Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

2 Simple Ways You Can Teach Your Teen How To Respond To Bullying

A version of this article was originally published at

A colleague of mine asked for tips on how to help her young son who has Autism deal with bullying at school. She asked, “What more can I do?” Given that the question was asked on my Facebook page, I needed to reply with brevity. I thought the same answer might be beneficial here. In my martial arts class, there are two things that I focus on that are so simple, yet so profound in importance. Bullying prevention requires us to teach youth how NOT to be a victim.

Teach About Body Language

1. Body language. Teaching children to walk with confidence, head held high – but not too high, shoulders back, strong steps – don’t shuffle – are important in conveying an image of confidence. If you look more confident, you are less likely to be teased. I will literally role-play how to walk. If I have kids who shuffle into position in class, I use it as a teachable moment. No form or kata is more important than teaching a youth how to walk with confidence.

Teach What To Say and How To Say It

2. Teach verbal self-defense skills. What can (s)he say and how should (s)he react to put-downs, refusal to allow him to join a game, etc. Even if children “ignore” bullying by saying nothing, often their body language gives away their power because they “show” they are hurt or dejected. So, teach youth some safe responses and role-play how to say the words with confidence and a calm neutral tone.
Here are some examples of what youth might use as responses to bullying language:

Comebacks that don’t escalate the conflict

  • I see.
  • Thank you for letting me know how you feel.
  • Perhaps you are right.
  • I hear you.
  • Ouch! (Cues the other person that they are being hurtful. Sometimes they don’t realize.)
  • I can see this upsets you.
  • I’m sorry you were hurt. That was not my intent.
  • Be careful to stress the importance of tone of voice. Sarcasm can take the most innocuous words and turn them into inflammatory remarks.

What is your experience? What do you advice parents and teachers teach their children about bullying prevention?

Photo Credit: David Goehring/Flickr

Susan Fitzell, M. Ed, CSP, is a nationally recognized presenter, author of nine books for teachers, trainers, and parents, an educational consultant, and CEO of Aim Hi Educational Programs, LLC. As an independent consultant and coach, Susan offers the personalization, continuity, and consistency necessary for true change in any organization. She works side by side with teachers, school administrators, and business leaders as a coach and trainer, employing Brain Power strategies that take learning to the next level.


Bullying is a Culture Problem

Bullying Is A Culture Problem

Bullying on Instituto Regional Federico Errázuriz (IRFE) in March 5, 2007” by Diego GrezOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons./”Rebecca1917version“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

By Torrie Dunlap

Back in the mid-90s, I ran a scholarship program for high school students. This was an annual program of the theater education company where I worked, and it was always one of the highlights of my year. I loved helping students with their applications and teaching them interview skills. As I sat through the interview with each student, I was always surprised to hear things like, “When I come to this program I feel like I can be myself. When I go to school I feel oppressed.” Or, “This place is my safe place.” These were talented, smart young people who were bound to be successful in life. But they all had stories of being picked on, bullied and tormented in settings they deemed “unsafe.” This is when it occurred to me that bullying is a culture and climate problem.

McCarthy’s Son Was Bullied at Camp

Recently, Jenny McCarthy shared on her TV show, The View, that her 12-year-old son Evan, who has autism, was being bullied at his summer camp. While Ms. McCarthy’s views on autism and its cause are not in line with our own at KIT, bullying is a serious problem and there is a small body of research that shows that kids with disabilities are experiencing it two to three times as often as kids without disabilities. As Ms. McCarthy mentioned to her colleagues on the show, because Evan has autism, he isn’t picking up on the social cues that would let him know that he is being bullied. He believes these tormentors are his friends.

There is a lot of work being done by a lot of great organizations to try and eradicate bullying.  Just a Google search of “bullying” yields over 25 million results which provide the best strategies for teaching children to be self-advocates and for teaching children who bully a better way to get their needs met. However, in some ways these efforts are a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. We can try to identify every child who bullies, and we can coach children who are being bullied to stand up for themselves, and that will help a little. But, in order to truly make a dent in the bullying problem and its detrimental effects on the lives of our children, we have to work at a higher level.

Bullying is a Culture Problem

We need to see bullying as a culture problem. If our school, camp, and community leaders are intentionally creating climates where every person is valued for who they are and what they have to offer, we eliminate the need to bully. In an inclusive community that respects and appreciates diversity, people don’t put down the weakest member in order to feel better about themselves. Inclusive communities serve the needs of everyone in the group, and because members know they are safe, they take care of others. The members of the group feel a strong sense of belonging and there is a pride in community that is palpable. Children with autism, like Evan, can thrive in a setting that truly appreciates difference. They can find and develop true, reciprocal friendships. A supportive team of adults helps all the children and youth learn to build their social skills and learn to solve problems with others in a productive way.

A culture like this has to start at the top. Bullying is really an imbalance of power, and leaders need to work to make sure that this imbalance does not exist. It starts with how the adults treat each other. Children are very sensitive to dynamics and they will pick up on the imbalance of power at the adult level. If bullying is tolerated among the staff, it is pretty hard to tamp it down at the child level. All of the adults should be modeling good conflict resolution skills, healthy release of emotion and appreciation and acceptance for everyone in the program community.

Staff working with children need to reflect on the messages they are sending through their own behavior. Are there clear favorites in the group? Are there children that they are not so fond of and it shows?  Are the cultural values of the program made explicit from the very beginning? Have the values been shared with not only the children, but also their families, since differences in family values can play a role and can undermine program efforts to create a positive environment?

What Can Adults Do About Bullying?

As adults, it is our job to make our schools, camps and enrichment programs a physically and emotionally safe place for kids. We set the tone by creating a climate where everyone’s contributions are important and we model appropriate behavior for the children in our care. In giving advice to Ms. McCarthy, or any other parent, I suggest getting a feel for the culture and climate of the program before enrolling. If a bullying incident does occur I would watch closely how the staff responds. Finally, I would make sure that the program staff are actively working on building the social skills of all children in the program. Once bullying occurs, swift action should be taken. I believe, however, that we can do a better job of prevention by being very intentional and explicit in creating safe and supportive environments for all children.

torrie dunlapTorrie Dunlap is the Chief Executive Officer of Kids Included Together, a national organization whose mission is to support child care, recreation and youth-enrichment programs to include children with and without disabilities.

Teachers Are Essential to Facilitating Friendships in the Classroom

Teachers Are Essential to Facilitating Friendships in the Classroom

Our friend Nicole Eredics wrote a fabulous piece about teachers being essential in facilitating friendships for the Friendship Circle Blog. Check it out!

4 Tips to Facilitate Friendships in the Inclusive Classroom

“Friendships are an important foundation in the inclusive classroom.  Aside from beingphysically included in the curriculum and day-to-day activities, a child with special needs also needs to genuinely feel included. This feeling of inclusion stems from a sense of belonging and relating to other children in the class. The sense of emotional well-being and stability derived from friendships allows students to be more receptive and open to learning new concepts as suggested by recent research in the field of neuroscience.

Teachers have an essential role in creating and maintaining the friendships amongst the students in the inclusive classroom. This can be done in several different ways…” TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

Do you have any other tips to add to this list? Tell us about them in the comments section below!
Friendship Circle Blog

How I Taught My 27 Year Old Autistic (ASD) Son to Handle Bullies in the Work Place


By Kathy Porter

A version of this article was originally published on Medium.

He arrives at the animal shelter where he works 15 minutes before the early morning shift starts. Punching his time card, he walks down the hallway toward the dog kennels.

“Where have you been?” she gets up in his face and yells. “You were supposed to be here an hour ago!”

She is a 62 year old co-worker.

He is my 27 year old, autistic (ASD) son.

When he quietly explains that no one told him to report at 7AM; that his scheduled start time on Saturdays is 8AM, she stomps off. Only to repeat her performance the following Saturday.

Off-the-cuff conversation is challenging for my son. When someone verbally bullies him, he doesn’t know what to spontaneously reply to protect himself.

Unless he’s coached.

The key is to use non-threatening language that addresses what’s been said without verbally attacking the speaker; to find a “one size fits all” reply that takes care of every single, rude comment that might (thoughtlessly or deliberately) come up in the work place.

Are you ready?

Here it comes.

