In the 4th grade is when it started. I was about a foot taller than everybody. If I wore green I was called "The Green Giant", yellow - "Big Bird" - white "stork", you get the picture. Comments about my height were rather benign by many standards, but these comments that I physically did not fit in ended up putting me in a terrible place when adolescence hit. I was flat chested and taller then every boy around, not prime dating material. These apparently innocuous comments went on to make me incredibly vulnerable. A 5'10" thin blue eyed blonde made to feel self conscious. Sounds strange, but is very true. I couldn't believe anyone would ever find me attractive. I am a married 40 year old woman with 2 children, and these thoughts still linger in my mind.
Then there were the comments that came around 5th grade - kids start to realize you are getting 100's on all the quizzes, I played violin and sang in the choir, I answered the questions with interest and feeling at religious studies, I didn't have a lot of friends, teachers favored me. I was, by all descriptions, a geek. I remember being called "the great brain" and well, even though it sounds all great, it wasn't meant as a compliment, and made me feel so self conscious for wanting to succeed and being interested in academics. It was cool to act like you didn't care. But here lies the problem - I did with all my heart. I am still that person. I care with all my heart about so many things. I constantly over involve myself in other people's problems - hoping I can make a difference. And for this, I was mocked, and worse off as time has gone on, been taken great advantage of. It is by far the most daunting characteristic I have had to live with.
We all face scars from our childhood - have been teased, maybe even bullied. Children are cruel. And as much as I think they are immature and are not developmentally able to empathize yet- I see far too many people accepting these things than correcting them. Most kids go on to understand that these sort of things aren't right, but because they eventually learn their lesson isn't the point, these comments still do damage. The damage must be reckoned with too.
It's in the news everywhere - bullying, suicide rates for gay teens, suicides of young girls from social network intimidation, etc. We have made it even easier for people to show the nastiest, most vile sides of their selves through the anonymity of the Internet. Are we callousing ourselves to rude behavior since it seems to have escalated to such levels?
As a parent of a child with a disability, I am even more afraid of what will happen to my son. I would go as far as saying it terrifies me. Steve told me once that he wished Zach's disability was physical in nature, because at least then when the fools say something nasty to him, he can tell them to "f*ck off".
I would like to think that children are more aware of special needs more than ever - that their parents are raising them to be kind and generous with more knowledge due to awareness campaigns. But you know what - the dipwads who were having kids when my parents were, have spawned and multiplied their ignorance genes. I NEVER, even in my ignorant stages of life (when I thought that those things happen to those people) would have ever told someone with a disability, or back in my day "was just sort of weird" that I thought that they were "sort of weird". I was not raised that way. In fact, I was more apt to want to bop someone in the nose if I saw them doing that.
A note from a FEAT friend today:
Just wanted to let everyone know that Tyler went to a "typical" friend's birthday party yesterday at the American Legion. He was so excited to be invited. When we went in, he saw some "old" friends immediately and went to play with them. After less than 5 minutes, I saw him standing alone against the wall. Find out, the kids told him that he was "weirder than he was before" and they didn't want to play with him. So I helped him find another friend there. Again after less than 5 minutes, I found him crying in the bathroom. The kids called him a freak because he talked about Pokemon so much. They didn't want to play with him either. Then during musical chairs, he screamed because of the noise and lights. Again, was called a "freak" AND no parent disciplined their child either. I took his hand and immediately went into the bathroom where I hid in the stall and cried. I did NOT want him to see me cry but it hurt to see my little guy get treated in such a way.....and I thought he was doing so good too. Anyways, after I got out of the stall, he said to me "Momma, I want to go home. This party is not fun for me anymore".......we left. On the way home, he said to me, "Momma, am I a freak?" I said NO. He said "I'm glad that my Autism friends don't call me names like that. They are good friends, Momma.".....I just wanted to share that with you guys. Needless to say, I haven't been too "happy" yesterday or today. I can't get it out of my mind. Thanks all you "Feat Families" for loving my boy just the way he is!!! :)This mother went on to belittle herself for leaving the party without defending her son, just adding to her pain. I would likely have been so flabbergasted myself, I would have done the same. Acting so rudely is so contrary to who I am and how I was raised, it just doesn't come natural for me to belittle someone, even when they darn well deserve it.
"all my "comebacks" come back hours later. :( Kinda loses the meaning of "comeback", eh?"I tried, as did a few others, to console her with comments. I felt helpless to do anything meaningful though, like my comments were ether. I am hoping that this post may enlighten just one person to realize that bad behavior is never acceptable, even with children. They may not outgrow it if they never are told it is wrong.
So here is the funny part of the story. Even in my parent support group, I feel like an outsider. I kind of feel like I float around the group, watching them, trying to intersect into their space. This is when I wonder if I have all along had some sort of social disorder - because even amongst "misfits" I don't fit. I talk too much at times, and am completely quiet at others, I don't say the right things. The kicker is that one of the mother's in our little group is on the spectrum herself, and even she does better socially than I do. I hope the people in my life recognize that I might not be the best in social situations, but I am trying and I do care. Too much probably.
The story above is just one story amongst many. Parents' hearts break everyday when their special needs children are mocked and the general public likely shrug it off. Wish their was an answer. Will the meek really inherit the Earth or do I need to take lessons in a little whoop-*ss talk so I can make sure to have my game on for when this happens to us?