all.

So many people got on board for this, that it seems like one of those heartwarming do-good, feel-good stories. Teachers were even getting their entire classes to create and send cards. Mom was even getting notices from the postal service that there was too much mail!

But…after a friendless card-opening party with his mom, that boy will go back to his lonely existence. Neither your life nor his will be any better.

So I’m sending a big ‘ol shame on you to all of you who shared the story and/or sent a card. Yes I said shame on you. Because you all saw a feel-good story. Some of you even spent the $5 to buy a card and a stamp. And you all patted yourselves on the backs for a job well done and went on with your lives.

Nothing has actually changed. Tomorrow that boy will wake up and still face the prospect of going to school and not exchanging a single word with his classmates. If he’s really lucky a teacher might ask him about what he did last night, but more likely he or she will only direct him about his schoolwork.

Whether you are a teacher or a parent, you should be using this as an opportunity to talk to your kids about exclusion and loneliness. How inviting everyone but “that” kid to your party or giving out a valentine to everyone but “that” kid is causing very real harm. Kids with special needs can’t help their behaviour, and if it seems odd to you then you need to learn to get over it.

If you don’t know how then ask. As a parent, I would much rather be asked by a child or a parent about how to interact with my son than for him to be ignored and ostracized. If you are too uncomfortable to ask me, then ask a teacher. If you’re the teacher and you don’t know, ask your SERT, or me, or call the special education expert at the board.

Please notice that I said “interact.” I did not say “fake friendship with.” Pretending to be someone’s friend when you really aren’t only causes harm to both people and frankly they don’t need you in their life. I’m talking about basic human interaction. A conversation. Try starting one. You might be surprised at what you discover.

In fact, as parents and teachers, you should be modeling this for your children. What’s stopping you from having a conversation with a lonely person? You all know someone. Whether they are a freak, a geek, a loser, a senior, someone with physical, developmental, or mental disability; you all know at least one lonely person.

To really, truly make a difference in the world, you need to speak to these people.

And saying “Hi” only barely qualifies for good manners. I mean truly have a conversation. If you’re Canadian then complain about the weather with them. If you’re not, then comment on something in the news. Ask them how they’re doing. And wait for an answer. Be patient. If they are truly a lonely person then they aren’t used to being spoken to like that. They might be caught off guard or need to formulate an answer. Whatever it is, it’s not likely to be what you were expecting. And it will be worth it.

Your conversation doesn’t have to be an hour long marathon to count. Just a few minutes while waiting in line for coffee or while waiting for the bus or while waiting to go inside after the recess bell. Just long enough to connect with someone who is desperate for that connection.

Do it daily. It doesn’t even have to be the same person. And you never know, you might actually like someone you didn’t speak to before.

And when you are doing that regularly, and only then, can you pat yourself on the back for a job well done, a difference made in someone’s life.

Let’s see how many people you can engage in conversation:
Tag your social media as #startaconversation
post your comments here
tag me on twitter @TeamWAdventures
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Social Inclusion at School

I follow a an amazing blog, Diary of a Mom, probably one of the most thoughtful and insightful bloggers about autism that I have ever encountered. Currently she has been posting a lot about transitioning her daughter to a new school next year, and is questioning how inclusion is done in her experience.

All of her posts are worthy of reading, but this one in particular is phenomenal. My favorite quote from it is:
“But above all, we want to ensure that we’re not engaging in symbolic inclusion at her expense. That we’re giving her opportunities for the real connections and real relationships that she so obviously craves.”

For years, we have worked very hard to have a supportive team for our son. Yet his social life is very lacking. His classmates haven’t invited him to a party in years. The one that was playing online games with him and having the odd play date with him has chosen NT kids to hang around with instead.

The parents are worse. One went so far as to turn her back to me while speaking with all the other moms at a field trip.

A few months ago, he told me that most days he only talks to the grown ups at school. He often doesn’t say more than “Hi.” to his classmates and they to him.

In that kind of environment, how can his social skills possibly grow?

To again quote from that same post, “Geographical inclusion is not inclusion.”

