An Anti-Bullying Curriculum that Makes my Blood Boil

Seriously.

I never thought anti-bullying curriculum in schools did much.  But I thought they were benign, powerless, useless.  And pretty much all equal.  I didn’t think they created bullies and victims.

Boy, I was wrong.

Look at what a Nebraska School sent home with 5th graders.  Seriously, don’t “tattle” on your abuser. That’s what it said. It was part of a handout that talks about turning “bullies2buddies.”  You can learn more at the bullies2buddies website, but I warn you that the advice there is among the worst possible advice.

Here’s his “rules” to not be bullied (you can see longer descriptions in the picture in the article):

  1. Refuse to get mad
  2. Treat the person being mean as if they are trying to help you
  3. Do not be afraid
  4. Do not verbally defend yourself
  5. Do not attack
  6. If someone physically hurts you, just show you are hurt
  7. Do not tell on bullies
  8. Don’t be a sore loser
  9. Learn to laugh at yourself and not get “hooked” by put-downs

These rules are remarkably similar to Izzy Kalman’s rules. In fact, I’d say they are identical.  You can learn how these rules apply to racism from Izzy himself at his website.  For instance, Rule 7, “Do not tell on bullies,” is included in his “Chapter 8” of The Golden Rule Solution to Racism.

He starts this chapter by talking about how, if you call child protective services when neighbors are “only yelling” at their children, not real abuse, you’ll make your neighbors hate you. Of course “only yelling” is a huge part of him – in rule 6, “If someone physically hurts you, just show you are hurt” (don’t tattle unless they send you to the hospital because you don’t really hurt – seriously, that’s what this guy is advocating) you see his differentiation between physical and all other types of pain. Frankly, that’s bullshit. Pain is pain, and all pain is real.

I know why I wanted to kill myself as a kid. It wasn’t physical pain. I had kids burn me, cut me, punch me, etc, but it was the humiliation that most hurt me. Constant, unending humiliation. I felt that I was at fault. That if I could defend myself, not do stupid stuff, not laugh wrong (seriously, this was a suggestion by a shrink to a suicidal kid – learn laugh “properly” rather than how I was doing it), then I could free myself from the humiliation. When I realized that nothing I could do would stop the abuse, hopelessness and despair – and extreme depression followed. It wasn’t the physical pain. It was the attempt at destroying my soul.

The chapter then launches into an anti-government diatribe (the phrase “Evil Empire” is included, a phrase that probably doesn’t resonate with all that many teachers or parents these days, who didn’t really live through the cold war), followed by some real gems. Keep in mind, this is about ending racism.

When people are doing or saying things against Jews – as long as there is no immediate threat to our bodies or property – about the worst thing to do is rush to report them to the authorities. Instead, we should talk to them directly, not with anger, but as to friends. Ask them sincerely why they are doing or saying it. If there is something wrong about their motivation or understanding, let them know what their mistake is. If they insist on continuing to do what you believe is wrong, talk to them again, but without anger. Pain, yes; anger, no.

First, he again distinguishes “real” racism (your body or property is in danger) from the rest of racism. Note that verbal abuse or illegal acts – such as a boss refusing to promote a Jew – don’t seem to be real to this man. I don’t think that was an oversight in his writing.

When there is antisemitism, particularly in a place with rules against it (like a school or business), it is not necessary for you to be a “friend” to convince them of the error of their ways. While lots of people disagree on how to address hate, it is not appropriate to expect the targets of the hate (Jewish people in his example) to befriend the person spewing hate. And, remember, this is in context to someone calling child protective services when there is not actual abuse. Basically, if you don’t befriend, and you seek protection at work, school, or from your government, you’re crying wolf.

He has all sorts of hogwash like this – I could spend days yelling at my computer about it. One thing is for sure: I would have a hard time being a friend of this man.

Lest  you think it is just one isolated person, I believe the Lincoln (Nebraska) School District got this crap as a result of their anti-bullying program. Their program included participation of Brooks Gibbs.

Meet Brooks Gibbs:

That’s his marketing video.

It’s sickening.  His basic philosophy is “If you’re nice to the bullies, they’ll be nice to you.” He teaches that God wants us to passively accept abuse. He teaches a form of victim blaming. That’s dangerous. It’s deadly.

How is this connected to Izzy, who made these awful rules about how to avoid being be a victim?  Well, they believe pretty much the same awful hogwash. He teaches the Kalman – as in Izzy Kalman – bullying prevention program.

Check out his Lesson 5 – Physical bullying, from the above link.

Let me transcribe some of the horrible advice:

If someone causes you physical pain, they push you, first don’t make a big deal out of it.

Because most people don’t want to hurt you unless you are hurting them.

See, most students don’t want to actually send you to the hospital.

When someone pushes you, they are just trying to get you upset.

Very rarely does someone just come up and punch you in the face as hard as they can for no reason. That’s called a sociopath who doesn’t have a feelings and they don’t care about your pain. In fact they get pleasure from it.

