Archives for posts with tag: parenting

At breakfast last Friday morning, my fork paused mid-air when my 13-year-old Autistic son mentioned that he had to fill out a bullying report at school. When I asked why, he gave me the summary version (as we all had places to be that morning): a boy grabbed his shoulders, painfully rolling and pinching the flesh, continuing after my son asked him to stop. Plus a girl threw my son’s own salad in his applesauce and on him at lunch the previous day at school.

I composed a quick email to the principal at Ponca City’s West Middle School, asking that the students who attacked my son be held accountable. One of the principal’s replies stated that I needed to get the “whole story” from my middle schooler.

This weekend, I got the complete story according to my son. Before I share it, let me first explain one of the challenges people with Autism face.

Individuals with Autism have social skills deficits that make them frequent targets of bullies. They have trouble understanding the “intentions of others and understanding what others are feeling and thinking.” Worse, they often, “take comments literally instead of understanding the underlying and, perhaps, unkind message” (access the source in the online version of this column).

Back to the story. On Wednesday, “Joe”, we’ll call him, my son’s attacker at lunch on Thursday, evidently told my 13-year-old boy that “75% of rape starts by a hand on the shoulder” was a “joke”. Being Autistic, my son took the statement that this was a joke literally.

When my son repeated what he thought a “joke” the next day at the lunch table, “Beth”, upon hearing it, apparently threw my son’s food on him. And not only did “Joe” squeeze my son painfully on his shoulders, but the same was also done to both of his sides and he was apparently choked (my son demonstrated with both hands on his own neck) Thursday at lunch. I asked my son several times about how he responded and reacted to what these students did. He said that he did not lay hands on Joe or Beth, but instead asked Joe to stop, and when he didn’t, stood up and tried to get away, but Joe followed him. He was not provided more food to replace the applesauce and salad the girl rendered inedible.

Meanwhile, my son’s band instructor emailed to complement his behavior and effort in band. Later, he asked why I thought my young trombone player “wasn’t focused at all in band. He was playing when he shouldn’t have been, not paying attention, not sitting up, and not playing with good fundamentals that he usually shows” on Thursday afternoon. When I informed him that my son had been bullied at lunch Thursday, right before he came to band, the instructor replied, “Now I understand.”

My 13-year-old also told me about several other bullying incidents that have happened to him this school year. This is a major step in the right direction for him, because when he was bullied in elementary school, he never told me. I’ve had to make very clear to him that I will support him and do whatever I can to stop it. Kids don’t report bullying to adults who do nothing, or even worse, blame the victim.

Unfortunately, blaming the victim seems to be exactly how the school responded. My son was called to the office on Friday (in response to my email, I presume) and told by the principal that he would have consequences for his comment to the girl.

Still trying to assume that the principal had the best of intentions, I reported the “whole story” to the principal this Monday morning, figuring he either didn’t have all the details or was not educated about the social skills deficits related to Autism. I shared the same quote as I did earlier in this column with the principal.

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This is a photo (edited to remove names) of the detention slip my son sent me.

The administrator responded by giving my son three days of In School Suspension, thus ensuring neither my son nor I will want to report any further attacks.

Yes, the bullying victim is losing out on three days of instructional time because another student saw a gullible target and took advantage. Because this targeting was made possible due to my son’s Autism, this incident appears to be a violation of his civil right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), which is protected under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

My boy told me he has been physically bullied (a pencil thrown in class that hit him in the eye, hit repeatedly with a hard lunch box by a boy who took it from a girl, had his trombone for band yanked from his hands and thrown, to give a few examples) several other times this year.

According to Oklahoma’s School Safety and Bullying Prevention Act, school bullying policies must include how the parents of bullying victims and perpetrators will be notified in a timely fashion. Yet, I was never notified that my son was hit repeatedly with a lunch box in October, even though my son said he went to the principal’s office to report the incident.

I am (uncharacteristically) rendered speechless by the school’s response, so I could use your help, dear readers. What would you say to the principal?

Edmodo and Common Sense Media offer free Digital Citizenship curriculum.

As a high school teacher, I’ve witnessed many parents try to monitor their children’s internet usage, with varying levels of success. I’ve also noticed that many school districts choose to censor or block what sites students can access. However, my observations of students’ online behavior tell me that most of us fall short in teaching students what comprises smart, safe digital citizenship.

Particularly for secondary and post-secondary school students, removing all computer privileges is a consequence that interferes with learning. Anyone who’s taken more than a passing glance at the Common Core standards knows that students will be using technology extensively in the coming years, though many are required to do so already.

Educators and parents often first provide “scaffolding”, or extra support, for students to support their learning. Gradually, the assistance is removed as students gain confidence in using a new skill on their own, such as when training wheels are removed from a child’s bike. This same graduated support should be applied to learning digital citizenship skills, yet few parents and schools seem to have a plan for such support.

Educators and parents often act simply as gatekeepers to the internet. While reports that most parents monitor their children’s Facebook activity are encouraging, the overwhelming evidence in my classroom and home, at least, is that they aren’t effective in helping kids learn to be good digital citizens.

Instead of thinking they’ve fulfilled their responsibilities by limiting or removing access, school districts and families should consider a graduated approach. We shouldn’t allow young children unsupported internet access any more than we would give a two-year-old a large bike without training wheels for her first spin around the driveway.

Here are some ideas to discuss with your colleagues or family members when considering a graduated approach:

1. Find out how the kids in question already use the internet.

2. What is the goal or objective? Finish the statement: by age _____, children should be able to ______________.

3. What online habits do children in our school/family need to practice regularly to be safe and avoid compromising their future goals online?

4. What can we do to support students as they practice these skills until they become habits and how/when should we gradually remove those supports?

5. Do we as parents and educators model and discuss these habits?

6. How can different grade levels (or, for parents, family sites, such as grandma’s or uncle’s house) our efforts to make sure that support is gradually decreased so that by age eighteen, students will be independent digital citizens?

7. Check out sites like Digital Citizenship.net to help generate ideas.

The fact is, nearly every job either does or will soon require basic online competency. Schools and families can help kids learn the online skills they need in an online environment appropriate for their abilities, or leave them to flounder through and learn the hard way.

Freebie! Here is the Digital Citizenship Guidelines handout I developed for my students:DigitalCitizenshipGuidelinesgeneric

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