English Special Needs

The bully next door

We all agree that bullying is terrible, unacceptable, and that kids need to be taught not to bully their peers. But what exactly is bullying? Who is a bully? Where is the line that separates teasing from bullying?

When we think about bullying, we imagine a big kid hitting another kid. Mean girls abusing their position of beauty and popularity to make others feel bad. We imagine hazing. Facebook harassment. We always think that bullies are far removed, they are the mean kids, the kids we don’t know. And while they are far, it is way easier to deal with them. It doesn’t involve questioning our own parenting. It seems very clear who the good guys are, and where the bad ones stand.

Except that life is way more gray than that. Not all bullying is high intensity, outrageous,  CNN worthy. More often than not bullying is low intensity, and comes from those close to us. From the classmates. From the friends. From the siblings. It happens in the classroom. It happens in a birthday party. It happens while playing in the park. Sometimes a laugh can be more hurtful than a punch, and one thousand times harder to confront.

I was aware that special needs children have more chances of being the victims of bullying. I knew that sooner or later it would happen, and we would have to face it. But I wasn’t ready to deal with it now, when my son is only four, and I certainly wasn’t ready for it to come from those kids he considers his friends.

But there we were, in the park. Playing like every other day. And although this must have been building up for a while, it wasn’t this blatant until yesterday. Maybe it was because there were not those many kids in the park, and that made it more obvious. Maybe it was because for the first time, he realized what was going on. For 45 minutes I had to see the other ten kids in the park teasing my son so he would chase them. Calling his name from every corner of that park. Then they would giggle, scream, and repeat time after time, “He is coming, he is coming, let’s run!”. They even used the word monster a couple of times. At the beginning he was having fun. Like he does every day. But eventually, his little happy face faded into a look of wonder, and sadness.

He looked at me, and although he doesn’t still have the words to say this, I know what he was telling me: “Mom, why am I the only one chasing? When will it be somebody else’s turn? Why am I alone, while they are all banded together? Why do they keep calling my name? Why do they laugh?”. For them it was hilarious to see him trying to catch him, and go off. But then they did come complaining to me when he hit them. And you know what? For the first time, I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to scold my son for defending himself. They provoked him, they were all older than him, and they could deal with the consequences of their behavior. And I told them so.

The only person who defended my son was another kid, who told the others that they were being mean to him. The other moms didn’t say anything. I understand it, because from their point of view, they were just kids playing together. I would have thought the same a few years ago. From my point of view, their fully abled kids were playing against my special needs kid. Making fun of him. And they couldn’t see it.

Another recent afternoon, a little girl ripped his cochlear implant off, and he hit her in return. A random mom saw only the second part of the exchange, and went fuming to scold my son. Apparently I was well rested that day, because I had the presence of mind to calmly tell him: “Honey, when someone rips off your cochlear implant, please use your words instead of your hands. Hitting is not acceptable”. I told him so even though I know that he doesn’t have the words yet to convey that. He only has his hands. Needless to say, the other mom quickly apologized to us and left.

Yesterday, I was able to make it to the car before starting to cry, and I thought that I wouldn’t go back to the park for a while. But these are his peers. They will be his classmates one day. And they need to learn that making fun of someone less fortunate than them is wrong. As wrong as a punch would be.

Kids need to learn that we come in different sizes, and shapes, and abilities, and that that is fine, enriching, wonderful. If the only way for them to learn that is to spend more time with my very special kid, we will be there. And as uncomfortable as writing this post and publishing it may be, I feel like it’s the right thing to do for my son, and for other kids like him.

Kerry Lynch is doing a wonderful job exposing Illinois schoolchildren to special needs kids, and teaching them how to behave around them. And hers is the way to go. Because her daughter, my son, every other child who is different, deserve the same life than regular kids. They deserve to be able to go to school, and to the park, and to have friends. They deserve to be happy. It’s as simple as trading a laugh for a kind smile. Like that compassionate kid in the park did.

If you want to contact me, you can e-mail me at foreignaffairschildrenedition@gmail.com

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