Today, I went up to talk to TH's teacher and the school counselor about yesterday. Both professional, no-nonsense women with empathy and directness, and I love them. I just had one question for his teacher, really, and that was this: "You've been teaching TH now for just over a month. Have you seen any signs or examples of bullying behavior?"
Her answer? No. He doesn't show such behaviors. That TH "does not have a mean bone in his body." It's how we've always felt about him, and interestingly enough, others have used the same expression to describe him. He gets that from his father. I probably didn't need to clarify that.
The counselor had much to say, all of it useful. I won't go into details because there are so many, but there was a moment in there where I wanted to, well, break down into loud, obnoxious sobs, grasping for tissues and sniffling. But I didn't. Teared up some, soldiered through. I hate to cry because I do it with so little inhibition. Best not to gear that up in public whenever I can keep from doing so.
The moment? When I learned that a straw poll of students in TH's grade yielded the following results: Most kids think of TH as a bully. The counselor was kind. She explained that at the kids' level, the children don't see "developmental disabilities" or "autism" or "Aspergers." They see a child with no concept of body space who flaps his hands in their faces apparently just to annoy them, who doesn't know where his body parts are, who's enormous, thus compounding the sense of "big bully trying to freak me out." Yes, I just mentioned TH's size. Am I proud of it? No, neither proud nor not proud. But it is relevant, wouldn't you say?
The child-level perception is that this great big flapping child is annoying people, bumping into them, falling into them, landing on them, and grabbing them (around the waist, impulsively--he does it to those he loves) on purpose, to be mean.
Again, the counselor emphasized that she and the adults at the school know the reality (it's fairly classic autistic behavior), but the perception is there.
Mr. DMFP and I have decided on two things. Well, three, really. I'm planning to take TH out of school. I think Mr. DMFP is not. I argue that there are no "do-overs" of childhood, that even though TH seems insouciant now, unaware, that some day, the reality of this time is going to become clear, and that's going to be a long, painful dawning realization. We could save him that, remove him now. If these are "social skills" he's learning, I don't want him to learn them.
Obviously, "we" have not decided to do that. What We have decided to do is a two-pronged plan. Our immediate goal is to educate children about kids like TH. There's a program making the rounds in our district, one devised by a district parent with an autistic son, called "Circle of Friends." It involves presenting to the kids and discussing autism with them, specifically in terms of, in this case, our son. Kids are recruited who want to gain more understanding and participate in the circle of friends, which has a prescribed set of social interactions. The goal is twofold: the kids gain a better understanding of TH and his motivations (or lack thereof), and TH gains the interest of some people who understand him and can give him social experiences. That's already in the process of planning this afternoon.
Our second part of the plan is to stop these intrusions from this family into our lives. No more high road here. I've tried twice to talk, very nicely and openly, to the mother about TH, to explain the origins of his behaviors. Her final response to me was, "I don't like labels." As if what she likes or dislikes in that context somehow matters. We didn't complain to teachers or counselors when this child called TH "moron" or "idiot" or "stupid," or when he deliberately, in front of us on many occasions, mocked and teased him, taunted him, and made fun of him. We felt that these were things to teach our son to handle at his level, case by case. We complained only when this child led a posse of other children in chasing TH around the playground, unsolicited, calling him "The Enemy." Forget this whole "We're not complaining" thing, now. If these people can raise all hell about their child being called "Mongoose-Pooh," well...
We are probably going to amend TH's IEP, and we plan to formalize our request that not only should this child not be around our son, but also the child's parents should not interact with our son. I'm not sure one can do that, so I'm investigating the legalities. We're still considering this aspect, but we want to formalize in some way disallowing interactions with these people so that they can stop intruding themselves on what now seems like a daily basis into our lives--especially into our son's life. Their behavior has officially created a hostile environment for our son (and for us). They have negatively affected our emotional well being with this persistent harassment, and I have no doubt (and have observed myself) that one reason that this perception of TH's being a bully has gone viral is traceable directly to this family. They seem to have gone out of their way to pave every path TH is on with a preconception of our son as a hostile bully. We're sick of it.
This is our baby we're talking about here. Our little guy who brings me his blankie every morning to say hello, kisses me on the hand without fail before rushing off to breakfast, who loves his brothers and his family, who queries and questions and wonders about everything, who has never once expressed a dislike about another person, who is persistently and almost invariably cheerful, who is so naive in every way that he simply lacks the wherewithal to bully someone. And whose awareness of what is swirling around him right now is, apparently, thankfully, nonexistent. Our son. We know him. And. We. Know. That. He. Is. Not. A. Bully.
Ten years ago, the Old Me would have "resolved" this with (emotional) explosions, scathing emails and confrontations, and a few well-placed threats (always making friends wherever I go!). The New Me dithers and worries about maturity and creating unnecessary drama, about focusing on logic and trying to cut away emotion to get to the core of the issue. I will dither no more. And neither, apparently, will my husband. I cannot recall ever having seen Mr. DMFP--model of restraint and maturity that he is--this ticked off about something. That usually means that the "something" will be resolved. And about damned time.