“Your language is unprofessional and I don’t appreciate being talked to that way.”

I pulled the phrase “professional language,” out of the six years my son attended Hope Hall, a private school for children who might otherwise fall through the cracks; a school for kids like mine diagnosed with learning disabilities cobbled to auditory processing delays, to list just a few of the buzz words in vogue more than 20 years ago.

The school’s founder and executive director was (and still is) an amazing woman named Sister Diana.

“Use your professional words,” she always said to her students. This was her loving battle cry against hurtful words that kids say without thinking.

She also said, “Don’t let other people take away your power.” She meant, don’t let other people take away your self-worth.

Self-worth’s a tricky thing regardless of where you fall on the (human) developmental scale, especially if communication is problematic for you. Which it can be for my son.


Despite the fact that he struggles with the nuances of language: the interplay of layered, active conversations between two or four or more people that almost never follow a straight line, soaring, instead, like kites caught in an updraft of spring thermals, swooping down then back up . . .

Each dip and sway spins that initial conversation, morphs it into a thousand different meanings.

Or so (I believe) it must seem to him.

Imagine tossing a handful of pennies into the air, tracking their splattered fall to the ground. Which one does he follow so that when his turn comes to speak, his reply makes sense?

For my son, it doesn’t matter which penny he tracks. If he’s having a conversation with two or more people, unless he has someone to guide him, he’ll lose his way.


Despite the fact that he struggles with the nuances of language, he knows when he’s the butt of someone’s rudeness. What he doesn’t have is the verbal quickness to defuse it.

At that moment.

And so, he rehearsed after a brainstorming session where we put our heads together to come up with a phrase that was fool proof; that he could say back to anyone at work who insulted him; a phrase that he could take all the way to the HR department (with impunity) if one of his co-workers reported him.

Which almost happened when he (finally) screwed up his courage and used it for the third and last time one afternoon as he

and that 62 year old, part time employee worked together in the kitchen. As she opened her mouth to say something, my son verbally cut her off.

Looking her in the eye, he quietly, firmly told her that almost every time she spoke to him, she used unprofessional words and, he didn’t appreciate being talked to like that.

Then he watched her jaw drop.

I don’t know for sure (because I wasn’t there) but, I’ll bet he smiled as he walked away.

Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley

Hensel_PRrKathy H Porter is a freelance writer, author and head cheerleader for her amazing son. She grabs inspiration from a background that includes 14 years of business experience and 17 years as an educator. Her latest project? Crafting work-related “explaining scripts” for autistic adults. Join her newsletter to find out when her next article will be published and to discover more useful on-the-job strategies for autistic adults. Follow her on Twitter: @kathyhporter

4 Strategies for Parenting Children with Special Needs in a Digital World

parenting special needs

It seems that everywhere we turn, there is another article written about children and their use of social media. Conversations swirl about what we, as parents, should or shouldn’t let our children do and see. It’s challenging, to be sure, and we worry about our kids. We worry about what seems to be their inability to sustain real conversations. We worry about their use of correct grammar, spelling and punctuation in a world that increasingly recognizes texts and tweets as valid forms of communication. And we worry that this digital world is not preparing our children to have significant and lasting social relationships.

To complicate matters further, most parents are “digital immigrants” (people who were born before the existence and/or widespread adoption of digital technologies) raising “digital natives” (people who have known such technologies since birth). Many of us are doing our best to immerse ourselves in the online world so that we can guide our children through its complexities; but we are learning as we go, and the world continues to change rapidly.

So what happens when you add a child’s learning issues or disabilities into this mix?

 A fifteen-year-old young man with Aspergers syndrome shared with me that Facebook helped him to improve his social skills. This platform eliminated the challenges that he faces in trying to read facial expressions or body language and it gives him the time needed to think through an appropriate response. (Interesting, this is the exact reason why he does NOT like the fast pace of Twitter.) Facebook allows him to engage at his own pace, reducing his anxiety and enabling him to enjoy the benefits of social relationships, a challenging arena for many children and teens with autism spectrum disorders.  

It’s fascinating to consider that the very tools which we worry will interfere with our children’s ability to develop interpersonal relationships may, in fact, help those who otherwise struggle in conventional social settings. There are many other advantages, too. However, we must be prepared to guide our children’s use of social media thoughtfully and intentionally.

