My children started new schools in a new district for the 2017 – 2018 school year, after a move in late Spring of 2017. My son, Brendon, started the 6th grade and my daughter, Adelyn, started the 1st grade. It was not an easy transition for Brendon.
I don't use the term "bullying" loosely; nor, do I take bullying lightly.
It was during the second semester when Stephen (my children’s father/my husband) and I confronted Brendon about uncharacteristic rage he suddenly exhibited. Breaking down, he told us that he was being bullied at school.
In April of 2007, when Brendon was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and a speech deficit from a stroke he suffered before he was born, I instantaneously became worried that he would be teased for the way he walked, ran, and spoke.
I wholeheartedly believe that the stigma often associated with an impairment or difference can be alleviated, or even eliminated, through awareness and education. In my personal experience with pediatric stroke, and its lasting effects, parents desperately want to spread awareness to help others accept their children as they would a child without a diagnosis.
Honestly, we just want the world to see our children the way we see them.
Our previous school district was always open to an educational awareness class I created about the life-long effects of strokes in babies, even unborn, and children.
Since Brendon was in Kindergarten we co-taught our class annually. Each year we made variations to keep it fresh and interesting. Brendon was well known and well respected at school. He had many friends. Our class educated his peers; he didn’t get singled out or made fun of.
At an early age Brendon became a strong advocate for himself, and for other pediatric stroke survivors.
When people didn't know about the stroke Brendon spoke out. Our class prompted understanding, kindness and compassion among his peers, his teachers, and our community.
If someone made fun of Brendon his peers would stick up for him. To Brendon the ignorance of others was a nonissue.
Then, last year “IT” happened.
Brendon was the “new kid” who, as a result of the stroke, happened to have a noticeable stutter. He might as well have had a target on his back.
Let’s face it, in general, Middle School is rough. Then add a lack of awareness into the equation, it results in a perfect opportunity to be targeted for unintentional and intentional cruelty.
Instead of being the confident child Brendon had always been, he was irritable, quiet and reserved.
Eventually he started spending his free time sleeping.
Brendon was depressed.
The main perpetrator of the abuse, the bully, called Brendon retarded and worthless. He called Brendon fat and ugly. He made fun of the way Brendon spoke. In the hallways, he would say something demeaning to Brendon and shove him.
On several occasions the bully went as far as to tell Brendon that he didn't deserve to live. He tried to urge my son to kill himself.
The abuse carried on for months, in locations where there was little direct supervision - in the hallways, the lunchroom, and the locker room.
Brendon revealed to me that he spent much of his time contemplating suicide. Being the new kid with a stutter, he felt isolated, as if no one wanted to give him a chance. He started to believe he didn’t deserve to live.
When Stephen and I learned about what was happening, we encouraged Brendon to separate himself from the bully and his group of friends. We emphatically urged him to report it to a school official he trusted. He refused for fear of retaliation with a vengeance.
I contacted several school officials to alert them of what I knew.
Brendon bravely decided to disassociate himself from the bully and his friends. As opposed to taking abuse, he chose to sit alone at lunch.
School staff, on lunch duty, offered to assist Brendon with finding peers to sit with. While he appreciated it, he refused. What he wanted was to find, on his own, a place where he was accepted and fit in.
Several times throughout the school year I offered to teach our awareness class. At one-point Brendon begged me to make it happen because he knew awareness and education would help others realize he wasn’t the “freak” they believed him to be. If his peers could get to know him, instead of turning away from him, then he wouldn’t feel isolated. I tried to make it happen.
It was time again to urge the school to allow Brendon and I to teach our awareness class.
I asked Brendon if he was willing to co-teach. He responded with an emphatic “yes”.
The end of the school year was rapidly approaching - there was little time to fit anything extra into the schedule, however, the principal said it was past time for the class to happen. They were able to squeeze it into the sixth-grade lunch hour.
Again, Brendon acted bravely. He spoke to hundreds of children – those he felt isolated from and ridiculed by – and staff members to make a difference for himself and for others who may be dealing with relatable circumstances.
Even after we made our presentation, the bully continued to single Brendon out. He pushed him in the hallways, while making derogatory statements towards him.