Most kids aren’t sociopaths, in fact sociopaths are less than 2% of the population and most of them are in prison or in hospital. You see the students you hang out with every day who might physically bully you are just really trying to get you upset.

He goes on, and claims that the physical bullying only occurs because of an exchange of verbal insults back and forth, which escalate into a confrontation. That may be how bar fights start, but it isn’t bullying.  I’m not going to comment on the sociopath statements about them being in hospitals or prison, but I will say he should learn before he teaches.

He goes on to talk about how you need to understand why a kid wants to physically bully you (which, if it was adults, would be called battery).

Can you imagine asking an abused wife to “understand your husband, so that you can break the cycle of bullying?” No, you hopefully help her find a safe place.

It’s all like this. And, again, it’s not just Mark Gibbs, hired with our tax dollars by some random Nebraska school district (actually the second largest district in the state). First, Mr. Gibbs’ client list is scary. It truly scares me that professional educators would hire people spewing this crap. But, second, this is part of a wider movement – the idea that “kids will be kids” and it’s really the victims that need to be taught “social skills” to deal with bullying.

I went through that, probably before Mr. Gibbs was born. And what he is preaching (yes, literally, although it’s stealth in his public school stuff) is no different than my experience. It doesn’t work, it can’t work. I literally have years of experience with this crap. You don’t “bully-proof” your kid anymore than you “abuse-proof” a woman to avoid being a battered wife. You deal with the problem. The problem is not the autistic kid who is different and doesn’t know when the adult does or doesn’t want to be bothered with his problems (these programs seem to be sold on the premise that it will reduce staff workload on bullying – look at the first expected outcome for schools of Izzy’s program). It’s not that the kid tells an adult when he’s punched. It’s the behavior of the bullies.

So, now I know something I didn’t know yesterday. You have to make sure anti-bullying programs see the bully as the problem rather than the victim as the problem. I would never have thought that was a concern until today.

My advice for schools and parents? Don’t just avoid, but RUN from any program that claims to show that the majority of experts are wrong. If it is an explicit claim, you better show them the door. In the best case, you’ll look unprofessional and incompetent – like Lincoln Public Schools. In the worst case, your student who has already contemplated suicide will be taught that the problem is himself. No student should be taught that.

A Response to All the Quackery & BS in One Blog Entry

This post started because I realized I’d go to jail for cleansing colons. I saw one too many articles today about cleansing colons. My first thought was to go cleanse some people’s colons for publicizing this quack crap, but I’d probably end up in jail.

So I’m going to write instead. And it’s probably going to piss some people off. But, you know what? I’m sick of people messing with their kids’ bodies on the basis of instinct and what sounds good. Facts are not evil, people! When you have some facts, you should use them.

Sadly, the people doing the actual colon cleansing on innocent children get away with it, without jail.

So here’s my response, just in case anyone is curious about any of this.

First, your kid doesn’t need his colon cleansed.

Seriously. He doesn’t. No, he doesn’t. Yes, he has shit in his colon. You do too. But keep the shit in the colon and don’t replace your brains with shit. It’s supposed to be there! But you can read about the science of this here. Don’t have shit for brains. Keep it where it belongs.

Your kid doesn’t need a GF/CF Diet

Okay, if your kid really has celiac disease, certainly keep him on a GF diet (no need to do CF, however). For those not in the know, GF is “gluten free.” Gluten is found in pretty much all wheat and grains. Here’s a news flash: grains and wheats are good for you (unless you truly do have an allergy, and most of us don’t, autistic or not). It’s one of the key things that makes bread, well, bread.

CF is “casein free”. Casein is in milk and milk products. If your kid has a milk allergy (not noticed through behavior, but rather by things like a life threatening anaphylaxis reaction, hives, swelling in the lips and throat, etc), certainly don’t give the kid milk! But, again, milk is generally good for almost all autistic people.

Your kid almost certainly isn’t both gluten and casein allergic! If you have that rare kid, certainly, feed them whatever is left that doesn’t contain these things. But get a second opinion when deciding to alter your kid’s diet and restrict him to only a handful of things. The medical profession actually can diagnose this type of thing, so let them!

Now, lots of people say that removing G or C from a diet made their kids behave/communicate/toilet better (actually, it’s almost always both G and C). Science says bullshit in general.

You Don’t Need to be Perfect

Related to diets and such, one common quackery theme is that even one particle of contamination (where contamination is something natural in food, like gluten) will cause your kid to regress. The theory is basically that this seed of evil will germinate inside your kid and destroy him, without another cleansing/chelation/etc treatment.

So, if the treatment doesn’t help, guess what the problem is…if you guess YOU, you guessed right! You probably missed some infinitesimal seed of gluten. You didn’t do it good enough. The diet is fine. It’s you that’s a failure.

Again, that’s bullshit. One microgram of wheat will not hurt your kid.

