27 April 2011

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.

Nope.

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.

Caveats:

  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.