Saturday, December 20, 2014

To the girls who mocked my son in the mall

Tate and Sydney at the mall 12-19-14
Last evening as I walked through the nearly empty mall with my two youngest, you five girls were behind us by several yards. We had just seen a movie and were in great spirits. We were walking to meet up with four of my older children. We stopped to take a photo, at one of those cutout scenes where you stick your faces through the holes. I caught sight of you as we took our photo, walking and giggling and having a good time. I have had teenaged girls and know how much fun they can have together in a mall. I noted to myself that you were a lively group but certainly not threatening in any way. You were walking faster than we were and the gap between us was closing. I turned from snapping our photo and we continued down the hall. My son fell behind a few steps as he was adjusting his earbuds. He was listening to his music like a typically developing 13-year-old boy might do in a mall. Though if you could have seen his playlist you would have realized he is not a typically developing 13-year-old boy. He was probably listening to Disney tunes, the muppets, or a preschool sensation called The Fresh Beat Band. You probably did not notice he was “different” until you saw him run a few steps to catch up to me. He always runs on his toes with a very awkward gait; and I’m sure that a 6’3” young man running on his toes looked pretty ridiculous to you. The mall was empty enough for me to hear your innocent girlish giggling turn to that of a contemptuous kind of laughter. I knew before I turned; but I could not stop myself. I turned to look and saw one of you mocking my son. You were running on your toes and flailing your arms. My son and his little sister kept walking, not noticing that I had turned to look behind us. They both have special needs and were oblivious to the change in my demeanor. I took about three steps back toward you, and your forward pace slowed. I must have looked very intimidating all of the sudden. I had gone from happy and quietly content to irate in a fraction of a second. I can only imagine the look I had on my face as I took those few steps toward you. I did see the looks on your faces. Your laughter stopped. I saw guilt and I saw your faces redden with embarrassment. You were caught. You thought you’d have your laugh at my son’s expense and we would not notice. Or perhaps you did not care if we noticed, but you certainly did not expect me to turn and call you out. I cannot remember my exact words but I believe they were, “My son has autism. I sure hope you are not making fun of him.” Your stuttering and stammering out, “We’re not. We’re not making fun of anyone.” caused me to doubt myself for a split second; but then I remembered I had seen one of you, the girl on the far left, copying my son’s movements while all five of you laughed. I said no more, and turned back toward my kids and caught up to them, thankful that my son had his headphones in and thankful that he probably would not have understood much of our exchange if he had been listening anyway. As we all continued down the hall I had to remind myself that all five of you are just kids, probably very nice girls most of the time. One of you were impulsive enough to make fun of the differences you saw in my son and the other four were weak enough to go along with the joke. I had to remind myself that you all five had families that love you as much as I love my children and you all five may have issues of your own to deal with. And perhaps you really did believe that making fun of someone else is just innocent fun and we would have no idea it had even happened.

Perhaps you go to a school where the kids with special needs are kept separate from you or perhaps it is acceptable amongst your peers to laugh at their differences. We are from a small town and my son Tate goes to a small school. He has peers who accept him and do not make fun of the way he moves or talks. They know he is different and help him to fit in. They do not laugh at him or belittle him. As a matter of fact, had some of them been with him last night, they would have probably said more to you about your behavior than I did. 

I have to admit that I have no idea if turning and calling you out was the right thing to do or not. I did not know how to react. You see I have never seen anyone mock my son before. In fact, in thirteen years I cannot remember him once being made fun of. Perhaps there have been times and I have just not caught on like I did last night but I like to think that you are the first. How does that make you feel? You broke a thirteen-year streak for us.

If statistics prove true and all five of you grow up to become mothers, chances are that one of you will have a child or a grandchild with a disability. I do not wish that on your child or grandchild, but if it happens, I actually hope that you get a thirteen-year streak without bullying. As a matter of fact, I hope you have an even longer one. And even more importantly I hope that if your son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter, are ever bullied that you will not be able to think back and remember the time that you yourself laughed at a child with a disability and caused a mother pain. The burden might be too heavy for you to bear.

If you would like to read more, try this post: Baldwin Bulldogs class of 2020
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Tate age 12, Sydney age 10





22 comments:

  1. This happened to us today and my girl us only four. The other girls were in our neighborhood and only a year or two older than her. My husband set these four girls straight with a polite reminder that we don't laugh and make fun of other people, especially not those with special needs. They both apologized and owned up to their mistake. We have to continue to be correct others, because I know in my heart they have been taught better. Maybe after today those girls will be better. I love your pots, they let me know I am not alone :)

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    1. I'm so glad you are teaching the kids in your neighborhood young. Tate has many friends at school because we educated them about autism when they were very young.

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  2. You did the right thing in correcting those girls. It was a lesson they will remember.

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    1. Thanks TC Harris. You are always quick to encourage me and I appreciate that.

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  3. YOU GO MOM. You did exactly what needed to be done. I get looks from people all the time because my 8 year old must have a straw with him at all times. It's his comfort.

