How I got on the bully pulpit

“I don’t think the worst thing that could happen to me is raising a child with special needs.  I think the worst thing is to raise a child who is cruel to those with special needs.”

Stop-Bullying smallThese are the words of a man named Joseph, who has a son with multiple health and disability challenges. Joseph writes on his blog Undiagnosed that his biggest fear is that one day his son Braxton will go to school and be the target of bullying by other kids.

I’m sure this same fear plagues all parents, but especially those who have kids with special needs.

Bullying is very common among young children. Experts say at least 10 percent of children are tormented by their peers.  I was one of the unlucky 10 percent when I was in elementary school, and I can still recall the sharp pain I felt at being mistreated by other kids.

Uncle Melrose got bullied

My Uncle Melrose, who had an intellectual disability, was bullied as a child. Other kids in his neighborhood taught him to say curse words and they physically challenged him. My dad, Melrose’s brother, defended him.

It is hard to describe the pain and shame a child feels after being bullied. I can’t begin to comprehend how a special needs child, who has fewer coping tools than I did as a youngster, can deal with this kind of abuse.

When it comes to children with disabilities, it occurs to me that their best allies against persecution are their parents, teachers and other advocates. Adults who have an understanding of and empathy for children with disabilities can model and teach respectful behavior.

Mainstreaming and inclusion are also beneficial. Children may be less likely to ridicule if they are familiar with and have an understanding of another’s frailties.

Children need more exposure to disabilities

This fact was brought home to me by a young father who heard me speak about my relationship with Uncle Melrose. I had delivered the same presentation several weeks before and this man and his 10-year-old son were in the audience for that earlier talk.

The father told me that the speech had a big impact on his son, who told his friends and relatives about it.  I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect this boy hadn’t been exposed to such a personal story about disabilities.

The father suggested I consider giving my presentation to groups of children and that idea intrigues me.  After all, my purpose in writing about Uncle Melrose was to let the world know what a great guy he was. Perhaps my talk can have an impact on youngsters who have had little to no exposure to the world of disabilities.

What do you think? If you have any ideas or suggestions on where I might talk about my friendship with my Uncle Melrose in front of children, I’d be interested in hearing them.