Facing the Crowd Six Strategies to Help the Bullied Parents
Bullying, regardless of its form, usually stems from a lack of understanding, acceptance and empathy. As parents of children with autism, we worry about our children being bullied. We protect them from it in every way possible. However, as parents of children with autism we often suffer bullying too.
The other day, a parent of a child newly diagnosed with autism, came to the Friend 2 Friend Play Centre for a transition visit before the play groups started. Fighting back tears she described her experiences, “I know I should take him [preschool], that it is good for him to be with the other children, but it’s so hard. The other parents stare at me, give me dirty looks, and talk about my son and me. It is not worth it – it’s so hard.”
The good news is that there are a few simple strategies that bullied parents can take to reduce bullying. They are:
Create an All About Us Letter. Write an introductory letter or email to other parents. This letter will introduce you, your family and your child to the other parents. If you are comfortable including the label of autism, do so. If you are not, you can simply say “my child struggles with…”
Create an All About Me. Help your child to create an “all about me book”. Or better yet, ask the teacher if they could have all the children in the class create “all about me” books. Share the books with their classmates and parents. Even if your child is very young, you can assist them in making this book, using photos, etc.
Join a Parents Group. Support of other parents who understand what you are going through is always helpful. Families of children with autism speak a language that is uniquely our own – therefore it is EXTREMELY important that parents connect.
Have an Exit Strategy. Always have an exit strategy. My exit strategy for facing the community is simply this – when I feel bullied by parents or professionals in the community I ask myself, “Do I care about this person’s opinion of me or my child?” The answer is almost alway “no”.
5 Categories of Importance. People in our lives can be put into 1 of 5 categories. 1 being family members and people we are very close to, and 5 being strangers. The truth is, most people who bully us are in categories 4 or 5. These are strangers, or people we may see but don’t even know their names. So why should we care about their opinions?
These few simple steps will help you and your family be proactive in fighting bullying – regardless of its form.
And the next time you see a child fall to the floor screaming while taking off all his clothes in the middle of a department store, instead of judging and ridiculing, try understanding, acceptance and empathy instead. Perhaps that is a child with autism and perhaps the bullied parents are doing the very best they can.