It’s hard to want to call children in elementary school bullies, although I am sure there are at least a few actual bullies there, bullying is another subject entirely. A kid doesn’t have to be a total punk at all times to participate in bullying. It isn’t a stretch of the imagination to think of almost any child taking the upper hand with a child who they perceive to be less capable than themselves. Even inside the same family an older child will yank a toy away from a smaller one just because they perceive they can get away with it. It is actually a pretty common occurrence, and one of extreme frustration to a parent who has a child of special needs that will nearly always be perceived as less capable by other children. Then throw autism into that mix where the other child also has a lack of social understanding, and poor language skills, and there are all kinds of problems that can happen. I’m not going to lie, it is really hard to figure out what to do. How much do I get involved? Does my son need to figure this out for himself so he can function in the world? How much is just normal teasing that all kids get, and where is the line that, once crossed, is too much?
My son is in public school, and starting to really thrive there. He has benefited so much by being influenced by the behaviors of normal children, that it is hard to tell at first look that he has a problem. At this point I would not dream of pulling him out of school for home schooling, but I am guessing that at some point in his school career, as children grow older, stronger, and meaner, I will have to in order to keep him protected. Even now in elementary school we have encountered so many problems. He has been punched, kicked, poked in the eye, and teased enough to send me to the school to talk with the principal. He has problems in the classroom, in the hallways, in the bathrooms, and on the school bus. They see him coming everywhere he goes.
In most of these cases my son does have some fault. He doesn’t usually understand when he is not wanted, so he forces himself on kids who don’t want him. He doesn’t usually understand about cliques and social standing. Popularity means nothing to him when he chooses his friends, so it doesn’t come to his mind when he tries to fit in either. Race and gender issues are something else he just doesn’t get. He has friends who are black, and hispanic, and girls, so why shouldn’t he try to fit in with the group of black kids, or the group of hispanic kids; Why shouldn’t he play with the girls who seem to accept him more? Why shouldn’t he be wanted in those groups or why should he not want to be like or liked by the girls? If only life were as simple as his logic.
When there is a problem, one that makes me really mad, I call the principal. We go to see her and my son explains what happened, at least the best he can with his limited language skills. She calls in the offending child, who has no problem with language skills, or lying, and of course like any guilty person would, the child twists the whole story to make it look like my son was completely at fault, or that my son just made a mistake and no offense was actually intended. It is frustrating to me. Sometimes kids are right, my son does make mistakes about things they say as jokes and he takes offense, but I think for the most part he knows when someone is being mean to him. Usually the principal makes the offending child and my son shake hands and say that they are friends now, which does help a little, but sometimes, the offending child retaliates for being called to the principal and the cycle continues.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not daily, and it is not unbearable, believe me when it becomes that, I will take action to protect him. It is just really frustrating, and a bit naive on the part of the school to just take the word of the other kid that everything is ok because my son can’t well articulate that it is not. There are other problems too, more than just hitting, there are a million ways for kids to be mean. There is teasing because he plays with the girls, teasing because he doesn’t get great grades, teasing because of the things he likes, and of course just the sarcastic calling of his name. The other day, a child on his team gave a high five to all the other players but him. My son, with his black and white sense of justice, told the boy later that he thought that was wrong to do, and the child just snickered at him. My poor baby. He just doesn’t get it. Not only does he take the abuse the first time, because he deep down believes that his school friends are good, my boy gave him a second chance to correct the problem only to be rejected again.
Right now in elementary school, the children are young enough, and supervised and watched enough, that this bullying isn’t unbearable. The benefits of his attending school are far and far outweighing the frustrating things that happen. I can predict the future, when these school friends of his aren’t little kids anymore, that he won’t be able to stay with them unless he makes a huge amount of progress, and figures out how he fits with them socially. Autism at school is so much more than can he read, and can he multiply, it is very much can he function with other people? I am so pleased with his advances that right now I am unsure if he will be unable to master these social skills. He may surprise me as he has many times already. I pray that he will surprise me, but if not I will be prepared to do what I have to. Good luck with your children, and please take the time to teach your kids that there is no need to take advantage of the weak. Teach them that true character comes from defending the weak and that is what real strength is about.