Protecting Victims of Bullying 8

School Pencils

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I dedicate today’s post to all of the young people who have been senselessly bullied especially to those who died because they were “bullied to death.”

Asperger’s, which is a high form of autism spectrum and an “invisible” diagnosis started me on this journey, but over the last year I have become even more horrified over the way others are treating young people with any difference. I want to help put a stop to these senseless acts of cruelty. However, we also have to help those who have survived these cruel acts to heal as we try to make the world a better place.

Therefore, this is a continuation of yesterday’s topic. You can read it here.

You have done everything you can to “bully proof” your child and they are still a victim, now what?

First and foremost as their parent your job is to protect them and to help them to heal when they are hurt, so refuse to allow anyone to tell you anything differently. I know many bully prevention programs and books tell you to let your child handle things because as parents we sometimes make things worse. You can try to let your child handle things, but if this causes more problems for your child or your child cannot handle it, Don’t listen to them.

I am telling you this because most authors of the books and programs are talking about children who develop typically, otherwise known as “neurotypical” children. Once our children are emotionally wounded they cannot be expected to handle things themselves or if they do try to handle it, they may give up and internalize negative emotions when the teacher, counselor, or principal listens to the other side and decides our child needs to change to fit in better.

Created using Swift Publisher 3. All rights reserved.

Created using Swift Publisher 3. All rights reserved.

Think about this for a moment.  You have a vulnerable child who has been repeatedly abused emotionally and even sometimes physically by his or her classmates.  The school reacts by giving the abuser detention or at the most expels the abuser for a short duration. Now the abuser comes back and tells everyone the victim is mean and got him or her in trouble. He or she does not touch the child physically and seems to no longer be bullying that child, but is that true? In the meanwhile the victim is having to meet with the counselor to learn skills to “fit-in” better. The rest of the school sees this child is different. They are fearful of being abused by the bully too and they decide to avoid the child who is different to avoid becoming the victim themselves.  No amount of role-playing or counseling is going to help the victim in this case. 

What do you do?

You can pull your child out of the school and either home school them or find another school, or you can decide to stay and work to change an ineffective system. If you decide to stay and fight, read on. If you are not staying, that is okay and you can still read further to see other options. We all have to do what is best for us and for our child.

Okay you are staying! First ask to see the school’s bully prevention policy. Next, research your local laws to see if your state has an anti-bullying law. If they don’t, check the laws that pertain to harassment, defamation of character, privacy, and to disabilities. Now contact an organization like Bully Police or a similar organization. You can find them by clicking on the link above, and they have a state-by-state contact list. They can offer suggestions and support about what your next options are. Once you arm yourself with this information go back to the school and try to get them to help.

So how do you help those who experience bullying and the ones who do the bullying?

  1. First, I know this is going to sound wrong to some people, but do not expel the bully if this is their first known episode of bullying. Instead of detention, educate them about why their behavior is wrong. Make them do presentations to others who bully to teach them about how wrong it is.
  2. Talk to the victim to make sure the bully is really changing. Enlist at least two model citizens to act as a mentor for the victim and make sure at least one of them is with the victim at all times.
  3. Reward those who report bullying including the victim. Start a rewards program where random acts of kindness are given points and a certain number of points equates to a tangible reward. The size of the reward does not matter as much as the need to reward good behavior. Simple rewards like a homework pass or ice cream are easy to do.

Bullying might not go completely away overnight, but if we all work together and encourage kindness and support the victims, it will get better while they are in school.  Let’s not make them wait until graduation for it to get better.  That is too late! 

 

Protecting Your Children From Bullies 13

©DelightfullyDifferentLife

©DelightfullyDifferentLife

Your child starting kindergarten is scary. You have heard all the horror stories about mean children. Children as young as nine have committed suicide and children as young as kindergarten were expelled at some schools. How do you protect your child and make sure they do not become the bully at the same time?

I wish I had known so many things that I know now when my children were in kindergarten. I want to share with you what I learned from trial and error and from studying other’s recommendations. First do not panic! There are still some good children and good parents. The best way to find them is to volunteer as much as possible, but a word of warning, the parents of the bullies volunteer too.

How do you recognize the good children and the good parents at this age?

This is not always easy, but one thing I learned is that children act more like their true selves’ in two places at school. The two places are on the play ground and in the lunch room. This is when the teacher’s eyes are not as focused on them and they let their guard down more.

Recess/ Lunch

©D. S. Walker

Therefore, volunteer to help at recess or in the lunch room one day a week if you can or even one day a month if this is your only option. Figure out which children need some guidance regarding how to treat others and which ones will not listen no matter what you say. There is hope for the ones who just need some guidance or who have trouble focusing, but if you observe a child being blatantly mean or disrespectful to you, talk to the teacher about them. Maybe there is a reason or maybe they are the future bullies.

Do not discount the child who is very polite to you and the teachers. Observe them from afar when they are unaware you are there. Are they polite to the other children or are they telling another child, “Go away! You can’t sit here!” and laughing at them? Believe me I have seen this happen. Sometimes these are the children of the heads of parent committees. They have learned to put their best foot forward in front of adults by watching their parents.

