Thursday, April 10, 2014

Silent No More

Yesterday, Dude and Crafty's school celebrated National Pink Shirt Day. This day began a number of years ago when a boy in Nova Scotia wore a pink t-shirt to school and was bullied for it. The next day a couple of classmates showed up at school with 50 pink t-shirts to hand out to the other boys in the school. That day they sent the message, loud and clear, that bullying was not okay. These kids became part of the solution in their school and now Dude and Crafty have become part of the solution in their school, too.

Most kids have felt that they've been bullied at some point during their school career but for us, because of Autism lives with us, dealing with the aftermath of bullying becomes nearly a full time job. Not only are kids on The Spectrum a fairly easy target of meanness but they have a much more difficult time understanding the why and the what next of bullying. Because kids on The Spectrum don't pick up on social cues and nuances everything everything has to be explained in detail and are often best received when explained as 'rules'. The problem arises then when everyone doesn't follow the 'rules'.

Dude working tech for the assembly
For instance, Dude was having issues with a classmate. She was offended by the way he expressed himself and she had begun to lash out at him, verbally and physically. He was absolutely frustrated and confused at her behaviour. When the principal sat them both down to talk our their issues, Dude was shocked to hear that he was offensive when, in his mind, he was just being honest. She asked if he liked her drawing. He said 'no' because he doesn't like cats. She was talking to friends about Lord of the Rings and said dwarves are better than Elves but, according to Dude, that's simply not true because Elves are excellent archers - and he told her so. These types of exchanges went on for a while, understandably, frustrating her to the point of near insanity.

When the principal explained that although Dude was speaking the truth, from his perspective, he was being unkind and tunnel visioned in his delivery. As soon as he realized that he bore some of the responsibility to the friendship breakdown he apologized and waited for forgiveness and an apology from his classmate for her part.

He waited.

And waited.


Then he blew up. He was hurt and appalled that he was playing by the rules, as explained to him by us, and his classmate wasn't. She refused to forgive him and absolutely refused to apologize for her behaviour toward him. The conversation ended with the rift unresolved.

Dude came out of the school that day spewing venom about his classmate and friendship in general. It took us hours to talk him down and reason with him. We tried to explain the unexplainable. We tried to reason the unreasonable. By the end of our two hour conversation we were able to get him to accept that not all families have the same rules to relationships, and not all kids respond the way their parents would like them too (including him,sometimes!), but in This Random Family we do our best to be kind, forgive and move on.

He generally accepts this for friendships gone awry but when he becomes the target of aggressive kids that he has no connection with or previous interactions with, he is dumbfounded. He doesn't understand how someone can be randomly mean to someone else. He doesn't know why he is the target when he hasn't done or said anything to the aggressors. He can't find sense to the cruel and malicious behaviour.

We've told him there is no reason and it doesn't make sense but there is something he can do about it. He can be part of the solution. He can stop being a bystander, he can stop turning a blind eye to other targets. He can stand up and speak out - against cruelty, against injustice, against bullying.

Crafty and her pal reviewing their speech
So Dude and Crafty and four of their friends formed a small yet mighty band of school changers. They came together with support of teachers and parents and decided to make a change in their school. These spark of change has become a movement and today they invited the entire school to join them, to be the change.

This group of grade 6 and 8 students found a slogan, designed t-shirts, wrote speeches, produced a video and honed their message. They hosted a school wide assembly and together they stood in front of their 500+ classmates and asked them to Stand Up and Speak Out with them.

Because of their intense sense of justice, Dude and Crafty both understood the importance of standing up for what is right - they just didn't realize that they could do it, right in their own school, right now. They didn't know that their friends would support them. They didn't know that a group of ragtag middle schoolers could turn the heads of the entire community and shine a light of truth and friendship wherever they go. They didn't know that they, and their pals, could change the culture of their school.

They didn't know but we did. We, who know the greatness inside them, the depth of their caring and their desire to be a friend and have a friend. We, who love their quirkiness and celebrate their individuality. We, who know that when you play to their strengths their potential is limitless.

When Dude was first diagnosed seven years ago we were told that he would never feel or give love and he would never be able to feel or express empathy. We were devastated and discouraged but as time went on we realized that the psychiatrist was wrong. He only knew what Autism could take but he didn't know the strength of heart inside of our boy. He didn't know that he loves so much that it overwhelms him, that he cares so much that his heart aches and that he empathizes so much that he physically feels the pain of others. He didn't know - but we did.

If you are blessed enough to have a special kid like this as part of your life, play to their strengths, support them, challenge them and encourage them. Tell them they have a voice and show them how to use it. Show them that they can make a difference, that they are agents of change. And love them. Love them. Love them. Love them.

Love them enough to teach them to play by the rules, even if no one else does.

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Here's link to one of the local news stories from yesterday.

No comments: