Tomorrow is the first day of school. Parents around the country are jumping for joy, and truly, on this day, teachers and schools are probably given the appreciation they deserve. Some parents, however, worry about and dread this day. Will their child be bullied? Who will keep him or her safe? What can be done to protect their child?

If I had the answer, I'd be a famous lecturer or best-selling author, traveling world-wide. I don't. I'm just a mom. However, after reflecting on two events that have occurred in the last week, I've come up with some ideas that I think could help.

Troy is going to be baptized soon. In order to schedule the date, he and I had to attend a class together at the church. They needed to make sure that he understood what the act meant and that he was truly ready.

[Side note: If you are new here, Troy has a variety of special needs. The most notable are autism and ADHD. He does not wear a t-shirt announcing this, and I do not make it a habit of announcing it everywhere we go.]


There was a table that the children were directed to sit around. The parents sat in chairs, circling the table, so we could all listen in to the conversation. There were two adult leaders, and they took turns talking to the children about Jesus, the reason for baptism, and what would happen when they were baptized.


There were probably about twelve or thirteen children there. Troy stood out from every other child there. First, he couldn't sit still. He fidgeted and twisted around in his chair constantly. He also would play with his hands and raise his arms into the air wildly. He seemed like he was paying zero attention. Then, he began to pick his nose. Over and over again.

I was not sitting near him. There were about three parents closer to him than I. I considered getting up and walking over to him to try to get him to stop, but I feared that it would have disrupted the serious conversation at the table. So, I didn't.

However, as I watched him, I couldn't help but notice other parents watch him, too. One mother, in particular, did not even attempt to hide her disgust. She could not take her eyes off of my son. She sat up really tall in her chair, her mouth was pursed, and her eyebrows were raised. She twisted, uncomfortably, in her seat. I kept watching her, hoping she would look at me so I could give her a smile or a nod. She never did.
My son had her transfixed. She would turn her attention to her child for a moment, but then, the judgmental body language began again.

You have no idea the relief I had when the table discussion ended, and we were charged with a parent/child assignment. I sanitized Troy's hands and had a quiet discussion with him about not picking his nose. He told me that he just couldn't help it. I explained that it is gross and not polite and that he has to try not to do it. Then, we did our assignment.

As we drove home, I asked him a few questions about the things that had been discussed in the class. He was able to answer every single one. EVERY single one! When I was sure he wasn't paying attention, I was wrong.

Anyway, I was fuming about that woman and the way she had looked at my son. Really, really fuming. I told my family about it. I told my co-workers about it. I was so hurt and angry.
I realize that this is not very mature, but I'm being honest. I was judging her for judging my son.

Days passed, and the fuming lessened. It's been in the back of my head, and I've planned about three different blog posts in my head about it over the past week, but as things do, it has sort of faded.

Today, it reentered my mind.

After church, we went to a shoe store for back-to-school shoes. Laura was sitting on the floor, shoes all around her, and a mother and her adorable daughter walked in. They came toward us. The girl was around five-years-old and was disabled. She wore braces on both feet, she was grinding her teeth, and she waved her rubber toy wildly. The mom and I exchanged some pleasantries and small talk about school shoes shopping, and her daughter stood to the side, occupied with her toy. Evidently, the mother decided to try another size, and she walked to the next aisle, about three feet away.

After they walked away, Laura looked at me with a disgusted look and said, "What a silly child!" It was not the fun sort of silly that she meant--she meant it as a very negative thing. I shot her the mom-look. You know the one. It must have been pretty intense because she immediately apologized.

I did not lecture her there in the shoe store because I was hoping and praying that the mother and child did not hear her comment. I did not want to call attention to it and possibly upset them.
I saved the lecturing for the car. Trust me--she got a lecture. I hope that she will be more sensitive and polite in the future.

What do these two events have in common? And what on earth do they have
to do with bullying?

The adults are the common link in the stories. Do you remember how many children I said were at the baptism meeting? About a dozen. All were there with parents. How many parents showed absolute horror over my son's behavior? ONE. The adults sitting with him at the table didn't bat an eye. 99% of the parents in the room didn't act like they wanted to vomit. And guess how many of the children were mean to him or stared at him. Zero. Not one single child at that table, not even the ones sitting right next to him, paid him any attention.

When I thought about that today, thought about the fact that I was focusing on one person's actions and ignoring the fact that the rest of the room was treating him as he deserved--I felt a bit silly to tell you the truth. However, it also really drove home the power just one cruel person can have.


Today, in the shoe store, when my daughter was insensitive to a child with special needs, I addressed it with her.
No, I can't promise you that she will never make a flippant remark again, but I can promise that I will continue to work to make her understand how wrong it is to treat others like that.

Bullying is a difficult issue. Troy was not bullied the other day, and the little girl in the store was not bullied today. They were not treated with respect and understanding though, and I think that those are the underlying issues when it comes to bullying.

Teachers and staff at schools care for students, and they do everything in their power to keep every single student safe. However, they can't do it all.

So, I have four requests for you:

1. Talk to the kids in your life. Explain to them the importance of treating other people with kindness and compassion. Encourage them to speak up for those who are unable to stick up for themselves. Ask them not to bully.

2. Model appropriate behavior. When you witness a child in the middle of a meltdown, being pushed in a wheelchair, or even, gasp!, picking his nose in a baptism class, instead of snide remarks or rolled eyes, why don't you offer to help? You could try to distract the child, hold open a door, or offer a tissue.

3. Be willing to discipline bad behavior. If you do find out or witness your child being unkind, please, please, please do not let it go. Act on it immediately, and use it as a teaching opportunity for future behavior.


