When the Cat’s Away

Even before fifth grade had ended, when we had Nigel’s IEP meeting prior to the start of middle school, I had serious doubts. He would go from having had a full-time educational assistant in one classroom to navigating six classes without an assistant. How could he possibly have any hope of success?

I actually had very few concerns about Nigel being able to make it to his classes – he loved schedules and could easily follow maps. Getting used to a locker would be no problem – he loved mechanical stuff like that. What I worried about was how all the kids who didn’t know him would respond to him. I worried about how there would be no assistant to model positive interaction with peers, and to intervene when things went negative.

Nigel was never late to class, which astounds me considering what he had to endure, day after day. With no educational assistant around, the bullies had a field day. The worst of it was in math class, which was difficult enough for him without having kids make faces at him and hiss his name, which they discovered produced the response they obviously wanted. The hissing was hard on Nigel’s ears, distracting, and demoralizing. The faces enraged him, and he could not control his reactions. Of course, the kids only did this when the teacher’s back was turned, so there was no evidence against them. Only against Nigel, who was trying to get them to stop. But they would continue their attack as he walked to his next class, walking close behind him, hissing in his ear, calling him a “freak,” and I don’t know what else, since that’s all Nigel would tell me. Some of the boys were also in his Language Arts class, and they tormented him there, too. How much fun they must have had riling up the autistic kid, making him lash out so that he would then get in trouble.

Again, as in elementary school, I contacted the teacher (this time two). They said that they were unaware that it was going on, so they would have to bring in an aid or student teacher to watch the kids who were doing it and catch them. Wasn’t Nigel’s word enough? Wasn’t my word as a parent enough? Nigel’s rights as a student and a person were being violated, but it wouldn’t be “fair” to confront his attackers without an adult witness? I tried to suppress my anger and just work with the flawed system that protects the¬†wrong kids.

Within days the aid had witnessed the bullying behavior while the teacher’s back was turned. That teacher notified the math teacher, and the bullies were lectured and told to write letters of apology to Nigel. And the hallway attacks abated, for a time. But they resumed within a few weeks, along with other issues.

2 thoughts on “When the Cat’s Away

  1. Jeffrey Deutsch

    Hi Tanya,

    It’s a tough situation. Obviously, you were anguished, just as any decent parent would be, that Nigel was being bullied.

    I’m sure you understand that the school administration can’t just take Nigel’s word for it (let alone yours – you weren’t even there) that the bullies were hurting him. They could perhaps have held some sort of confrontation with Nigel’s word against theirs, if they really had to. It would have been a “he said, they said” situation and the administrators would have had a tough time of it whichever way they decided because they would in effect be calling at least one student a liar based on nothing but the word of one or more other students.

    Once in a while it’s unavoidable – and it’s certainly preferably to just shutting out one side and just jumping to a conclusion favoring the other side. (And that happens sometimes, including in schools. In my experience, officials commit such injustices more often to protect bullies than to punish them.) If there’s a way to get corroboration, I can definitely understand the school’s wanting to take that course.

    I would say “all’s well that ends well”. The bullies were caught and made to apologize, and Nigel got a brief reprieve. I’m very sorry the bullying quickly resumed; I suspect the outcome was no worse than if the school had just gone ahead and punished the bullies without any witnesses to their misbehavior.

    I’m glad things are better for Nigel now, and I know you’re the most important reason why. I hope he appreciates it.

    Jeff Deutsch

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