October is when the world honors Breast Cancer Awareness, and as we paint the world pink for those 31 days, in the shadow lies another cause which deserves attention: National Bullying Prevention. In my opinion, both causes are equally important. Both have survivors and casualties. However, whereas we can’t necessarily prevent someone from developing breast cancer (btw, go get your boobs checked ladies), I do believe we can prevent bullying.
Whereas bullying has become a worldwide epidemic, for now, I will only focus on what is happening in our own back yard. As I geared up to write this story, I did some research and dug out these haunting stats:
And I was personally gut-punched after digesting this frightening stat:
So, if statistics prove accurate, there is a likelihood that Kellan will be an easy target for a school bully. [Breathe, Janis, Breathe]
Now, while my son has not been bullied yet, I have witnessed situations that served as a warning.
As many readers know, last month I took my son on his first trip to Disney World (it went great by the way – thanks for the good vibes – they worked). While at the hotel pool, I saw something that didn’t sit well with me, something that made me get up from my seat and pay closer attention.
Kellan doesn’t know how to swim (even after four years of aquatic therapy). He has a fear of water yet loves it at the same time. He chooses to stay in the pool’s shallow end. As luck would have it, this hotel had a wading pool with fountains spraying water and two small slides. Kellan was hesitant at first to go down the slides. Day after day, he intently watched other kids slip-sliding away, and by day 3, he eventually made his way up the steps to the slide. When he got to the top of the slide, he sat there and cautiously anticipated his plunge. This caused a line-up behind him, with littles wondering why he wasn’t fearlessly sliding down on a whim. I heard many kids yell at Kellan to go down the slide, a few that squeezed in beside him and slid down before him. And then appeared this one kid, he was older than the rest, who decided to yell at Kellan, calling him ‘stupid’ and proceeded to push him down the slide. So, as you might imagine, the mama bear in me instantly turned into a grizzly. I got up, ran over to make sure Kellan was ok, and before I could pull him out of the water, the same kid that pushed him, came barreling down the slide, crashing into Kellan. I pulled Kellan out of the water, and asked this child if he can point to where his parents were sitting.
Kid: “my parents are at the other pool” (there are three pools in this hotel complex)
Me: “so, you’re here alone?”
Me: “how old are you”?
In a normal world, I would have called forth my scary-mommy voice and told this kid to stop pushing and being mean. But unfortunately, times have changed, and kids sometimes misinterpret an adult reprimanding them over something they have done wrong. And well, I am a single mom, with no other parent as a witness and I can’t go to jail. So, instead, I went to look for a pool employee, told them the story and had them reprimand the kid.
Soon thereafter, I pulled Kellan aside and asked him what happened. He couldn’t tell me. Not because he was affected by it, but more because he lacks in pragmatic language (knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to say it). Therefore, he can’t really communicate if he’s been hurt, if someone bothered him, or if he’s sad about something that happened. I am not quite sure he knows himself well enough to understand what he’s feeling and how best to convey it. As a parent, living in a world where bullying is on the rise, this is a certain kind of hell. My child not being able to tell me, his mom, his protector, that he’s being bullied – or even bothered for that matter, is what truly keeps me up at night.
As it often appears, young people who are perceived as different from their peers are often at risk of being bullied. My kid is different. Kellan most definitely stands out among a crowd of neurotypicals. And there are those kids that see a kid like mine as an opportunity to pounce and cause pain. Research has proven that the inner-workings of a bully is comprised of insecurity and pain. They transfer that pain on to others to feel better about themselves. They pick on the kids who can’t typically fight back, so they appear bigger, cooler, stronger, better, etc.
With that said, we can’t place total blame on the bully. We have to look at the home and environment in which the bully is being raised. Typically, bullying is bred at home. Bullying is learned. Now, some of you may disagree with me, and that’s fine…but professionally, I have done extensive research on the topic, and while living in LA, I was a board member of a Bullying Prevention organization called Champions Against Bullying. Therefore, I know that there’s some evidence to prove my point. Bullying manifests from a single or multiple source where a child is listening and watching. At home, a babysitter’s house, school, TV, online, our public figures and leaders, and out in the world. What we forget is that our children are little sponges, with no ability to filter for themselves what they should take in or throw out. That’s where the parents come in. If the parents are not bully’s themselves, then it’s their responsibility to educate their children about bullying, laying down some rules and repercussions in and outside the home, and empowering their children to advocate for those they may observe being bullied (if they see something, say something). However, if the child is observing bullying played out in the home, well then, the kid doesn’t have a fighting chance. As I have said once in a past blog, and I will say it again here, “Assholes often times raise little assholes”.
So, what does a parent of a child with autism do with this knowledge and information? I prepare as best I can and gear-up for that 63% chance of my son being bullied.
When I get anxiety-ridden, I write. So, I write A LOT about this. I have journals dedicated to this topic alone. I looked back on some of them when I knew I was going to blog on this topic, and I found this:
A Letter To My Son’s Future Bully
There’s so much going through my mind right now…mostly a cascade of whys, but I will focus on the most obvious and important question of them all. And maybe after reading my letter, you’ll have an answer to this question. Maybe you will gain a better understanding of what you’re doing to an innocent kid and why you’re doing it.
Here’s my question for you: why do you feel the need to pick on anyone, never mind someone who can’t properly defend himself?
My son has Autism, which you may or may not know. I don’t want to assume you do, so I want to take this time to share with you what Autism is. Autism is a brain disorder my son was born with. Basically, his brain works differently than yours and mine. Let me give you an example…let’s just say you’re good at reading and basketball, but struggle with math and playing an instrument. Well, that is because your brain is wired to be good at reading and basketball but challenged when it comes to math and playing a musical instrument. My son’s brain is also wired a certain way. He is really good at remembering the words to shows or video games, really good at showing excitement (by flapping his hands), yet he’s challenged when controlling his emotions at times or understanding language. His brain just works differently. That doesn’t make him bad or weird, or broken…he’s just different. Just like you’re different. Different is good. Different means we’re unique and stand out from the rest. Some of the most successful leaders and inventors in history were different. Some of the most talented people are different. For instance, did you know Magic Johnson was dyslexic? That made him different, yet he went on to become the world’s greatest basketball player. What makes you different is your superpower, kiddo. Speaking of superpowers, look at Iron Man, he had a defective heart but didn’t let that stop him. He went on to be the smartest and strongest superhero that ever existed.
The point I am trying to make here is, we all have something different about us – and that shouldn’t be looked at as weird or something to make fun of. It’s not something you should make someone feel bad about. Being different should be celebrated. Different is cool.
Listen, you don’t have to like my son, but you do have to respect him, much like you would a superhero – because that’s just what he is to me and everyone who takes the time to get to know him.
Choose to be kind, kid…for kindness is up the ultimate superpower.
Ms. Gaudelli (Kellan’s Mom)
Janis Gaudelli is The Founder of The Daily Feels. She started this passion project to reveal the magic behind storytelling, and how truth-based narratives bring people together in the most heart-warming of ways. Fascinated by soul, depth, intellect, raw truths and rebellion with a cause. Often captivated by the awe of nature: star gazing, moon manifesting, sunset chasing, waves crashing, crickets singing. Fiercely curious about the inner-workings of the human psyche… she professionally studies human behavior for a living. Forever proud and grateful for being a mom to the force that fuels her life: her 7-year-old son, and greatest professor, Kellan.