Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bullying At & By Schools

When you're the parent of a special needs child, you become accustomed to butting heads with school (medical, mental health, etc.) professionals. Primarily this is because you know your child better than they do. But it's also because you know other people's kids -- and other adults -- better than most do.

So when I read the "astonishing" study that says children with autism are three times more likely to be bullied, my first thought was, "Only three times more?"

Children with autism (ASD), and others who experience frequent meltdowns and inflexibility, are often easy targets for bullies. The general lack of teaching tolerance, understanding, and simple kindness coupled with the fact that these children are easy to get a big reaction out of has obvious appeal for those lacking in maturity and respect.

But this is only part of the problem.

Children with special needs, especially those with non-physical or invisible issues, are also likely to suffer a unique type of bullying: To be blamed for things they did not do.

Kids know the stakes, the rankings in classrooms and elsewhere. They quickly learn to manipulate the power structure by telling a teacher or adult that it was a special needs kid who did something wrong -- those kids are either always in trouble for behaviors or assumed to be capable of some wrong choice due to their difficulties, so teachers and others fall for the scapegoating in spite of how the child with special needs protests. (This also means that when a child with ASD or other diagnosis reports bullying, the complaint will not be taken seriously.)

In fact, kids will often just threaten to blame in order to get things their way, with such taunts as, "Who do you think they'll believe, you or me?" Unfortunately, I've even seen this sort of disgrace in my own family first hand.

But there's more.

According to the study, children with ASD are also "bully-victims", meaning they are children who have been bullied and also behave as bullies, or at least can be viewed as a bully.

Researchers believe that the deficits in social understanding common in children with ASD may lead to bullying behavior by the child that is different than that displayed by typically developing children. For example, an honest but socially unacceptable remark such as, “You’re fat,” by the child with ASD may be viewed by others as purposely cruel when it is not. Likewise, a child with ASD who is accidentally bumped into might misinterpret this as intentional, and lash out in a way that looks like bullying.

Doesn't this also mean that the child with ASD or other difficulty is likely to face accusations of bullying and the consequences? Even if only an "educational discussion", it's sure to add additional suffering to their day.

Can you begin to imagine how upsetting all this is? Even without autism or other issue, a person would be prone to meltdowns!

And the number of meltdowns matter because now eight states are sending autistic, mentally retarded, and emotionally troubled kids to a facility that punishes them with painful electric shocks!

Yes, it's 2012 and we're giving kids electric shock treatments.

What's next? Lobotomies? Stonings?

Maybe Erika Christakis is right; maybe we Americans do hate our kids.

I've known for a long time that children have been devalued, and women (especially single mothers) right along with them; but I hadn't thought we actually hated kids.

It's bad enough that bullies exist in schools; do we have to create institutionalized bullying too?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Teaching Tolerance?

(I wrote this well-over a decade ago; please excuse excessive use of quotes.)

Officials claim that including special needs children in the activities of the general student population, called 'mainstreaming,' is best for these children as they must learn to cope with and function in 'society' at some point. According to them, being in the general school setting prepares them for future jobs and other life skills. I am one parent that questions this structure.

From the point of view of a parent of a child with special needs, I see how the system fails those students in the same manner that they fail the general student body.

The average school day for a special needs child contains more frustrations than the average child's day. This is because along with the greater difficulty in mastering skills, there is the added social pressure of knowing others are not struggling as they are. And, there is the social stigma of being 'one of those' children.

I remember being in grade school, and I remember those few students who were with the class part of the day, and gone for other parts. We never knew what they left for. Our questions were dismissed with the word 'different.' No one told us what made these children different, or what they did when they left.

At some point in our young minds, those classmates themselves were dismissed as our questions were, and eventually, the word 'different' soon took on the synonymous meaning of weird.

And it is the same way today.

These 'different and weird' children desire to play, and talk and share, just as the 'normal' children do. They learn how to socialize, be supportive, work as a team, and more when interacting with others in forms of play. But special needs children are avoided due to the stigmas attached to them.

While this of course is not extremely pleasant for those 'different' children, it is not really fair to any student. For if mainstreaming is supposed to help children learn to deal with society, shouldn't these children be learning how to deal with each other? Shouldn't we be teaching tolerance and understanding, not just for race or religion, but for all people?

If the schools will not make the effort, then it is up to parents to do the educating here. Talk to your children about what it must be like to live in a wheel chair. Tell them that just because a child is different, does not mean a person isn't fun to be with. Discuss with them how a so-called handicap is not a 'bad thing' to be avoided, that while it offers challenges, it often brings something rare, maybe even a new best friend. Ask them how it would feel to never be asked to a classmates birthday party only because people have never taken the time to know who you are...

For one day, all these students, not just those with special needs, will be getting jobs and living in society as a whole. Shouldn't all students need to learn about differences, understanding and tolerance? Who can say if in the next few years the mechanic working on your son's car won't be able to hear, or if your daughter's boss may have ADD?

Preparing your child now on how to deal with all sorts of people ensures them a more successful future, in every aspect.