When you have a child who doesn’t behave typically, you can basically count on stares, comments and occasional questions. It’s just a part of life with special needs children, and since my children, in particular, have pretty much pulled off every appalling behavior you can think of in public, I’m now pretty much beyond embarrassment. Things happen, and life goes on.
What I’ve never become accustomed too, however, is bullying. For either of my kids, but particularly for Gray because he’s much more aware of what’s happening and he feels the weight of people’s words so heavily. And unfortunately, he has been a target throughout his life.
In kindergarten, he was targeted by another child because he simply didn’t understand this kid’s social cues, and offense was taken. There were unkind words, and finally he just ran at Gray out of the blue, hit him and knocked him down. Gray was beyond upset, and he truly had no clue why this other boy disliked him.
In fourth grade, he mentioned to me one day that he didn’t play many games at recess because of “Gray’s Rules.” It turns out, the other children were frustrated by his difficulty with motor skills so they designed a different set of rules for him, to get him “out” quickly, so the game could proceed without the bother of accommodating his difficulties. My heart still aches about that one, and I think it always will.
So my “bullying antennae” are pretty highly tuned and very sensitive. While I don’t usually wade into the fray and make a scene (Gray really, REALLY wouldn’t forgive me for that!), if I sense he’s in a bad situation, I’ll try to extricate him quickly and quietly. Sometimes we’ll talk about it, sometimes Gray doesn’t want to and I respect his wishes. Usually, after some time to process, he’s better able to communicate and deal with the situation.
A few days ago, we were at a home school enrichment class that Gray has attended for a couple of years. He’s known most of the kids in the class for quite a while, and they are a great group. He always looks forward to participating and the classes are a highlight for him. Hope and I usually hang out with the other moms and younger siblings in another part of the building, within earshot but not in the way. I look forward to spending time with these other moms because they are, without exception, wonderful women.
So I was in the “mom corner,” minding my own business, when I heard one of the other boys make fun of Gray, and what he said was pretty rude. My antennae quivered, and I was pretty upset. Why here and now in what has been such a safe and nurturing place? Would Gray be upset, would he want to come back? I know I was upset.
But then, I heard Gray laugh and make a sarcastic comment back! And then I started really listening, and realized that they were ALL talking to each other like this! And thinking they were hilarious. While Gray still doesn’t give as good as he gets (all that social skills training has given him impeccable manners!), he was participating.
Oh. My. Goodness. My son was being included in normal teenage banter, and I almost mistook it for bullying. In fact, it was the opposite. No one was treating him differently, they were equally as rude to Gray as to each other. Apparently, this just IS what typical teenage boys are like, and while kind of awful, it was also kind of wonderful and awe-inspiring.
We’ve worked so hard, for so many years, to get Gray to a point where he can handle himself in different situations and with different people. He’s come farther than I could have dreamed, but sometimes I forget how well he’s doing. I’m still on high alert, when maybe, just maybe, I don’t always need to be. Perhaps, as the actual teenage boy, Gray is actually better equipped to determine if he’s in a conversation or situation that’s okay for him. Maybe I can lower those antennae, just a little.