In the last few years, there has been an enormous amount of attention put on bullying.
Growing up, I remember it (bullying) being mostly physical and threatening: a bigger kid pushing you in the lockers, someone stealing your lunch money, having books tossed out of your hands or some sort of other public humiliation. Back then, it seemed obvious and easy to identify.
Today, the definition of what it is to be a bully has crossed into the realm of what a lot of us once considered just kids being mean to each other: teasing, excluding, name calling, spreading rumors, etc.
But where does the line get drawn between “kids being kids” vs. “bullying”?
The reason I bring this up is that I have long thought (perhaps expected) that my son with autism is going to get bullied. That at some point, it would be inevitable for someone to look at his quirks, his behaviors, his differences and act negatively towards him as a result. Perhaps seeing him as an easy target.
I’m now wondering – even at 8-years old – if it hasn’t already begun.
- He’s been called “stupid” at school.
- He’s sometimes excluded from hanging out with his twin brother and his friend.
- Other kids mimic him on the playground which causes him to get upset and (over)react. Although to be fair, he sometimes mimics others himself.
- The other day he was pushed down (and cried rather hard) for trying to include himself and play with his brother and his friend.
Now. Does this really constitute “bullying”? I honestly don’t know.
Over the long term, I can certainly see how this could have lasting and negative effect. Being autistic plays a huge role in how Matt interprets the world around him – especially the actions and words of others – and more importantly, how he responds.
Most of the time, he just ignores it. I think many times, too, he doesn’t necessarily understand the insults. Matt’s always been the type that lives in the moment and does what makes him happy at the time. Yet occasionally he fights back. Sometimes with his words, sometimes physically.
My question, though, is how should my wife and I handle it from a parenting perspective? What do we say to the so-called “bully(s)”? What do we say to Matt, himself? How do we talk with Matt’s twin?
And I should point out that Matt’s brother has been nothing short of amazing from day one. He’s excelled in his role as brother, friend and even role model. But he’s also 8-years old. He has other interests and other friends. It’s clear that he’s torn between always being there for Matt and being social with friends, classmates and teammates who, frankly, aren’t autistic. We get that and that’s perfectly normal.
The immediate reaction is to overreact; to circle the proverbial wagons and go into protection mode. And as I’ve had time to think about the latest incident of Matt being pushed to the ground, I’m wondering if my wife and I didn’t do just that.
There’s little doubt that most of this stems from a simple (or perhaps a not so simple) lack of understanding. Knowing how to respond to someone who is flapping their arms, stimming, having difficulty controlling the sound of their voice and/or just being socially awkward isn’t easy. Especially if you’ve got the maturity of a 3rd grader.
So again: what are the answers? Has bullying begun or is this much ado about nothing? What’s the best way to handle it? Should we let the kids work things out themselves or go ape-shit on anyone who hurts our child?
What I do know is that the answers aren’t easy for any parent. They’re especially difficult for parents of a child with special needs.
Not being there, we can’t give hugs as we would love to do. Having 5 sons, we did not experience what you are going through. However, we also had to be aware that our sons were not the “bullies”, which we were blessed in them not being bullies, but were always on the side of the person being bullied. Hopefully, your sons will find good friends and become a part of a community that share your beliefs and actions. You and Monica are two phenomenal parents, and I can only offer our prayers and support.
Thanks Kathy. I certainly appreciate that! (Enjoy your snow.)
I have no answers. All I DO know, is that you and Monica have done an amazing job raising your boys. I will defer all parenting to the two of you, with the utmost confidence in your judgement and ability. Love all four of you guys!!
Gracias, Mr. Dave. As of now, I’m confident I could knock the crud out of some 3rd or 4th graders if needed. When they get older – and bigger – you can always come down and back me up…