13 April 2011

Already?! What Would You Do?

Ok, one of the biggest concerns I had when I learned Sheridan's diagnosis was: How will others treat him?

I mean, let's face it. Everyone (well, maybe not everyone, but most people) gets teased. And it sucks. And it breaks my heart thinking of kids teasing Sheridan as he grows up.

One of my Sisters just dealt with this exact issue - her 8-year-old boy (who has Ds) was told by a couple classmates that they didn't want to play with him because he's a "retard" and "dumb" (although I have to give a shout out to two other classmates - both girls - who stood up for him in a big way, so not all kids are cruel, right?).

Thinking I had a few more years to brace myself for exactly how I would handle this kind of thing... the other day at the park two girls (about 7-8 years old) were watching Sheridan and I play. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that one of the girls started to mock Sheridan.

Surely I saw this incorrectly. I was using peripherals, after all.


There she was, imitating his open-mouth posture (in a grotesque, over-exaggerated way) to the other girl. You better believe I gave that girl some wicked direct eye contact. But it didn't stop her (although she did try to turn her body and hide so I couldn't see her do it). But I still saw. Punk.

The second girl just brushed her off and said, "Yeah, I know," and kept doing whatever it was she was doing. But the imitator kept at it. And the second girl got annoyed and said, "I knooowww" (in that "will you just leave it alone?!" kind of tone). So, good on her for indicating it's no big deal.

But seriously?! Making fun of a 2-year-old?!

I was angry, but mostly hurt. And all the while Sheridan had no idea any of this was going on because he was watching a dog play nearby (that boy is obsessed with dogs - we'll probably have to get one at some point). So I guess there's that, right? He didn't know, so wasn't hurt by it directly (meaning it didn't make him sad or hurt his feelings). But he still kind of was hurt buy it, you know? Somebody thought it was ok to make fun of a person with a disability.


  1. Yes, I know kids are mean.
  2. Yes, I know kids tease other kids.
  3. Yes, kids get teased for many, many reasons, and don't have to have a disability to fall prey.
  4. Yes, Sheridan will be teased for many things - both related and unrelated to Ds.
  5. Yes, I could have just shrugged it off and vowed to start working on oral motor therapy even harder - but this would focus on changing Sheridan, not others' hearts.
  6. I really didn't want to close the door on a chance to educate the girl, for Sheridan's sake if for nothing else.

So here's my question... what would you have done?

I SO wanted to call her out. So her parents could hear and maybe even get involved. Just say, "Hey, that's not very nice." Ok, it's not poetic or anything, but it's the nicest thing I could think to say to an 8-year-old (you should have heard the other options rattling around in my head). Everything else would have been totally inappropriate - but all kidding aside, I didn't want to squander a chance to turn this girl around.

But I have a really hard time recognizing what the boundaries are here, so I need some help. Where do I step in and say something to the child (remember, parents were right there), and where do I not say anything because it's the parents' responsibility and I shouldn't step on parenting toes? The girl knew she was wrong and I was glad I could at least portray that with my eyes if not with words. But I struggle with when it's ok to speak up (not just about teasing, about any incorrect behavior) to others' kids.

EDITED TO ADD: To be clear, I didn't give the girl the evil eye - I wasn't "mean" or rude about it. I just wanted to send the message that I saw her. I was really concerned about slamming the door on a teachable moment if I said something and the parents got all pissed off about it (you know me, I'm all about capitalizing on an opportunity to educate others). But I was afraid the parents would be offended if I said anything to the girl, etc. What I learned from your responses (in the comments and private emails I received) is that most parents would actually prefer that I say something so that (1) they can know what their child is doing, (2) the child has an opportunity to learn from the experience.


  1. Oye. I am sure I would have done the exact same thing and then wished I would have done more. That's usually how it goes for me. I think politely saying "you know, that's really not very nice of you to make fun of him" would NOT have been overstepping. If anything, her parents need to know what is going on and however they choose to react is their thing- whether it be negatively or positively. The fact of the matter is, she is 8 years old and is of the age where it is crucial that she learn not to mock someone...ESPECIALLY a 2 year old. Ugh.


  2. I never have a problem speaking up when things happen on the playground with other kids. I take the approach or mentality of "it takes a village" and I always try and be careful, controlled and respectful when I talk to another child about their behavior on the playground, etc. I know I may at some point step on other people's or parent's toes at some point but I feel like MOST parents would rather have an opportunity for their child to learn something then for that child to get away with being rude, a bully, etc etc. Now I've had to use this when kids are doing something unsafe or potentially harmful to my bigger boys...haven't had much of a chance in regards to Joaquin or Sofia. But I think I would handle it the same way...I hope! I've stepped in when other people's kids have thrown sand, said bad words, pushed etc...so I think I would have handled it the same way with the rude mimicking. It's one thing for a child to innocently or not so innocently ask..."why does he stick out his tongue" or "why does he always have his mouth open" which gives you an opportunity to educate but to have a girl rudely mimick and having fun mimicking....well let's just say I would have done more than just the evil eye. So I say next time if you are looking for my two cents, carefully and with your best acting face kindly state that it's not really nice to poke fun at people for looking a little different and that you'd be happy to explain why your child holds his mouth in an open posture. Oh I SOOO understand wanting to let that girl have it though! UGGH!!!!!

