Bullying Dealt With.

Last week we had the rather unpleasant situation of Matthew being bullied at school – again – to deal with. Jane saw a group of boys “playing” with Matthew that involved them surrounding him and kicking him. Incredibly they were doing it in plain sight – there were parents with P1 children around but crucially Jane saw it all. She told them (in clear terms) that kicking another person was no game, and took Matthew round to the main exit, and into the school. Jane sent me a message about it, and I emailed the Head Teacher, preferring to put it in writing. We’d not had much satisfaction with reporting previous bullying – the previous Head Teacher decided to move Matthew to another class (exclusion was mentioned in a meeting) after he’d snapped and thumped a bully who’d been at him for months. None of it was taken seriously, and the bully was treated like the victim. It was suggested we meet with this boy’s parents about it – I said no chance, as I didn’t want a lecture about how evil Matthew was.

Anyway, the current (sadly only acting) Head Teacher sees things very differently. She replied to say that this behaviour wouldn’t be tolerated, and would speak to each of the boys involved. Jane identified two of them, and when Matthew’s teacher spoke to him (after the HT had discussed it with her) Matthew named some of the others. The Head then took them out of class and spoke to them very sharply. For the first time, a report of Matthew being bullied had been addressed to our satisfaction. I’ve no doubt the HT was – and is – very serious about it.

I bumped into her today while taking Daniel into school, and she told me – a week on – that she’s keeping an eye on the situation, and that she had been VERY short with the boys, telling me that “staff don’t usually hear me raise my voice like that” I was quite happy hearing that. She said there’s a time and place for being more than firm, and that was a time for it. I suspect that the lads involved have been chastened by the experience of getting a roasting from the Head Teacher, and any of their “friends” that didn’t get caught will be in no doubt what will happen to them if they’re caught doing something similar.

It does seem to have settled down. Matthew has been reassured by the Head Teacher that if anything similar happens again, he can come indoors and report it to an adult who will bring it to her. I think he knows he’s been taken seriously, and that the matter has been dealt with to the point if anything happens again, he will know that if he reports it, it will be dealt with severely.

Its unfortunate that Matthew has suffered at the hands of bullies, but this time round the school has dealt with it superbly and left the perpetrators in no doubt that there will be consequences to their actions.

Bullied Daniel Again

Even before Daniel was diagnosed with Asperger’s, we knew that he was a vulnerable, sensitive wee soul that would be wide open to worst aspects of others’ behaviour. He takes things literally, is so innocent and outside of the house, really lacks the confidence to look after himself. He’s a big lad too (that’s another story, and one we think is linked to his Asperger’s) which leaves him vulnerable petty and petty namecalling that comes with that territory.

As anyone who read my last post will recall, Daniel was militantly opposed to going into school yesterday. After finally going in, he announced after school that as he had gone in, he would be staying at home tomorrow. As I said yesterday, this is quite out of character for Daniel. He might take his time getting there, but once he’s in the line to go in, and he sees his friends, he is happy enough to go into class. Fortunately last night, parents were invited up to the school to see the end result of a “Fairlyland” project the class had been working on in the first term. The end results of their hard work was superb, it Daniel was genuinely excited about showing us round the class and letting us see some of his work. He’s obviously enthusiastic about school and is achieving well, which is why its particularly worrying that he’s now showing reluctance to go in to school. Towards the end of the evening, Jane had the opportunity to talk to Daniel’s teacher, which was very productive.

It transpires that Daniel was subject to name calling in the morning (he admitted that one lad called him fat) and that he had told the teacher, and it was being dealt with. However, it would also appear that he was verbally abused by a younger boy at the start of the week. Daniel was reluctant to report it, and it was only that one of his friends had overheard it, and had reported it. Then we hear from a friend of Daniel’s (one of his close associates) that another boy in the class had been kicking Daniel. This lad has had a bit of history when it comes to that sort of thing it seems. So, we are getting closer to the bottom of the matter. Daniel was on the receiving end a fair bit in Primary one, but due to his lack of confidence he was reluctant to report many incidents. When he did, he didn’t see any concrete signs of the matter being addressed. Its hardly surprising when it has happened again that his way out of it is to refuse to go into school. If you’re out of the firing line, you’re safe?