The bully believed our class was the result of Brendon reporting him. To retaliate he physically attacked Brendon in the locker room, lunging at him and grabbing his throat. Brendon had no choice but to defend himself, at which point the bully ran away.
Again, Brendon made the mistake of not reporting the incident. He was afraid that the bully would convince his friends to “gang up” on him, rendering him defenseless.
Brendon was relieved that the end of the school year was in sight.
During the last two weeks, Brendon found a group of friends who welcomed him at lunch. I believe it was the result of our class. He finally got the opportunity to share his story, it created dialogue for those who wanted to do and to be better. Despite the ongoing issue with the bully, Brendon seemed upbeat about how the school year ended.
With the impending start of a new school year, at the end of summer break, the anxiety fiercely flooded back in.
Brendon's perspective on school was clouded by the memory of being bullied. He continued to endure the effects of the abuse as it played out over and over in his mind. Brendon deeply felt the isolation and title of “freak”, while it stemmed from ignorance, it was difficult.
Brendon was convinced people were only being nice to him, at the end of the previous school year, because they felt sorry for him. I told him that wasn’t true. His response: You’re my mother, you have to say that.
As a result of 9 months of abuse, Brendon questioned his own self-worth. It depleted Brendon of the confidence he had had since he was a young child.
It was a struggle to get Brendon to listen and to trust me. He gave up on school, and started to give up on society and our family because of bullying. Not reporting it compounded the problem.
Everything Brendon revealed to me was no longer going unreported. If my son was pleading with me not to send him back to school I was going to step in. I would help him report what happened.
Just days before the start of the new school year, Brendon, Stephen, Adelyn, and I met with the principal, assistant principal, and the school resource officer. I shared everything I knew – I was Brendon’s voice because he was terrified.
In the meeting, Brendon heard from the school officials present that he’s a valued part of the school community. They told him that he is a much-needed leader in their school. Stephen and I believed Brendon needed to stay there and confront this issue. I pointed out to him, the world is full of bullies. He doesn’t have to go at it alone, there is a group of people standing behind him. Once he reported what happened he would see that school would get better for him.
Long story longer... we walked out of the meeting united and Brendon felt supported.
While he still had trepidation about the first day of school – having to see the bully and his friends again - he knew that he was, not only, welcome at school but is important there.
August 15th was the first day of the 2018 - 2019 school year.
The next day Brendon told me he liked school, somewhat - a HUGE accomplishment from the week prior.
Brendon and I learned a lot through this experience.
As a parent during this overwhelmingly difficult situation, involving my child, here is what I learned:
1) REPORT ALL ABUSE/BULLYING: Remaining silent will only make the situation escalate. Help your child have a voice! More than likely if the school officials are aware of the bullying they will act against it.
2) Be an active and productive part of the solution: This must be dealt with through patience, understanding, communication, and education. Don’t create barriers through an angered reaction.
3) The bully needs help: The act of reporting not only helps the abused but can also help the abuser.
4) Always remember that ignorance creates barriers: Helping raise awareness and education are vital in breaking barriers. Keep up with continuing awareness and education.
Believe me when I say that I am sickened by the way my son was treated. I hate what he endured. It’s hard for me to fathom how another child could be so sadistic to my son or, for that matter, to any child. This is where understanding comes in.
It has been a process, Brendon is happy and his confidence has come back, tenfold.
I am deeply grateful to the principal, the assistant principal, and the school resource officer, among others, for caring about Brendon and working to help make school more positive for him.
As for now the right thing to do is make something positive happen out of this situation by speaking out.
It’s funny that while I was thinking of how to write about this, without Brendon’s knowledge of it, he was repeatedly asking me to help him write a letter to send out to principals across our district and neighboring districts.
The purpose of his letter is to seek permission to speak to 5th graders about being bullied. He wants children to know that the first step to making it better is to report it.
Brendon is passion driven by this situation. He doesn’t want others to suffer from bullying the way he did neither does he want children to feel inclined to bully others. He wants to prevent it.
I shared my blog with him. It drudged horrible feelings for us, however, we are confident it will bring about change.
Always remember that when you know better you do better.