Dear Savvy Sister: HELP ME HELP MY KID! Also, I need a tissue.

Dear Savvy Sister,

What do you do when you ask your 13-year-old kid if he eats lunch with anyone at school, and he tells you no, because when he sits at a table, no one will sit near him? 

Besides weep, I mean.

Complicating the matter is a school rule that boys and girls cannot sit together at lunch. I think he might feel comfortable sitting with some of the girl students, and they would be comfortable with him. 

I feel like there should be some sort of “It Gets Better” campaign for Aspies. Or ADHD kids. Or…just help. 

Sincerely,

Bereft

DSCN0047Dear Bereft,

Pardon the Savvy Sister while she weeps along with you. It must take mad self-restraint to keep from rocking your boy to sleep every night.

The term “Aspies,” for curious readers, stands for Asperger Syndrome, which is a high-functioning form of autism. Symptoms include difficult social interaction, limited interests, and repetitive speech or actions. Some researchers believe autism and autism spectrum disorders affect as many as one out of every 50 children in the U.S.

WHAT? That’s a lot! So of course public schools are rising to the occasion and helping to protect those children from bullying, particularly in the hellish recesses of middle school. NOT. Why are we not teaching our kids to appreciate differences? It’s one of my primary parenting goals. For the past six years, I’ve barely inquired about my children’s academics. “Are they nice to other kids?” I ask their teachers. “Do they split off into cliques? Because I don’t go for that crap.”

Listen, I’m going to tell you a story. When I was 12 years old and starting 6th grade, my parents switched me from a parochial, neighborhood school where I had a best friend to an all-girls, private Catholic school where everyone was judged by how shiny their hair was and whether their clothes were preppy enough. Imagine: I was a pasty-white tall girl with baby fat and orange hair whose favorite outfit was a bright yellow pantsuit with matching zebra heads. Girls didn’t laugh at me behind my back; they laughed at me when I smiled and said hello. I came home from school and cried in my mother’s lap every afternoon.

One day, a few of the girls started being nice to me. Overly nice. Like, really pretending to like me. After a day or so, I summoned up some courage and asked about the sudden change of heart. They couldn’t wait to tell me: my mother, desperate to ease my pain, had called my teacher, and the teacher had held a class meeting without me and told everyone to be nicer to me. Okay, seriously, now I’m really weeping. You know, for myself.

I hear through the grapevine that one of my main tormenters has grown up to be a holy roller evangelical fake Christian, resplendently cloaked in the same sort of childish intolerance that has always defined her. Yes, I have forgiven her. Yes, it nonetheless gives me smug satisfaction to know that I could pummel her shiny-haired head senseless. MUAH.

Anyway. My mother was on the right track. She did one thing wrong – she trusted the teacher to handle the situation appropriately, and the teacher did not. Bereft, you and I are going to nail this problem to the FUCKING GROUND. Ready?

First: Let’s all acknowledge the abject stupidity of separating the boys and the girls during lunchtime. Are school administrators worried about the children having sex in the cafeteria? Or just trying to prevent hilarious wiener jokes on hot dog day? The former is stupid, and the latter is unavoidable. At any rate, what they’re doing is killing opportunity for kids to be kids, and for them to learn to interact with each other normally. So I would start a petition to end that shit immediately.

Second: I’m guessing you’ve got scores of people advising you to tell your son that this will make him stronger, or that other kids don’t know what they’re missing, or that one day this will all be behind him. You tell those people to shut the hell up. You might be more polite than me, in which case you tell them you’re in need of more concrete solutions and/or more wine, and to only offer what they can give.

Third: You must make a covert action plan, which begins with finding a teacher or counselor you trust at the school. It MUST be someone you trust, and that’s not necessarily the guidance counselor.

Speak to that person confidentially, and make sure he/she understands the need for that confidentiality. Tell the teacher that what you need is for a single boy in your son’s grade to be recruited to help your son through lunchtime. It must be a boy who has shown stellar maturity or leadership for his age. There must be at least one of them there. Again – it must be a child who can be trusted to understand that your child – the boy he’s being asked to help – is a student with a disability who is being tacitly ignored by everyone around him. Shoot me if I’m wrong, but that’s a passive form of bullying. Sorry, that’s just the way I feel. And this boy must understand that he can’t discuss this job with his friends. Tell him it’s like a special assignment.

I ran this scenario past my own 12-year-old daughter, who knows everything, and she gave it her tentative stamp of approval, hesitating only out of fear that your son might find out about his mother’s interference “and that might be weird, Mom.” I don’t think that will be a problem in your case – I don’t think your son will find out, and even if he did, by that time he will have built up enough confidence to navigate the lunchtime social scene. Also, I’m guessing the little mentor you recruit will genuinely enjoy knowing your son, and will continue to be friendly to him regardless of obligation.

I am not advocating this plan in a vacuum. My only son – also a quirky, anxious boy – will be heading to middle school in two years, and I feel certain much hand-wringing will ensue. I refuse to resign him to a lonely childhood – I simply don’t believe in them. As parents, we will not always make the right decisions, and of course there will be times when we allow our kids to make mistakes. But I feel strongly that cruelty doesn’t belong in a kid’s life, and if I can step in and boot it out, I will.

And so, my dear, should you. Good luck.

Sincerely,

the Savvy Sister

P.S. Do you have a dog? Your son needs a dog.

5 responses to Dear Savvy Sister: HELP ME HELP MY KID! Also, I need a tissue.

  1. Deborah says:

    Tricia, this is an excellent response. Brava! I know that many kids go through these situations during their lives, whether it’s being excluded from the “cool kids” cliques, or being excluded from just about everyone. And it can happen in the workplace, as well. That doesn’t make it any the easier to bear, especially for parents. I think this is a great solution.

  2. A says:

    You’re my hero!
    I have middle school girls and WE cannot wait for middle school to be over. There is such a desire to be “cool” in the school and frankly the teachers buy into it. While I understand how hard teachers work and how over worked they are, it always amazes me when I hear a teacher say “so-n-so is such a sweet girl!” And it is always the one that is leading the charge to tear my kid down. The most bullying happens quietly, happens in groups when the victim cannot defend themselves, happens on social media, which by the way most parents are NOT monitoring despite their claims. Point is teachers don’t see this. They certainly don’t look for it and unless it is overly aggressive, it goes unnoticed and the subject of the cruelty continues to get knocked down again and again. It is all about acceptance. The Golden Rule doesn’t exist in middle school. But I will keep telling my girls to “kill ’em with kindness,” “be the bigger person,” “don’t let them get to you.” And I pray for them a lot. Please Lord, let us just survive middle school.

  3. Lois says:

    You are something else, SS. Terrific answer and terrific blog.

  4. valle says:

    bravo on another savvy response!
    Here are a few other suggstions, which may or may not apply. he needs to find his peeps — they are out there, for sure. As you point out, a huge number of kid (mostly boys) have autism and aspergers. If his mom could sign him up for a class that interests him afterschool, he can find some like minded souls. Does the school have clubs – like chess or lego or something?
    Ifhe has some special talent (music science, something) get him into situations where he can shine in those areas.
    And of course, if he is on an IEP (and he should be, for just this reason) call a team meeting and set up peer social skills groups. Recruit classmates to be part of the session so he can learn from them (and they can learn what a great kid he is, and be his champion)
    just a few thoughts.

    • tricia says:

      Hey Valle – excellent additional advice! I forwarded it to Bereft. You rock, as usual. xoxo

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