**EDIT** Folks that know us in real life, please don’t mention this to your kids. I thought a lot about Zoo Keeper’s privacy before posting this and decided that bullying is something that needs light shone on it to wither and die. What I didn’t realize was the possibility that his friends would find out, by good intentions on their parents’ part, and they would treat Zoo Keeper differently. I don’t want that. What you can do, is talk to your kids about what bullying is and what to do if they witness or experience it.
It’s happening again and I’m just so very tired.
Zoo Keeper is being bullied at school. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The bullying has been going on for Zoo Keeper, in one form or another, since his first month of kindergarten. Before then, actually, but right now I’m just talking about incidents at his current school. He’s in third grade now, so we’re coming up on four years of bullies.
Just this past week, Zoo Keeper was called names and locked out of his classroom after an emergency drill. Ironically, the kid who helped him get into the classroom was his predominant bully earlier this year. The one who threatened to slice our dog’s head off and kill the rest of the family, leaving Zoo Keeper an orphan. My brain doesn’t really know what to do with that knowledge.
I had a talk with one of Zoo Keeper’s therapists on Friday that upset me enough that I decided to go to school with Zoo Keeper every day to sit next to him, protecting him with my presence. Because I haven’t been able to protect him with complaints to the school.
I wrote an email to the advocate I hired to help with his IEP (Individual Education Plan) asking her to edit my email to the school about bullying. She replied that it’s totally unacceptable that he’s experiencing bullying like this and there are legal protections we need to discuss. And that I shouldn’t have to sit in the classroom to keep him safe.
We discussed options on the phone this morning and she’s going to draft an email to the school tomorrow. She asked me to give her an idea of all the bullying Zoo Keeper has experienced, so I went through emails with the school dating back to September 2012, when he started kindergarten.
Here’s the first paragraph of email in response to her request:
He’s experienced bullying every year since preschool when he was 4. It generally takes the form of following him, mimicking him, excluding him, lying to him about how something bad (he’s going to die from his cough or have to go to the principal’s office…) is going to happen to him, pushing him, pulling him by his backpack, closing doors in his face, and calling him names. One year the name of choice was shrimp, right now it’s grandma.
Looking back through all those emails reminded me that I have been proactive about the bullying over the years. While it relieves me a little to see that I haven’t just ignored the problem, it infuriates me that my actions have not improved Zoo Keeper’s school experience at all. He thinks school means getting bullied and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
So I had a talk with Zoo Keeper. I told him that the advocate and I have been working on getting him a better IEP – and that an IEP is the document that tells the school what kind of things he needs to learn, like that he needs a fidget and a wobbly stool to sit on and his Neo. And that we realized that the bullying is the thing he needs to stop the most, the thing that’s keeping him from really learning at school, so we’re going to meet with the school to figure out what to do to make sure it stops this time. Because it’s been what’s normal for him and he needs to know that’s not okay and shouldn’t be the norm. He said that would be great.
I also told him that they might try switching him to another class first, to which he said that won’t work. I think because lots of this happens on the playground, so it doesn’t really matter which class when they’ll all be at recess together and he is well aware that there aren’t enough teachers out at recess to notice what’s really going on. I told him I agree that it won’t work, but the school may want us to try it anyway.
And he agreed to tell me when bullying happens so that we can tell the school and get them to really do something about it this time.
As the advocate and I finished up our phone conversation this morning, she asked if I felt any better. I told her the truth: no. I think I’ve been worn down by the lack of results almost as much as Zoo Keeper has and it’s hard to believe that anything will ever change.
I’m an autistic adult and I’m a bullying survivor. I have a website your son should visit every day. It has a message I call Affirmations for Bullying Victims and it’s specifically for people who are being bullied right now.
http://tiny.cc/afbv and it will redirect to a weebly.com domain. The page is simple so it can be printed. That way people can keep it in lockers, desks or folders and look at it whenever they need it. There’s also a link on the site that will take you to the story of my own bullying experiences.
It makes me so sick that the school is not doing anything to help him. It reminds me of my own experiences– I got blown off in high school when I reported a boy threatening to rape and murder me– (“Oh, he’s just being a boy!” is what I got.) –so I spent my entire teenage life terrified of this boy breaking into my house, slitting my throat and raping me in the middle of the night. I’m 35 now and the memory of that still makes me shudder.
Is there any way your son can keep a recording device in his pocket and turn it on when he goes out at recess? Maybe having undeniable recorded proof will get somebody’s butt in gear. Just make sure he doesn’t show it to anyone or tell the kids who bully him that he’s recording them because they may attack him to take the device and destroy it.
I’m sorry this is happening. Being autistic makes bullying suck a lot more because it’s like the bullies play “keep away” with social rules and nothing seems right in their eyes. Bullying almost drove me to suicide at 16 and I don’t want your son being thrown down that path either. I hope my message helps him.
Thank you for your message and the link, Cyndi. I’m so sorry you went through that, but I’m glad you found your way past it to a better place and are helping others find it, too. Your message is beautiful. I am autistic and was bullied, too, and I wish I’d had something like it growing up.
Playing keep away with social rules is a great analogy for it. One of the common tacks is to lie to ZK about something that’s going to happen to him. His reaction is funny to them, but devastating to him.
I’m so glad you didn’t commit suicide. I hope to get my son off that path soon.
this infuriates me to the level of berserker rage, just so you know.
I work in a rural high-poverty school with few resources but this IS NOT TOLERATED.I don’t mean that administration has to handle it or advocates and lawyers have to be invoked because the playground is patrolled (two teachers to every 80-100 kids) and the halls and bathrooms are monitored and any instance of bullying/exclusion/intimidation or the mean, nasty torments are addressed instantaneously and, dare i say, fiercely. I have two apology notes hanging on my classroom wall, one from August and one from September. They were the ONLY two instances of bullying in my class all year and they remain on display as a warning to others. The first incident occurred when “David” called “Macauley”, my student with autism, an unkind name. An entire week of privileges was taken away, apology note and a large quantity of extra spelling words were written, a meeting was held to focus on Macauley and how he felt and how amends could be made and what David could do differently next time. I then guaranteed the parents involved that the two would never be placed in a partner or group situation for classwork all year and I would make sure they sat nowhere near each other. I also still check up on them if they play legos at the same group in free time to ensure there is no aggression.
I target the unkindness with the teaching of empathy. Today, a young man who was experiencing some hyperactivity flung his pencil and it scratched a girl’s arm. I called them both to my desk, examined her scratch, expressed sympathy and handed him a box of bandaids. He stared at me.
“Unwrap a band aid. Put it on her arm gently. Tell her you’ll be more careful next time because you’re sorry she got hurt. Then throw away the wrapper and sit down,” i instructed. He rather diffidently applied the bandaid and softly apologized. #Winning
I hope things improve for ZK. It is NOT your fault. You are NOT the one failing him.
And this is why I wish you could be Zoo Keeper’s teacher. Every year.