Kelly’s Blog: School’s Anti-Bullying Culture Helps Special Needs Families

So, last week I saw two boys laughing at my Thomas.  We were at his older brother’s playoff basketball game and the score was really close. Thomas was doing what we in our family call his “excitement fingers.”  When he gets really excited, he sometimes can’t control his hands, and they sort of take on a life of their own, moving and spinning wildly.  He also makes sounds to go along with this.  Some in the autism community know this as stimming.  We’ve always seen it as adorable but as he’s gotten older, especially now that he’s in 7th grade, we’ve been trying to get him to reign it in when he can because it opens him up to other kids laughing at staring at him. And, because, we just want to protect him from situations like that.  Middle school age can be hard.

The game was a high-intensity situation though and there wasn’t much chance of reigning in any excitement.  Normally, I would have just let it go but Thomas was sitting two rows in front of me and so were two boys who were watching him, laughing.  So, in trying to protect him from seeing these two boys, I kept tapping Thomas on the shoulder whispering “nice hands” which is what we say for “stop it with your hands” and trying to get him to refocus.  He would try, even tucking his hands under his legs a few times but it would only last a few moments.  T he boys shoulders would begin vibrating again as they tried to control their laughter.

So there we were, in this crowded basketball game arena filled with spectators watching an incredibly tense game on the court, my middle child playing with all his heart, and my complete focus was on this moment happening directly in front of me while the rest of the gym was focusing on what they actually should be watching.  Finally, my husband, who was delightfully oblivious to what was going on started talking to Thomas about some play that just happened in the game and the two boys realized, for the first time perhaps, that this kid they’d been laughing at had parents sitting behind him and turned and made eye-contact with me.  And that’s all it took.  I gave them the look.  The stink eye.  The “I-know-what-you’ve-been-up-to-look.”  They both turned around.  And that’s all it took.  The laughing stopped.  I was relieved.  I got to refocus on what I should have been focusing on the whole time – my middle child and his playoff basketball game.

Sadly, this is a scenario we special-needs parents are all too familiar with.  Maybe not always the laughing, but sometimes staring, sometimes being the center of attention because of a dreaded temper tantrum at the grocery store, at a family event, at church, etc.  We are familiar here.  We’re used to it.  It doesn’t mean it hurts any less.  It doesn’t mean we are comfortable here.  And somedays we can handle it better than others.

When I got home, I was talking with my middle son Danny after Thomas went to bed.

Me: Two kids were laughing at Thomas at the game tonight.
Danny: Really?
Me: Yeah. He was doing his excitement fingers and they could not stop laughing about it.
Danny:  Did you recognize them?
Me: No.
Danny: Well, there’s no way they go to our school because everyone at our school knows Thomas and no one would ever laugh at him who goes to Blue Ridge.
(end conversation)

And there is was.  That’s all I needed to hear.  He was that sure.  And how lucky are we?

That’s because my boys, who are just one year apart in school, go to a middle school where there is a zero tolerance for bullying.  Not only that, but the kids with disabilities are treated with respect and the students are expected to treat them with respect.  Gone are the days when kids like my son are laughed at and pushed into lockers and made fun of.  Now they are celebrated and included.  It’s popular to be kind to the kids with disabilities at my kids’ school and my middle son knows that so well, he was so sure of it, so confident, he absolutely knew in his gut those two boys laughing at his youngest brother were not from his middle school.

There will always be kids who will laugh at my special-needs son.  And I am never going to be able to be everywhere to give mean kids “looks” to get them to stop and protect him from all the bullys in the world.  That is the reality of a special-needs parent and one that I realized a long time ago.  But that night, while I could have gone to bed feeling sad about this reality, I actually went to bed feeling so at ease and so lucky.  I’m so lucky that my boys go to a middle school that’s created such an inclusive and accepting culture for both my sons with a zero tolerance for bullying.  What a better place this world is becoming for kids like Thomas because of it too.


For more information about some anti-bullying organizations you can get involved in or visit online:
PACER: National Bullying Prevention Center
The Bully Project
Bullies Keep Out

Spread the Word to End the R Word