Do not assume their parents will listen if you tell them about their child.

Some will and some will not. The parents who never believe their child does anything wrong or who tell your child to just tell their child to knock it off are the very parents you need to avoid. They are either totally clueless or they are master manipulators themselves. If they are just clueless there is hope for them. The manipulators are a bigger problem that will take more than you to resolve. Use their behavior as a teaching tool for your children of how not to act and enlist the help of school officials.

Invite children to your house to play so you can see how they behave away from school. Get-togethers outside of school are also a good way to really get to know the other parents. If your child has sensory issues and gets overloaded easily, invite only one child and limit the time of the play dates. You can also limit the time spent at birthday parties without totally avoiding them. R.S.V.P. for part of the party explaining that there is a family event that the child must attend, so they will not be able to stay for the whole party. That way your child does not look so different, but does not have to stay longer than they can tolerate.

Realize that if your child avoids birthday parties, they may have more trouble maintaining friendships at school. Believe me you want your child to have at least two other children they can call their friends. This will help protect them as they move into the tween and middle school years. Help them develop and nurture these friendships now while they are young enough for you to be in charge.

By third to fourth grade children may already start to form cliques.

I know this seems young, but this was the age they started forming at both of my children’s schools. Try to encourage your child to remain friends with children outside of the clique, but realize that the clique may try to force them to stop being friends with others. This is especially true of the girls.

©D. S. Walker

©D. S. Walker

This may also be the age girls and boys get cellular phones and start really wanting to e-mail their friends. Some will even want to text or instant message. My children did both receive phones at age ten, but they were not permitted to text at that age and their initial e-mail accounts had to be open to my monitoring. They were taught not to answer calls from numbers they did not know. All important family numbers were programmed into their phones so they knew when it was one of us. They knew that if the rules were not followed they would lose phone privileges. They did not have camera phones at this age either.

They are older now, but there are still rules. So many others have written information about cyberbullying, but the biggest rule is teach your children that phone numbers can be traced and that there are laws that protect people’s privacy and using technology to say mean things to others is illegal. Teach them to be kind in all areas of their life and this will help prevent problems on their end. Also, make them aware of laws that protect them from others who try to use technology to bully them or to harm them in anyway.

 

Middle School and Beyond

Middle school is the age children with high functioning forms of autism may find themselves excluded from a group for not conforming to the rules. There are books that suggest teaching them to conform, but I do not recommend this. Instead, I suggest you help your child to maintain those two best friendships from kindergarten and hope they will protect your child from the abuse.

Girl Scouts and other organized clubs may also help, but if she joins these be sure to volunteer to help, so you can be sure she is not being excluded by any of the girls in the troop or other group she joins. Scouting is supposed to be about all the troop members supporting each other, but again it depends on the troop leader and other volunteers. Know the adults that help the troop.

Boys might also join Boy Scouts or similar organizations. Again make sure you know the adults helping the troop and volunteer as much as possible.

Some boys and girls may also try sports. It is best to let them try at age five or six if they show an interest as at that age everyone is fairly equal and your child is more likely to feel accepted. Once they advance to the higher levels in sports many children on the spectrum lose interest because of the noise of parents shouting at the children and because their teammates become very competitive and they may not feel they can compete at that level especially with the added noise levels.

Middle school may also be the time your child can join orchestra which can be an excellent place for those on the spectrum to find kindred spirits. Drama is another option. Specialty clubs may also be available or your child might be able to start their own club. Certainly by high school any of these options can help our children to find friends that accept them for who they are.

Having friends helps protect our children. Children who are alone are more likely to be victims of bullying, but what if you have done everything right and your child is still a victim of bullying? That will be my next blog.

Bravery in the Family 16

There are three people I love dearly who have all shown unbelievable bravery in their lives. The first one is my dad who fought in WWII and Korea, but that is not what made him brave to me. The other two are my own children.

The first time I personally witnessed bravery was when I was a little girl. I awoke to a loud banging noise that would not stop, and then I heard my parents’ voices. My mom was begging my dad not to go outside. I got out of bed to see what was going on. Mom was crying and Dad was saying, “Lock the door behind me and call the police,” as he stepped out the door closing it firmly behind him.

Mom locked the door and opened her arms wide as I ran to her. I hugged my mom as she dialed the phone and I heard Dad yell through the door to Mom, “Tell them someone has been badly beaten and is bleeding.” Next I heard my dad telling someone on the other side of the door, “I can’t let you into my house because I have young children, but my wife is calling the police to get help, and I will stay here with you until they come. Whoever did this seems to have left. I saw a car speed away when I opened the door.”

Later I asked my dad why he risked his own life by opening the door. He replied, “Sue, if I were injured wouldn’t you want someone to help me? A long time ago a friend helped me and the only repayment he would accept was a promise that I would help someone else.”

Over the years I observed my dad helping others including repairing their cars when they came off our exit on the freeway only to learn that the nearest station was another eight miles away. He never accepted payment for doing this even when he had to drive somewhere to get auto parts. He always told them the same thing, “Just help someone else one day.” My dad did this his whole life and what better way to teach your children kindness than by being kind yourself. How I wish everyone in this world were like this!