1. Diligently monitor content

All children need supervision; no matter their age, no matter their need. I learned some great advice from a veteran teacher: “This is middle school. You may think your children are ready to be independent, but they need you now more than ever. Resist the urge to let them go.” This applies all the more to social media. Know where your kids are, who they are interacting with and do not be afraid to connect with them in these same spaces. You are still the parent. You are not spying.  It is your responsibility to watch your children.

2.  Make your children aware of dangers

Talk to your children about online predators. Talk to them about online bullying.  Open the lines of communication. Encourage them to talk to you about anything suspicious they encounter and do not be afraid to cut them off if you notice something inappropriate. You are still the parent. It is your responsibility to watch your children.

3.  Set limits

Even if these tools help your child to socialize and/or build relationships, it is not healthy to spend hours upon hours a day staring at a screen.  Just as you might limit the amount of television your child watches or the amount of video games he or she plays, you should also establish limits on the use of social media. It’s ok, you are still the parent.

4. Trust your gut

You know your child best. If something feels off, it probably is.  Trust your instincts and don’t second-guess yourself. You have to decide if an online presence is safe and beneficial for your child. And you have to decide when it ceases to be. You are your child’s greatest advocate and it is your responsibility to guide, support and teach your child to advocate for him or herself.  If social media can help, use it.  If not, avoid it. You are still the parent.

Photo Credit: Paul Walsh

Do you have any suggestions to this list? Tell us about them in the comments section below!

Anti-Bullying from the Parent’s Perspective

No-Bullying 2

A mom and/or dad concerned about bullying at local schools should know she and/or he can take action to help resolve said issues. On Thursday we at Think Inclusive published insights from anti-bullying speaker Tony Bartoli regarding how educators can work to promote an anti-bullying message (“Anti-Bullying from the Teacher’s Perspective”). Today we examine Bartoli’s advice for parents.

Anti-bullying strategies for parentsBuilding Community

Asked how parents could work to prevent bullying Tony Bartoli stated “Parents can develop support groups and community activities that foster bullying awareness.” He added “Definitely try to involve the school,” warning against inadvertently developing an atmosphere pitting parents versus educators and administrators.

Bartoli certainly sees bullying awareness as a communal endeavor. “Bullying has to be something that is addressed from at times all hands on deck approach, to where parents can connect with other parents. Schools can connect with other schools.”

When building community Bartoli reminds to not forget about the relationship closest to you. “Parents, communicate with your son or daughter. What you do is set the tone ahead of time that we understand bullying is a big issue.” Communication proves vital. “Keep the communication line open. (Say to your child) ‘If you’re getting bullied in school in any way come talk to me because I’m going to do what I can.’”

Doing What You Can

Parents maintain different choices to assist remedying bullying. Bartoli strongly recommended meeting your child up at the school and talking to the administration, “Meet with your son or daughter going to the school and meeting with some of the people in the administration. Say ‘I don’t know if we’ve all heard about this, but I have this situation with my son or daughter that’s very personal to me. Now I want to find out what our next steps are.’”

Beyond the school hierarchy you can leverage the anti-bullying community you built. “What parents can do is communicate with each other, brainstorm, and get ideas. Approach the school.” He expanded on the term “ideas.” “That’s a very big word right there, small in letters but big in effect- ideas. Have ideas flow back and forth from parents.”

Upon anti-bullying ideas coming to fruition, consider sending inquiries to the media. “Approach local media, it may even be just the small community paper. Say ‘We’re parents who want to have our voices heard. We’ve developed this program.’” A little publicity can go a long way.

Reaching Your Last Resort

Unfortunately sometimes you may encounter resistance in your efforts. Perhaps an administrator constantly dismisses your concerns. In such a scenario Bartoli suggests taking your worries to the next level on the school hierarchy. “I say this as a last resort but more parents are doing this, making their voices heard at the local level at the school board meetings.”

He advised “Do it in a constructive way but do it in a way that will address the issue and do it factually.” One way includes sharing specific instances. If that fails, Bartoli brought back up the media. “Go to local media outlets and do what you can to report this to local news stations. They might not do the story but they might.”