The answer is clear: he needs to be in a social environment of his peers. Not a large group of NT peers, but a smaller group of other children with similar challenges. And facilitated social interaction, led by someone who truly knows how to teach them to interact.

If only it were that easy though. In our area, the only chance at a public education like that is to put him in an ME (multiple exceptionality) class. If we could find a space. But as a gifted student, that would not be the best fit. Maybe we could put him in the gifted program. If we could find a suitable method of transporting him there. And if we could get a guarantee of some EA support.

If we could find a local private school that suits our needs, and if it fit in our budget that might work too. So far, our research has only turned up one, and we question the appropriateness of it after conversations with the mothers of at least three different former students. I’m not interested in putting myself in the path of a lawsuit for not following the rules, or choosing to go elsewhere.

That’s a lot of “if’s”, with no real solution. Yet. As a mom of a child with autism, I will always keep looking, keep trying and keep hoping.

I have been told by two separate families that the local high school is well equipped and the SERTs are phenomenal. But again, will we just be including him for the sake of inclusion? Will he truly get the social supports that he needs. Or will he be cast adrift, forever on the outside. Always looking in the window but without the keys to get inside?

Reality tv moms actually exist

The holidays have left me brimming with stuff to write about, I mean there’s certainly a ton of new material when you throw in Autism, family gatherings, out-of-town family and a huge ice storm that wrecked havoc on homes and businesses. And I’m sure posts on some of these things will come. But that will be later. Right now I’m interested in a conversation I had yesterday with my daughter.

She is currently dancing as part of the cast in a local production. With about 15 kids between the ages of 6 and 17 in the cast, there are obviously a lot of moms who hang around in the back, helping with costumes, makeup and gossiping.

Two of the moms in particular are aggressively vocal, dominating the conversations and spreading their particular brand of nastiness like a poison around the room. They complain about everything, brag about their sons getting ejected from hockey games for mouthing to the ref, brag about yelling at store clerks while they make unreasonable demands and generally treat their children like crap. Being trapped there as witness to their behaviour makes me feel like I’m trapped in some circle of hell watching a mash up of the worst traits of “Dance Moms”, “Toddlers and Tiaras”, and “Wives of some random rich guys” (Or whatever that last one is called.)

I don’t care for that aggressive, put-people-down style of television and until now, I hadn’t believed that people on those shows really, truly exist.

I, and other moms, choose to ignore most of it, but I hadn’t realized until yesterday just how much little ears were paying attention.

“Mom,” my girl asked, “Have you heard those two moms in the change room?” I sighed, knowing at once whom she was referring to. I described them just to be sure and she said “Ya, how come they are so mean?”

I sighed again and explained that some people feel better by putting others down and treating them like dirt.
“But how does that make them feel better?” Good question. One that I don’t have the answer for.

In fact, talking about these moms felt a lot like talking about bullies at school. Sigh. I know some people never grow up, but how do I explain that to a ten year old who wants everyone to get along?

I find it really sad that people feel the need to live like that. Yes we all have bad days, and sometimes need a few minutes to bitch about it/get it off your chest, but there comes a time when it is time to stop dominating the conversation with your complaints, close your mouth and just listen to someone else.

Just imagine what a wonderful world it would be if all the complainers in your life (especially those you can’t choose to get away from such as family members or other parents at school or dance) would just learn an ounce or two of self-regulation and stop after two minutes? The very air would be easier to breathe and the negative impact on our children would be greatly reduced.

In the end, I told my daughter how I avoided getting sucked into the negativity, and how I ignored most of it. It’s not the most satisfactory answer, as it seems to leave something hanging, but it was the best I had at the time. And it’s not my job to change these women. But is it at least partly my responsibility when their comments are being noticed by my child? Maybe. But I am not good with any confrontation, even if I am in the right, and I am chickening out of even a gentle rebuke. I know I will bump into these women again at future productions and maybe competitions, maybe then I will say something, and then again maybe I won’t. I know I don’t treat others like that, so I know that the example I am setting my children is the one I want them to see and emulate. And that is clearly my job and it’s one I take seriously.