I do not know if I have set as good of an example for my children, but I am trying and I think for the most part I am doing a good job of raising them. I will tell you a little about them and you can decide.

My daughter gave me permission to write Delightfully Different to help others as long I made it a work of fiction. I think this is very brave because I know how hard it was for her.

My son who observed everything that happened to his sister refused to be mean to another boy at school when a group of boys he has known since kindergarten started being mean to this boy. The boy told them my son is his friend and when the “bullies” asked my son if this is true, he replied, “Yes.” Some of these boys have picked on him as a result, but my son has kept his integrity which I think is way more important than remaining friends with mean kids.

Let me know what you think. Do you teach kindness to your children despite what other parents do?

Addendum: Much has changed since I originally posted this. My daughter left the school of her dreams due to their failures, but not before she made the brave decision to tell the high school dean her decision herself. She had the dean in tears, but this did not change the outcome.

That dean has since left the school and the former headmaster has too. We tried to get an apology for my daughter that we want placed in her permanent record to explain that the failures were not hers. The new headmaster refused.

In fact, after agreeing to meet with me, he tried to throw me out of his office ten minutes into our conversation because I showed him a happy smiling self-portrait my daughter drew when she first entered kindergarten before the bullying almost destroyed her. I still managed to converse with him for fifty minutes, but I did not see any indication that he was empathetic.

He did not even offer me a tissue when my eyes were clearly tearing and I had to dig into my purse to find one. He did promise to read everything I left with him including a school newspaper where the bullies called my daughter a reject. (No they did not mention her name, but the whole grade knew who was interviewed and she was the only one who had been excluded from that group. The paper went to every child from kindergarten through twelfth grade and it was on-line until I pointed it out to school the year we finally left them.

My daughter blogged her heart out and became #15 on Babble.com’s top autism blogs. She has since stopped blogging and worked hard to overcome the long-term effects of bullying.

Allen Frances I Hope You Are Listening 12

The beautiful child who started me on this journey is fortunate to be very high on the Autism Spectrum, but that does not mean that she has had it easy. For years no one identified her sensory issues as causing any of her complaints about loud noises, strong smells, scratchy clothes, or bright lights hurting her eyes. No one understood how hard transitions were for her either.

We told her she was being ridiculous and made her feel guilty for things that she could not control on the advice of her doctors. Well-meaning teachers, friends, and even some family members did not understand her and some judged her and/or us harshly, so we do understand the isolation of autism and how it changes lives.

We are among the lucky ones, as we have a select group of friends who support us and who stuck by us during the difficult times. Our child is now doing well and I am sure she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to do. She has already overcome so much including bullying from a group of mean girls who did not understand her.

Therefore, I have asked myself if the upcoming change in the DSM, which is the diagnostic manual for diagnoses that are classified under mental health, really matters. Many of us are not even comfortable with autism spectrum being in the mental health manual at all since it is really a neurological diagnosis. Maybe all of this will one day be a moot point as doctors continue to try to figure out new ways to verify the diagnosis. Reference this article for more about this:
Researchers Discover Test That May Identify Autism Patients « CBS Boston – News, Sports, Weather, Traffic and Boston’s Best.

I seriously doubt that it matters much to us at this point. However, given how hard it was for us to get the right diagnosis, will removing Asperger’s Syndrome from the DSM make it even harder for others to get the right diagnosis? I hope not, but if Allen Frances had any thing to say about it, it may. See this synopsis from NPR’s “All Things Considered” for more about this: What’s A Mental Disorder? Even Experts Can’t Agree : NPR.

FYI: My child has not received any taxpayer-funded services and I know many others haven’t either, so Allen Frances is misinformed as to why families seek the correct diagnosis. I also know that my child’s sensory sensitivity is real because she can hear my conversations from two rooms away even with the doors closed and even when I whisper. People like Allen Frances make life harder instead of easier for those with loved ones on the high-end of the spectrum. Isn’t it bad enough that lay people already think Asperger’s is just shyness or social ineptitude without having people make things harder for us? I am fighting to get someone to notice my blogs and to understand and to help me fight intolerance, so children get the help and support they need. Yet, Allen Frances makes headlines and my little novel goes unnoticed.

God Bless All of the Delightfully Different Children of the World!

April 10, 2011 Update:
I finally got a chance to review the proposed DSM changes a couple of months ago. My daughter and Mia, the character in my novel both meet the criteria for level I autism under the new criteria. The best thing about the new criteria is that it includes sensory sensitivity traits for the first time. Still, it is unclear if doctors will continue to fail to recognize autism spectrum traits in girls. I hope they will not because I know the dire consequences of their mistakes.

The past few weeks have taught me that the effects of past bullying and years of being misunderstood before getting the correct diagnosis still linger. I have not felt as lucky although I know there is still hope. My wonderful husband is now fully on board to do whatever it takes to help our daughter. I ask that you help to educate others so other girls do not have to suffer the pain of being misunderstood by their families, by their teachers, by counselors, by doctors, and by their peers. We risk wasting the bright minds and talent of so many unless society changes to a place of understanding, patience and acceptance.