The final last resort involves changing schools. Bartoli recalled a mother who ended up taking said action. “She pulled her eighth grade daughter out because the bullying was relentless and she had already gone to the school board.” The mother told Bartoli the breaking point. “She said kids were kicking crutches out from under her (daughter). She said ‘No way! Tony these students need to learn empathy.’”

A Final Plea from Tony Bartoli

Tony Bartoli ended our interview with a plea to not just parents but all adults involved in education. “Teachers, parents, schools, administrators, local school boards, listen because it’s out there and if we just shut down or say that our way is the best way, these kids are going to shut down. We don’t want that.”

For more about Tony Bartoli visit

*Image courtesy of Christopher Hayes, Wikimedia Commons

Anti-Bullying from the Educator’s Perspective

No Bullying

Often times anti-bullying efforts focus on students but educators and parents can also play a role in stopping bullying or better yet, preventing bullying. To find out exactly how educators and parents may do this, Think Inclusive recently chatted with anti-bullying speaker Tony Bartoli. Between his personal experience and a decade on the speaking circuit, Bartoli contains many strategies to confront the issue.

Today, Think Inclusive presents anti-bullying strategies for educators to implement. Come back Monday to read Bartoli’s suggested strategies parents could utilize.

Physical Bullying

Emotionalism can help a teacher differentiate between horseplay and bullying.

Recognizing Bullying

A major hurdle to stopping or preventing bullying remains recognizing bullying behavior. Certain instances could get mistaken as horseplay. Asked what signs indicate a bullying situation, Tony Bartoli first discussed defining bullying. “What is bullying? I do a talk about the verbal, the emotional, the cyberbullying especially, and the physical.”

He noted though, “Most definitions agree that bullying is repetitive in the way it is done.” Besides the repetitive nature Bartoli said “I think if they see the raising of the tone in voice or the emotionalism that is involved.” Also he mentioned size. “Look for students that are bigger, say it’s a group of bigger students ganging up on a smaller student.”

Moving to bullying in general, classroom demeanor possibly reveals victims. “In the classroom teachers can be able to tell by slipping grades or isolation. A student, maybe they like to sit close up front in the class, now they want to sit closer to the back or the corner or a student who doesn’t want to get involved in the class.”

Taking Action

Anti-bullying requires action. However, sometimes a teacher might feel helpless. Stated Bartoli “I think it is important for teachers to work to move away from ‘our hands are tied’ concern.” Standardized testing could feed into a teacher’s helpless sentiments.

“This is where you get our whole ‘hands are tied’ kind of thing, because they have to teach ‘x’ amount of material too. They’re concerned about the state exams. Their (students) got to pass the written exams.” Squeezing the anti-bullying topic into the curriculum might prove worthwhile still, because unaddressed, bullying can lead to suicide.

Incorporating anti-bullying messages into the classroom doesn’t require extravagant measures. Bartoli recommends, “Create a classroom atmosphere on preventing bullying.” He expanded on how to do so. “I think to have teachers to have something in the classroom upfront about bullying that students see. Make something visual or at least mention it from time to time.”

Promoting Anti-Bullying

Over the years educators demonstrate to Bartoli the ways they promote a bully-free environment. “Teachers show me what they’ve been doing in their classrooms. Whether it’s defining bullying and having it across the front of the classroom or they have a couple of posters out there that they made or that students made about bullying, what it is, and how it affects students.”

Another way teachers can promote anti-bullying revolves around a trend Bartoli noticed the past few years, students showing eagerness to stop/prevent bullying. He advises educators encourage such attitudes. “Teachers foster that creativity in students and encourage students that ‘I’d like to see you start something, some kind of leadership or bullying awareness club.’”

Emailing Tony Bartoli ( to inquire about his speaking services stands one way interested students can begin taking a stand. Bartoli possesses a real life story which engages. Bullies found Bartoli an easy target growing up because Bartoli walks differently due to cerebral palsy. His story provides students currently bullied the ability to relate and draws sympathy out from the bullies.

Learn more about Tony Bartoli by visiting Check back Monday for Bartoli’s suggested anti-bullying strategies parents can utilize.

*Photo above courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Pluscassandra

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