4. Help your child see beyond the bully. If your child comes home and is sad because someone has been cruel to him or her, sympathize and comfort him or her. Also-try to get the child to see beyond that cruel person. For over a week, I let the anger I had for one woman's actions blind me from the fact that there was a room full of people who were being kind.


Will these requests cure bullying? I know they won't. However, I do believe they can help.
We are all in this together, and truly, although it's cliche', it takes a village.

Have a great school year!

 
 
A family member reached out to me this morning for some advice. She has a daughter very much like my own. She is about five-years-old (still in pre-school) with a mood/behavior disorder and high functioning autism. 

Last night, my family member took her daughter to her first soccer practice. Shortly after arriving, she had a melt-down. It was not as severe as some, but she was quite loud, and she did do some flapping. In the midst of this, my family member heard another parent remark, "Oh, we have one of those on our team." You read that right, one of those. My family member did not react to the hateful words, choosing to just get out of there as quickly as possible.

I was livid! And heartbroken for my family members.

I was at work, and so, I shared the story with some of my co-workers as we were leaving for lunch. I was certain they would all be as furious as I.

Some weren't. Some said they would have probably made the same remark. They said they wouldn't just say something like that if a child was having a meltdown though. They would also say it if a child was exhibiting poor skills on the field or didn't want to get dirty. Or any number of reasons. I questioned them, asking, "You would seriously put down a five-year-old in front of the child and/or his or her parent?" 

The answer was yes. 

I could feel my eyes fill with tears, and I had to stop talking. The subject was changed, and we carried on with our lunch plans.

But I was hurt. And very, very sad.

After lunch, one of my co-workers asked me if I had been upset by their comments, and I, generally very non-confrontational in nature, said, "Yes, very." We discussed the issues a bit more. 

I told her that the conversation at lunch had solidified my resolve to keep fighting for awareness and acceptance of children with special needs. She asked, with genuine curiosity, what awareness and acceptance could do for kids like mine. I told her that I am hopeful that these children will be treated with kindness, compassion, patience, and understanding. I told her that children emulate what their parents do and say, and if a parent feels that it is acceptable to say something negative to or about a child that is different than his or her own, his or her child will grow up doing the same thing. 

I don't think our conversation changed her mind on the topic. I do appreciate her willingness to listen to me though. I know that she did not want me to be upset; we just have a difference of opinion.

It's funny though...a couple of days ago, I was sent information about the Dallas Stars having a charity night with free tickets for families with special needs children. I told the girl who sent me the information that I was so grateful that awareness of families like mine has led to companies reaching out and offering special opportunities to experience events that they never would have before. And it is true. Movie theaters often hold special viewings for kids with autism or sensory processing disorders. Museums have special events for kids with autism. A local organization held special Santa visits away from the hustle and bustle of the mall this past Christmas. The list goes on and on. 

Awareness is spreading.  Acceptance though? I think we have a long way to go. And for that reason, for my children, for the millions of special children and families out there, I will not give up.

Today, I learned that I must keep fighting.
 
 

    The official release date of Why Won't He Look At Me?  is in mid-December. However, I was able to purchase copies of my book from the publisher early. 
    The shipment arrived yesterday, which was quite the surreal experience.  Tom e-mailed me the picture above when the package arrived.  I could feel my heart flutter and my stomach drop as I stared at the image.
    I put a message on Facebook to let people know that the book is now available! The response was emotionally overwhelming.  I was so touched that so many people placed orders. I was humbled at the number of people who bought several copies. 
    I stayed up until 12:30 a.m. to sign and package the first book orders. 
The climax of this long, publishing process hit today when the first several orders were mailed out.
    With those first mailed packages, it is starting to sink in that there is nothing more I can do to the book. It is finished. It is out there. There is NO turning back. 
    I am terrified, absolutely terrified that people will hate it.  When I confided my fear to some co-workers this morning, one remarked, "Haters gonna hate!" It cracked us all up. I've thought about it throughout the day though. It's true. I'm sure there will be some who will not like the book, and I can't do anything about that.
    My fears and worry are not going to stop me.  My hope for the book's impact is stronger, much stronger than any trepidation. 
    So, with a prayerful, hopeful spirit, I'm releasing the book to all of you and the children you will share it with. I hope it helps to open dialogue between children and you, their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, caregivers, teachers, or counselors.  I hope it creates opportunities for children to ask questions.  Empowered by their new-found knowledge, it is my fervent hope that this will lead to your children being accepting and kind to their friends and family who have autism.

    Thank you for helping to make this dream a possibility.
   


 
 
    I have been asked several times why I wrote my book.  Many assume that it is because I have a child with autism.  Actually, It started with a class project.  I was working on a Master's degree at the University of North Texas in Autism Intervention.  I was assigned the task of coming up with a way to spread knowledge about autism to the public.
    I had read that kids with autism are bullied at an alarmingly high rate. (Click here for a CBS news article on the topic.)  It dawned on me that perhaps if kids were better educated about the disorder, the bullying rate might go down. So, I decided to write a children's story.  My professor gave me a great grade, and after some thought, I decided to throw my hat into the publishing ring. 
    The process has been long and full of many ups and downs, but also very exciting! I'm terrified that people will not like it. I'm hopeful that people might. Most of all, I hope and pray that it keeps at least one child from being bullied.
    You may have read or seen on the news the horrible letter that a disgusting human being put under the door of a home with a child with autism.  If not, I have posted it below (If it's too small or you'd like to read more about it, click here.).  After wiping my tears away, I felt a renewed sense of purpose.  It is true that autism is better understood and accepted today than ever before, but this hate-filled letter demonstrates that there is a long, long way to go.
   I know it's cliche, but knowledge is power.  It is my sincere hope that my book will help educate children about autism and, ultimately, decrease the bullying epidemic.