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    1. Thanks for reading! I have a blog post about the things Tate used to attach himself too. You might like this one. http://quirks-and-chaos.blogspot.com/2012/05/unusual-attachments.html

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  4. You did the right thing, I have had to did this many times and don't regret it for a min. You summed up my feelings perfectly!

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    1. Thanks. I love to write about our experiences and although I wish this one would not have happened I'm glad it can be used to help educate perhaps.

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  5. What you did was awesome!! You handled the situation well.. I have a daughter who is autistic but on the low spectrum.. she is very high functioning.. still in get comments mostly from Adult's that is worse I think just because you would think they would know better.. most have been Co workers.. It does hurt sometimes.. but then I just have to realize as you do that some people know better they just forget..

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    1. Thanks. I hope I made a difference in the way the girls will think and behave in the future. I appreciate the comment!

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  6. This was beautifully written. I am a special education teacher, and I grew up with a sibling with special needs. My brother and the students I work with are some of God's greatest blessings in my life. Thank you for sharing your story! You responded very well to a difficult situation, and were able to reflect on it and share it in a way that has reached a lot of people.

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  7. I work at a school in the lunchroom. I correct children all the time for making fun of their peers. One time, I picked a quiet, shy boy, whose English is not the best and he has a speech impairment to be the line leader coming in from lunch recess. He asked why I picked him and I told him I thought he was smart for always being so quiet and listening more than talking. The other students nearby started laughing and said... He's not smart at all, he's stupid.... well, that's a trigger word for me. No one is stupid... Not.one.single.person. So, I explained how we treat others and how judgment is not what we are suppose to do in this world. It seemed to work... I have not seen them picking on him anymore...

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  8. AS a teacher, I felt you did the right thing. Children have become "the entitled" to say and do what they want. They are not malicious, but they continue to do things that are not socially acceptable just because they want. You defend your child and I'' be right behind you.

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  9. This would have made me so upset! I think you did a great job and I'm glad you shared the experience here.

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  10. As others have said, I feel you did the right thing. If we don't call the teasers and bullies out, who will?
    I have a 3 year old son with autism. He is a big boy like his daddy, and looks to be closer to 5. I still have to carry him sometimes when he gets overwhelmed. He is verbal but not fluent, and I have overheard snide comments.He doesnt understand the cruelty thank God, but I do. I have quietly but fiercely told them that they should keep their uninformed opinions to themselves as they may upset the wrong person one of these times. Mothers of special needs children are even more protective than most.
    It hurts me to think of him being ridiculed or teased. I am so sorry your streak was broken. Hugs from one mom to another.

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  11. I think you handled that quite well! Calmly explaining the situation like that will make them think twice before ever making fun of someone again. A little girl once made fun of the way Bethany talks. When I explained it was because of a brain tumor she was quite upset about it. I like to think that she never made fun of anyone again.

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  12. I'm enjoying your blog. My daughter will be 18 next month. I'm in a situation where she has Aspergers so she picks up on people bullying her and making fun of her. She has become quiet and doesn't talk around others much because of it. We have to keep trying to pull her beautiful personality out because of what she has endured by others. When they are painfully aware, it is even more painful to us parents. It's hard to explain to them why people act that way, and harder for them to trust again. She also has epilepsy and when her grand mal seizures came back in front of all the kids during gym class, we could no longer hide her epilepsy. Because of the bullying, the school's lack of understanding, her health with the seizures, we ended up pulling her out of school and homeschooling her in the 9th grade. It was the best decision we could have made. She's happier and we feel she is learning more of the things that will actually apply to her. 2-page Algebra problems aren't likely to matter, but the coding class she's taking where she is learning to code websites can end up being a home-based career. We can tailor her curriculum to what interests her the most. And now, she only has to be around people she chooses who will help encourage her, not discourage her - who will motivate and inspire her, not destroy her self-esteem or confidence.

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    1. I am sorry to hear about the beginning of your daughter's story, but I am happy about the path she is on now and what you have done to make that possible for her as a parent. I hope that she is able to live a happy, full, and successful life with the skills and support you have equipped her with. Good job.

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  13. Hi there,
    My name is Stephanie and I am an editorial assistant at the Mamamia Women's Network. We would love to republish your wonderful post on our site.
    If you are at all interested, could you please email me at stephanie.dickson@mamamia.com.au.

    Kind regards.

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  14. You have my heartfelt joy to have had a 13 year streak. As I have said before in another post I am 28 years old and Autistic myself. during my 28 years I have been mocked, belittled, and insulted by: Classmates, siblings (expected but no less hurtful), Grandparents, Teachers, Doctors, Peers, Co-Workers, Clergy, and even my own father. I honestly wish that more people had the courage to do what you have done. My mother did her best but I always think of the scene from Dumbo when the mother gets locked up for protecting him. While my mother has never been arrested she has been censured, mocked, vilified, and even sent to an insane asylum for a few months. I sincerely hope to see a day when parents like you become more commonplace.

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    1. This really touched me. Thank you for this comment. I wish that every one could have a 13 year old streak and more.

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