I had my fair share of childhood bullying, being non-verbal and speaking with a 'funny accent' (plus the braces and overall scrawniness) made me a great target.
It's disappointing still today when bullying is excused as 'just kids being kids' or even a 'rite of passage.' Yet talk to any senior citizen and they still vividly recall their bully's name and the trauma inflicted.
Bullying also strikes a special nerve when you witness your child diagnosed with Apraxia facing it. They're already struggling to talk and now some punk is belittling them? Seriously?
So what do you do if you know it's happening, or suspect it, or even worse-you witness it? Call the police, better yet let's call Liam Neeson to teach them a lesson. Well, one could dream.
After my varying experiences with numerous bullies; here are my takeaways:
1. Ownership of Your Reaction is Empowering:
My parents always instilled in me that bullies were only mean because they're cowardly, and looking to make others as miserable as they were. This is great and all, but as a kid this went way over my head.
What made more sense was that I couldn't control the bully, but I could control my reaction. I knew if I talked back or even verbally defended myself, the bullying would continue. It's not like bullies say, "Oh you're right, I'll leave you alone." They feed off reactions. Thus began my very early habit of staying silent and ignoring them. I'd eventually learn to perfect this skill by ignoring them and slowly walking towards the closest teacher or aide for them to witness it and intervene. I'd also later learn that sometimes relying on friends and immediately running to the nearest adult is sometimes needed.
But at least for the early days of bullying, focusing and controlling my reaction gave me the one thing I desperately wanted at the time of insecurity- control of my well-being.
2. A Meeting Goes A Long Way:
When people give you a casual reminder in passing, it's so easy to forget. Dropping your child off and, in passing, telling the teacher that "Hey can you keep an eye on Adam, I think that kid Ben is bullying him at Recess." You may think this is sufficient, but the teacher is human too. They're watching and teaching a lot of kids at once, come Recess they may forget about your in-passing comment and the bullying will go unaddressed.
My tip: Set up a meeting with the Teacher as soon as you get a sneaky suspicion of bullying. A private one-time meeting will go so much further than an in-passing comment.
There's power in numbers, that goes for your network of parents and the playground network. A child that is already isolated, especially one with Apraxia, will continue to be isolated. Even worse in this isolation, bullies are likely to target the isolated ones more than kids within a larger group. So how to combat this?
A child needs the tools to bridge themselves with others, but if they're non-verbal this may seem twice as difficult. Parents, this is when you come in. By having playdates and meeting with other families with similar-aged kids, you're building a network that can carry over to the playground. Best of all within these small, private playgroups-you can witness the interactions. If a child there asks, "Why is she speaking funny?" You can easily respond in a controlled environment.
My favorite method was a parent called over their child with Apraxia plus the inquisitive one and just had a simple conversation. They asked their child, "Do you like it when she says you speak funny?" The child with Apraxia responded with a no by shaking their head. The inquisitive child looked a bit embarrassed, but the Mom flawlessly responded, "No need to be embarrassed, now you know for next time. [Name] just speaks a little differently because of something called Apraxia, he's still finding his voice."
By incorporating the child into the conversation of 'Hey do you like being called that?' gives them two things: Ownership of the Conversation and Involvement. It's a very preliminary step in the later challenges of self-advocating as a Teenager and an Adult.