Tag Archives: ostracize

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.

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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:
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