I apologise in advance for a rather long post, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot about. Perception and reality. Our reality is our perception. And it’s important to understand that others live in another reality because they have a different perception.
We’ve been having some issues with Joshua being teased at school. I’m reluctant to call it ‘bullying’ because I don’t believe he’s being targeted to be bullied.
Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t think teasing is right, and I do have zero tolerance to bulling. And as I’m sure any parent feels, I would upheave heaven and earth to make sure my child was never bullied again.
But its not that straight forward.
A child with autism, like Joshua, or any other social communication difficulty see things differently. It’s not as simple as him saying “Mum, I’m being bullied by X because he did this to me” .
Often times he tells me that he’s been teased, but when I ask him specific questions about who, how, where and when, he can’t tell me.
He might tell me that X teased him during morning break.
But he can’t always tell me what was said.
And even if he can, he can’t tell me any other facts, like ‘the boy who called you a Sh**, was he with someone else that he might have been talking to?’ Joshua can’t tell me.
There are kids at his school that play Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. These games are from 18 years, so I do not know why parents would let their children play these games as I think it’s completely inappropriate for 10-11 year olds to play games meant for adults. We don’t let Joshua play these games, but obviously he’s curious about them since he can hear other kids talk about them. He has asked us countless questions about the games and why he can’t play them when other kids his age are. We’ve explained that we think he’s to young and its not appropriate for him, but what other parents let their children do is not our business and we have no say in what they let them do.
But because Joshua isn’t allowed to play these games he feels like he’s being teased when other children are talking about them.
A couple of weeks ago I walked him to school and as we got there he pointed to a boy a bit further away and told me that it was ‘X’ one of his “bullies”.
So I said; Ok, how about you try to avoid him today?
Joshua says ok, and then I leave. But I stop not to far away and peek from behind a tree. And what do I see? Well, if it isn’t Joshua, walking straight up to this boy and talks to him.
Not the boy going up to him, but Joshua going up to the boy.
I can understand it in a way. In a world where social understanding and communication is really difficult, for Joshua it might be easier to go up and talk to someone he knows might tease him, than to someone he doesn’t know what the reaction is he’s going to get. But I can see how he’s an easy target.
If a boy persistently comes up and talks to me about a game I’m playing and I’m telling him how great it is, is that really teasing?
We’ve talked to the school several times about these issues.
At times, yes they have been teasing him knowing that he’s not allowed to play the games, but most often he’s the one who’s been striking up a conversation with them, asking lots of questions because he’s curious, which is fine, except for the fact that when they then talk to him about it he feel like he’s being teased, even if that’s not their intention.
Another problem is that Joshua has very selective hearing. At break he’s mostly by himself, in his own world thinking about things. But if someone close by would mention a ‘sensitive’ word, like a swear word, he will immediately look up and make assumptions about what’s been said. There have been incidents, told by other children, where kids have been talking near Joshua but not to him or about him, and he’s picked out words and taking it as teasing. Even if it had nothing to do with him.
There are several people on the playground who will keep an eye out for Joshua, both staff and other pupils who are really good with him. And on the occasions where he has been teased, these children have told a teacher whats happened, actions have been taken and I have been told about it. But these are rare.
Not to Joshua though. To him, he’s being teased daily.
Yes, I’m sure it happens when no one else is looking, but Joshua isn’t completely innocent.
We’ve talked to him over and over about avoiding these particular children, and if they do say something that upsets him, to ignore them.
So it’s very hard to simply tell children not to ‘tease’ him, when thats not their intention.
But it’s equally as important to take Joshua seriously.
This is his reality.
His perception of events.
We have to teach him in each scenario how he could have done things differently or see things from the other children’s point of view.
This is very hard to do without him feeling like we don’t believe him or taking him seriously. It is also very hard to do when he can’t always tell us what happened. And the reason he often times can’t tell us what happened is because he only pick up snippets of events and patch it together, sometimes with a bit of imagination thrown in.
Several times he’s told me how a boy who’s bullied him has been sent to the head teacher and been expelled as a result of the bulling. I know for a fact that hasn’t happened, it’s probably what Joshua would wish happened, but it’s hard to follow a straight line of events when he keeps taking detours into fantasy land.
This is tricky. Because what is reality? Reality is our own perception of what is currently happening.
It’s like when a small child falls over and cries and the parent then goes “Stop crying. It’s not that bad, you’ll be fine” We might think that we’re building their resilience (because there will be far worse things happening as we grow up than a scratch on our knee). But for that child, his/her reality is that it is hurting and wants to be taking seriously, even if we don’t think it’s “a big deal”.
Teenage heartache is another example. As adults we might smile and say “Don’t worry, the pain will go away. You will have many more heartbreaks before you meet ‘the one’ ” Not really comforting is it?
In that moment, the pain for the teenager is excruciating and he or she need to be recognised for the reality they’re in.
We need to validate their feelings.
I can not simply tell Joshua that the teasing “is not that bad” because his perception is that it is that bad.
Children with autism and social communication difficulties have problem understanding that others do not know what they know, see what they see, think what they think. So if we contradict him when he tells us something he believes to be true, in his mind we are lying. Not because he’s stubborn or narrow minded, but because he can not understand that others might have another perspective.
What we have to try to do is to teach him other perspectives and build resilience. And we have to do this one situation at the time because for him it’s almost impossible to transfer one scenario to another and and think ‘Aha, this is similar to what happened yesterday, I wonder if I misunderstood again?”
So one day at the time we try to unravel situations and see how we can help him make sense of things. To help him understand that others have another perspective and might perceive events differently.