  3. I'm sorry you and Sheridan had to experience that. What if you posed a question to the culprit: How would you feel if someone was making fun of you?

    If the parents overhear and don't like it, you weren't scolding or lecturing. You were simply asking a question. That way, the parents can still decide how they want to 'parent' this scenario.

  4. I was a high school sped teacher and principal before staying home with the kids so I take everything as a learning experience.
    I would totally say something (in a kind and respectful way of course) explaining a little about ds and why he does said behavior and why it isn't nice to make fun of it. I would get the parents involved in the conversation.
    I think we are the best teachers our kids have and if we don't positively and kindly teach others about our kids,ds and how they are more alike than different then who will?

    Of course, I have had this conversation with many a parent staring at Alayna on the playground (no mimicking involved).

  5. Lisa,
    Thought about your post and experience. You know that little girl was acting like a bully....and we all know bullies are really lonely cowards.....so I would have scooped Sheridan up and went over and said Hi to her.....totally knock the wind out of her sails--get in her face....how are you girls today...whatcha playing....ect....and then worked it into the conversation....after you disarmed her ( and you know she would be stressin if you came over to her)....You know, not only is it hurtful when you make fun of someone but it makes you look badly and not very smart...and I know you are smart girl who makes good decisions...right? That is my take!

  6. Well, I was an elementary teacher...and would probably address the situation the same way I would if I was in a teaching role.

    I'd make sure Sheridan was safe and walk over to the girl. And I'd ask her if she was having a seizure. Because her face was all twisted up. And she was walking differently than she had been before my son and I came over. And my son was concerned that she may be having a medical emergency and thought I should check on her. And, if she's NOT having a seizure, then why exactly is she choosing to move her body and her face that way?

    And, if experience serves...and I've experienced it many times...the child will freeze upon the knowledge that...not only have they MADE a public ass of themselves, but they're being called upon to articulate their reasoning behind CHOOSING to MAKE a public ass of themselves.

    Stupid is as stupid does. I was always a big fan of natural consequences and I worked to preserve the dignity of the students I was correcting until they were stealing it from someone else.

    The lesson will be memorable and it's best she learn it sooner than later.

  7. OMG!!! LOVE LOVE LOVE "ch"'s response....OH MY GOSH I would love to do this sometime!!!

  8. Love ch's response too! I haven't experienced this yet, and know that I will need to speak up. I like to have a few responses in mind as I don't do well under pressure. :)

  9. Love Ch's response...I was thinking I might bring my child over to her and introduce him and say "I just wanted you to meet the person who's disability you are making fun of" or whose feelings you are hurting...and make her feel like an ass that way.

  10. Lis, I totally would have said something stern to the kid, aiming at making sure her parents heard. I definitely would have said something to the effect of, "It's not nice to make fun of people!" I don't know . . . I don't feel that it's stepping on toes. If a child is misbehaving and the parents are there but not doing anything about it, all parties need to be made aware that it's not acceptable. If my kids were being mean to another child, I would hope that someone would say something to them (although, if I were right there, I would be saying something!).

  11. I actually really like Shari's approach. A kid is trying out new things, some of which are hurtful and inappropriate. Adults do this, too. If you could open the door, rather than slam it shut, I think you have the chance of educating the girl.

    As my friend Cindi puts it, the "Oh, I'm sorry about your ignorance!" approach keeps the door open, where the "Fuck you!" or "You should be ashamed!" approach slams the door.

    This is tough under any circumstance, but I think I'd be willing to feel more hopeful about changing the mind of a kid.

  12. oh that is terrible :( I know Kayla/we will face incidences like that too and it breaks my heart. It hasn't happened (that I know of, although I do remember suspecting one time that some kids were whispering about her.) I'm not sure what I'd do. I always think about things to say/do after the fact. And I hate confrontation so I usually bite my tongue. Sorry you had to experience that.

  13. Just seeing this! Oh Lisa, breaks my heart... Jen's response is what I would do, too. I don't have trouble talking to kids/ correcting them, but sometimes I worry about being too harsh sounding. I like Shari's idea, but can't see myself doing that. Probably effective, though. I could see scooping up JM, walking over to the girl and saying, "Were you just making fun of my son? Cuz that's what it looked like..."

  14. Man, this is such a hard thing. It's something I've thought about so many times in my life with my brother, who is now 30 years old. He has severe cerebral palsy so his physical differences are very conspicuous! I alternate between feeling defensive and just ignoring people's prejudice when I see people staring. Sometimes I am aggressive and say something, and other times I try to be above it. And it's hard because there is a tension between using your family to educate ignorant people on the one hand, and on the other hand acknowledging the fact that it's not your loved one's responsibility to educate the world or be made an example of. Ugh. It's a hard thing!

    One thing I would wonder is whether you know any adults with DS who could offer suggestions about what helped them when they were kids on the receiving end of prejudice. If you are blessed to know some older and wiser folks who've been on the journey for a while, maybe they can offer a good perspective? I do know that my mom did a great job of not making a big deal out of others' small mindedness when we were around, which minimized the issue to us as siblings and helped us not to feel as much of the sting of prejudice as we might have otherwise. She acted like it was no big deal and so to us, and I think to my brother, it wasn't. I'll say this too: there are jerks of all ages in this world and my brother sure helped us get our crap detectors working early! Sorry if this comment makes no sense, I have a new baby at home. :)