When Jane brought this to light with his teacher last night, she was horrified, and agreed that ANY abusive behaviour in her class will never be tolerated. The younger boy I mentioned above was taken out of class by her yesterday and told in to uncertain terms that this behaviour is completely unacceptable. I hope this has been relayed to Daniel so that he can see he’s being supported over it. While his P1 teacher was a good teacher, I felt that she didn’t tackle Daniel’s difficulties directly enough. His current teacher – who has a big soft spot for the little lad – is very different. She’s not shy about coming forward and dealing with matters before they’ve had a chance to grow arms and legs. She will talk with Daniel and will be making sure the recent perpetrators will be suitably chastised.

Daniel is fortunate in a way with regards the playground environment. He’s popular at school (I think his quiet and sensitive nature at school is a big hit with the girls) – you can go through the playground with him taking him to school and be amazed by the number of girls, ones in P6 or P7, saying hello to him. The older sisters of two of his friends look out for him in and out of school so he has a degree of security, but not all the time. Still, its better than nothing.

Hopefully this is the root of the problem we have arrived at. His teacher seems determined to ensure Daniel is safe at school. The school is a Rights Respecting certified school, so hopefully that will reinforce that they are serious about trying to get to grips with bullying. If Daniel can see that they are serious, and that he is reassured that anyone caught bullying him is dealt with quickly, they maybe that will settle him down again and he can go back to enjoying school once again.

Are They Really Ill?

When I was at school I loved days off when I was ill – providing I was just ill enough to merit a day off! I didn’t particularly being sick! I can remember being off circa P4/5 – I’d have been about 8 or so – just in the run up to Christmas. As a result, regular TV had given way to the Christmas scheduling, so I could lie on the sofa at watch Laurel & Hardy and Jonny Weismuller’s Tarzan. Bliss!

As a parent though, I take a slightly different view of it of course. When Matthew and Daniel say they are feeling poorly in the morning, our first thought is that they are faking it. Maybe a bit unfair on them, but generally accurate. Of course, there have been times where that’s backfired spectacularly. On one occasion, Daniel complained about a poorly tummy before we took him to nursery. I suspect Matthew had been off ill about that time, so I think jealousy had taken over, and he fancied a day off. Less than an hour after dropping him off, we got a call to say he’d been very sick! Maybe he was being truthful after all!

Since then, we’ve become much better at assessing their general behaviour and demeanour to judge whether or not they’re ill. If Daniel starts lolling about, it’s a sure fire sign that he’s unwell. He’s such a livewire that even when he’s poorly, he’ll try to keep going at full speed. Any slow down, and I’d be sure he was being truthful if he complained about being unwell. Matthew is slightly harder to judge. As he’s matured, he’s much more capable of lounging to watch TV. But if he comes to sit with you, and tries to cuddle, it’s a good sign he’s coming down with something. Matthew is resistant to physical contact – a real nuisance when he needs help when he’s hurt – so when he instigates it, its either his way of apologising for something, or he’s ill.

This week though, Matthew has had an upset stomach. It got to the point on Tuesday evening that we decided to keep him off school on Wednesday. He was delighted of course. I asked what he’d do, and he’d already planned TV, computer, eating sweets. Fair enough – apart from the eating sweets bit. Daniel talked to him about it while we were on the trampoline. He asked Matthew if he’d miss his friends being off. Matthew finds making friends very hard, so he wasn’t bothered. Daniel announced he’d not like being off as he’d miss his two buddies. Then he said something quite sad. He said he’d like being off as it would mean he’d not be bullied. Kind of desperate that a 5 year old would prefer to be off sick than risk being a victim.

It kicked off another discussion about what to do if he was bullied. We tell the boys the simplest of advice – speak to an adult at the school and tell your teacher. We’ve generally found that when an incident is reported immediately then the boys can get some reassurance that its being dealt with, and that they are being protected. Sadly, that’s not always the case of course, hence Daniel’s reaction.

Its given us another part of the equation in working out if they are really unwell enough to prevent going to school. We know they are conscious of the fact they can be targets for bullies, although thankfully it doesn’t appear to be systematic and persisitant. But for a boy who couldn’t wait to start school, when Daniel suddenly complains of being unwell, its time for those alarm bells to start ringing.

