"Hey Abigail (name has been changed) - there's a unicorn on the playground. Hurry...come see before he runs away!." Abigail ran to the window and peered out across the playground. Much to her dismay, there was no unicorn; instead what she received was an eruption of laughter as the group of girls who had called her over started retelling the story to the rest of the class.
This story was told to me by Abigail's mother this week. We were discussing how the school year was going for our special children and this Mom was, rightfully so, heart-broken over the pain her daughter endures on a regular basis. For three days in a row last week, Abigail came home in tears after sitting alone for lunch. No one would sit with her or let her sit with them. Abigail is in the 5th grade and has Aspergers (a high functioning form of Autism). She attends a typical school where she participates in a typical classroom. Academically she does great - it's socially where she struggles. Abigail's Mom told me that after the "unicorn incident" she asked Abigail: "Honey, did you really think there was a Unicorn on the playground?" Abigail responded: "No, but I thought 'what if there is?'"
As the mother of two children with Autism, this story hurt my heart. Yes, I worry about the big stuff: Will my son learn how to talk? Will my daughter learn to tolerate change? Will my children become independent adults some day? These questions torture me daily, but just as troubling is the fear of them being socially stigmatized. In some ways, my son has it a little easier in this regard because he has no interest in other children. He wouldn't know if someone was making fun of him nor would he care...I guess ignorance is bliss in this case. My daughter, however, LOVES other children and desperately wants their attention and acceptance. It would devastate her if some mean girls decided that they didn't want to talk to her or manipulated her into doing something that would embarrass her.
Let's be honest - kids are mean. Well, actually, most of them just want to survive and by deflecting attention away from themselves and onto someone else they can escape the pain of being the one that everyone is picking on...but it is still mean no matter what the reason. The realization that there is nothing I can do to protect my children from this, is agonizing. As Mom's we want to fix everything. Give us a problem and we will tackle it with every morsel of energy we have. But what if we can't fix it? Then what?
So, hearing this story about Abigail made me sad and afraid - afraid for my own children and sad because I know that countless children suffer every day at the hands of pint-size bullies. All I can hope is that my children know how much they are loved and trust me enough to come to me with their problems so that I can offer comfort and encouragement.