Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Autism awareness, and teaching your kids tolerance

Today The Boy went for a bike ride to the local park that is a block from our house. This is something he does quite frequently, AND quite frequently comes home with a story of how he met someone, and made a new friend. The best part of that- they usually know me and that just blows The Boy's mind!

So anyway- today he went to the park. There was a group of kids there- he said he couldn't remember their names, but he has seen them at school. He decided to introduce himself, (and I am sure he did it in his grand fashion of a sweeping bow, followed by his entire name, age and grade in school) and wanted to hang out. This is difficult for people on the spectrum. Interpreting social cues, knowing how to approach people- these things are a lot more difficult for the kiddo on the spectrum. It doesn't come easy, or natural.  The group of kids apparently laughed at him, and started teasing him.

It was about this time, that The Boy realized it was time to leave, so he  started to ride his bike away, and this group of kids chased him, calling him names and telling him they knew where he lived. The Boysaid he rode as fast as he could to get home- but "They were just joking around with me mom". That is the  saddest part  to me,The Boy really thought they were just joking around with him. This was a teachable moment, a time to explain to him that not everyone is nice or worthy of being a friend. His look of confusion breaks my heart, and makes me want to shelter him from a cruel and intolerable world that will always look at him as deficient, not worthy, and "weird".

I was mad, I was hurt for him, I was ANGRY! What is wrong with parents that don't teach kids to be tolerant or even kind? And I know- parents can't be responsible for everything their kids do when out of their sight- but  if they are TAUGHT AT HOME, they generally act the way they have been taught in public, with or without their parents.

And the way The Boy explained it, there were 4 of them, and a kind of "pack mentality" seems to have set in- and they singled out my son, by himself, as weak, and easy to bully. Yeah-- kids at this age are jerks- but they have obviously not been taught how to act, or treat others. And if just ONE of them was taught that this was wrong, that one  could have stopped it. They might be young, but they are not stupid. Teenzilla was sticking up for the "underdog" as young as six years old! It's not unheard of.

I am not writing this for the other parents of children with special needs who have seen their children bullied, or excluded, or have their feelings hurt because of similar behavior  This is directed at those OTHER parents. The ones who seem to have forgotten that their job is to teach their children about diversity, tolerance and problem solving skills. And how bullying is NOT ok... ever.

It's already hard enough with The Boy being socially segregated at school- put in a categorical classroom that is not made to seem like a part of the school community at times and social isolation and harassment can go hand in hand. Without meaningful interaction with students with disabilities, other students are more likely to make hurtful remarks based on stereotypes. THIS is where parents come in. TEACH YOUR KIDS!  If you want your child to grow up being not only tolerant but inclusive then you need to expect that from the very beginning. Don’t expect them to learn these values as adults if you haven’t encouraged it of them as children. And don't expect it to be taught in school- because the school's that do embrace the full meaning of inclusion are few.

So parents- let me give some helpful advice in how to teach your kids to NOT be jerks- and maybe some of you out there can take this advice as well.

Teach the golden rule; Treat others the way you would want to be treated!!!

Model tolerant, accepting behavior. Kids learn what they live- THAT is a fact.

Don’t label! Referring to other kids as "that one with autism" or "that girl who wears hearing aids" only points out differences, issues that may not even concern your child, but will become the focus now that you have pointed it out. This is just as important as if you are talking about ANYONE, whether directly to your child or not. See above statement!

 Encourage questions, and if you don't have an answer- talk to someone who KNOWS. Talk to a parent of a kiddo with special needs, particularly autism, because it's invisible- and not something that can be seen. ASK ME!! I will tell you whatever you would like to know, and I will help you talk to your kids.

April is Autism Awareness Month. It is also Autism Action Month.  Check out these websites for some great information, and ways you can become more aware, and therefore more tolerant- which enables you to help teach your kids how to be more tolerant, kind and compassionate. We really need more of that in the world, don't you think?