How a Boy with Autism Protects Himself

As I may have said before, Matthew exhibits many characteristics that would be considered typical for an ASD child. He finds it hard to communicate his feelings, can’t read feelings of others, finds it hard to comprehend why others behave in the way they do to him. So, if he can’t tell us directly, how are we meant to help him? He doesn’t possess the guile and self defence mechanisms that would allow the rest of us to be able to look after ourselves.

But Matthew doesn’t have the ability to conceal when things aren’t going well for him. He exhibits lots of behaviours that give the game away that things aren’t right. Even then, his difficulty in communicating with us how he’s feeling can make it hard to get the full story from him. He’s awful at lying, but is equally poor at imparting full information. He won’t volunteer you any information, so you need to ask just the right questions to get the story out, although he can still leave some of the story out.

However, one of Matthew’s giveaways that he’s having problems with something at school is his nervous cough. When he feels under stress, or is worried about something, then he will suddenly develop a hacking cough. Last week, he found out that his current teacher was leaving (see https://theworldofneil.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/routine-disrupted-again/ for the gory details!) On Friday, he didn’t seem that bothered, despite the fact that some of his classmates were in tears at the news. We’d assumed that he’d had so many teachers that he had grown accustomed to it, so let it slide. He was fine on Saturday, but come Sunday afternoon, a cough had developed. He seemed well though, but the cough persisted. When he went to bed, it got worse until eventually (and unsurprisingly) he came running along the upstairs landing to the bathroom to be sick.

Now, in the event of sickness – particularly where it may be contagious, the school has implemented a 48-hour rule on it (have a look at http://basijas2013.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/the-48-hour-rule/) which Matthew knows well. When he came out of the bathroom he announced he’d be off for 2 days. As believers in the rule, we agreed. But within minutes of being sick, Matthew seemed perfectly fine. On Monday and Tuesday, you’d not know that this was a boy that was supposed to be sick. I think that’s because he wasn’t. He had said he’d be going back to school on Wednesday, so it all looked fine. But late yesterday afternoon, the coughing started. And got worse. As has happened so many times before, he eventually got out of bed, ran for the bathroom and was sick. Last night he was quite proud of the fact he’d be off for two days. Finally, it became clear – Matthew was deliberately making himself sick as he knew it would get him off school for two days. It all seemed to fit – was he worried about another change of teacher, but didn’t know how to vocalise that so he took himself out of the situation?

Not quite. Jane & I talked with him last night after he’d been sick. The stream of questions needed to get the story out continued, until Matthew finally admitted what was going on. Matthew goes to a “Lego Club” on Tuesday and Friday at school during the lunch break. After being bullied by a boy in the school, we’d started taking him home for lunch again, but were happy for him to continue at Lego Club, as it was a supervised activity. But a few weeks ago, he said a P7 boy had kicked him hard enough to cause a fair degree of pain. Two boys reported the perpetrator, and was told “something would be done.” Turns out, it wasn’t, and the same boy was continuing to harass him. Matthew obviously had no faith in the school being able to protect him, so took direct action to remove himself from harm’s way. If he could be sick, then he’d be off school. If he was off school, then the bully couldn’t get at him.

Despite the 48 hour rule, Jane took him to school today, as it was clear the sickness wasn’t down to a contagious bug, but was as a result of stress induced vomiting. His teacher was shocked that a 7-year old could do this. She promised action this time. Matthew’s current teacher is a no nonsense character who follows through on promises. She told Jane she had an idea who it was, and said she’d take Matthew through to point him out. At lunchtime, she came out to speak to Jane and said she’d spoken to the boy (who admitted it all), his teacher and the Head Teacher. At last Matthew saw that an authority figure who should be protecting him had followed through on a promise to do so.

We think it has settled Matthew, as there is no coughing today. But its disappointing that despite him being told on a number of occasions that his antagonists were being dealt with, nothing was done. Matthew is very vulnerable, and special needs children are soft targets for bullies, and we feel that no cognisance is being taken of that fact. He’s being left to look after himself, when we know he hasn’t the first clue as to how to do that. He’s incapable of looking after himself, like most ASD kids, and is reliant on others to do so. When that doesn’t happen, he’ll take alternative action to get himself away from it all. It harms his education. Maybe now they’ll listen. We live in hope.