Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover

Don’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover

By Amy Williams

Don’t judge a book by its cover. 

I silently repeat that phrase to myself a lot these days.

As I overhear parents in the checkout line at the grocery store, my heart breaks. I hear whispers, “If that were my kid…” or “I can’t believe that kid…” ricocheting down the aisles. On social media I see posts from my “friends” shaming other moms in regards to how a child was behaving in Target or at the local Applebee’s. I thought I had left this passive aggressive cruelty behind in middle school, but now suddenly I am aware of it again.

Over the past ten years, I have been working with a variety of children in public schools and daycares. I thought I had a solid foundation of understanding children and the different abilities and comprehension levels they display—or so I thought.

Twelve years ago, we were blessed when our family friends asked us to be their son’s godparents. Of course we said yes! This little guy is an extension of our family and fits right in with our biological sons. He is the sweetest and most compassionate child, and unlike my older boys, still wants to hold my hand on walks.

We love him.

But all this love has opened my eyes to another problem I was completely unaware of until the past few years. Around the first grade, we found out our godson has a mild form of autism. Previously, we had chalked up his behavior as a little temper, an artistic view of the world, or he’s just a child. He was found to be on the spectrum and began receiving services to help him overcome his nuances.

After his diagnosis, I was suddenly aware of how others judged him or his parents. I overheard mean comments about how he should not be allowed in a restaurant if all he was going to do was refuse to eat. What the people didn’t know was that he had begun to see a feeding specialist and was overcoming severe food aversions. That morning was a huge breakthrough for him, because he asked to try new food: a muffin at this particular eatery.

I sat with my friend enjoying a stolen minute sipping coffee, chatting, and deflecting mean glances from an elderly couple a table behind us. As our coffee turned tepid, we laughed and shared moments from our week. Our talk did take a serious turn, however, when my friend told me how her son had been complaining that kids were not nice to him.

Unfortunately, children with special needs are two to three times more likely to be victims of bullying than their peer counterparts, and cyberbullying is taking bullying to a whole new level. It is quickly reaching epidemic proportions, but it is especially prevalent among children. Research states that 87 percent of our youth have witnessed or experienced acts of cyberbullying. We can almost guarantee that our own children have encountered digital aggression at some point in their lives.

And my godson is no exception. It has been a few years since that morning in the cafe, but he now contends with mean remarks or phrases over games he frequently plays on his tablet or console. Often, he is unaware others are being cruel, he thinks they are being his friends and doesn’t understand the undertones of the names the bullies use. He just enjoys interacting with others.

Our friends addressed this issue with his teachers and taught him that some words are not okay to use and are not funny. He has been taught to handle his reactions through role playing, and now he gives very little reinforcement to bullying behaviors.

Even though the cyberbullying is improving for him, words still cause pain. Children with special needs might be targeted more often, but it is essential people try not to judge or shame others over appearances or behaviors. It is impossible to understand the battles someone is overcoming.

As parents, we are given the unique chance to lead by example and to be mindful of how we use words around our children. Our kids are watching us and following our cues. If we talk about a child in the grocery store or blast others on social media, we are contributing to the problem. The bullying cycle can end with us. By modeling kindness, our children will be able to turn over a new page.

What is one thing you will do to stop cyberbullying?

Author_Amy WilliamsAmy Williams is a journalist based in Southern California. As a mother of two, she has learned a lot of things the hard way, and hopes to use her experience as a parent to help other parents raise their children to be the best that they can be.

 

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 (tonyb4hope@yahoo.com) 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 www.tonyb4hope.com. 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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