But putting your kid on an extremely restrictive diet (how many food items can you name without milk or wheat or grain) is not good. It’s a lot harder to make a balanced diet when you cut out whole food groups – especially if your kid is a picky eater. Heck, plenty of autistics practically live on pizza. I’ve tried GF/CF pizza. Never again.

Shots don’t Give Mercury Poisoning

I’m not going to bother to support my argument, not because I can’t, but because thousands of other people have done so online, who have a lot better medical knowledge than you or I do.

Vaccinations are safe.  Period.  You are rejecting science if you don’t believe this.

Vaccinations also keep your kid well.  Despite the garbage to the contrary, it is good for your kid to be well.

Mercury Poisoning is Nothing Like Autism

Despite a published list a few years ago by some quacks that compares “symptoms of mercury poisoning” to “symptoms of autism,” the symptoms are not even close to the same. Mercury poisoning affects the skin and, particularly, the eyes in addition to the brain. If your doctor can’t tell the difference, you need a different doctor.

You Don’t Need to Ingest Metal

No, gold dust, gold pellets, and gold salts are not helpful. If you want gold, stick to jewelry that you like the look of. After all, it’s not even that great of an investment. But I’ll guarantee it’s a better investment as a coin or jewelry than ending up down the toilet.

Nor do You Need to Chelate Metal!

When the quacks aren’t trying to get people to take metal, they chelate them. Again, mercury isn’t autism, but plenty of quacks convince people it is. In the process, they suggest things like chelation – a process that is designed to remove metals from the body. One particularly scary treatment is EDTA chelation. Like most autism-related quackery things, it’s also a sold as quackery to cancer patients – so the American Cancer Society says some things about it, including:

Available scientific evidence does not support claims that chelation therapy is a safe treatment for any type of cancer. Chelation therapy may produce toxic effects, including kidney damage, irregular heart beat, and swelling of the veins. It may also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and temporary lowering of blood pressure. Since the therapy removes minerals from the body, there is a risk of developing low calcium levels (hypocalcemia) and bone damage. Chelation therapy may also impair the immune system and decrease the body’s ability to produce insulin. People may also feel pain at the site of the EDTA injection. Chelation therapy may be dangerous in people with kidney disease, liver disease, or bleeding disorders. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use this method.

Chelation therapy is often given along with large doses of vitamins and other minerals, which may actually contribute to the processes that produce dangerous free radicals in the body. Loss of zinc can also lead to mutations in cells. For this reason, chelation therapy may actually increase the risk of cancer.

In other words, this is not something to do to your kid, except in one circumstance: if you have solid proof your child has heavy metal poisoning. Note, again, that would never be confused with autism by anyone in the slightest bit competent. It has enough side-effects, I’d make sure to get a second opinion from another mainstream doctor, and then I would make sure that the facility where it is done can respond to the life-threatening emergencies (such as heart failure) that may occur.

But, again, it doesn’t do shit for autism.

Enema – More Shit Problems

Again, related to colon cleansing, this generally shouldn’t be a routine procedure for people! It can help with constipation and it can help with getting rid of shit for a colonoscopy. Other than that, it doesn’t particularly help autistic people.

Even worse is when standard enema are replaced with – essentially – bleach. Do you really think exposing sensitive organs (the colon) to bleach is a good idea? It’s not. Even when it’s called something like Miracle Mineral Supplement (nor is MMS good ingested orally – go figure, drinking bleach is bad for you). Did I mention MMS supposedly treats cancer?

Protip: anything that treats both cancer and autism does neither; this goes double for anything that adds HIV to the mix of things it supposedly treats.

Ah, the Fascination with Shit

There’s a huge fascination with shit among quackery. There’s a lot of parents that have trouble toilet training their autistic children, so I can understand the focus on shit. But, at the same time, not being able to communicate to a person to teach toilet training does not mean that the person has a health condition in their gut. Nor does periodic bouts of diarrhea or constipation indicate general health issues – we all deal with this. But if it is frequent, definitely talk to a mainstream doctor about the condition. But you’re not dealing with autism, you’re dealing with something else.

There’s also difficulty autistics have processing sensory information and sometimes making motor movements, both of which are required for successful toilet training. Someone that is helping will know this and consider this, and not just radical diet changes without evidence of problems (other than stool).

Finally, stress messes up people’s guts. And plenty of autistic people have stressful lives, due to sensory issues, social expectations, and, sadly, some of the things people do to try to cure them. I don’t know much about toilet training, but I know that stressing out the kid doesn’t help. Go figure – stress doesn’t help with any kind of learning. Or health.

Oh, There’s More

Yes, there are other quackeries. I’m not going to get into some of the other ones now, as these were the ones that annoyed me today. Maybe you’ll see a second post later.

So What Can You Do?

In general, what you do for other kids. Feed them good food (not restricted diets only because the kid is autistic). Focus on things other than shit all the time (seriously!). Stay away from things that claim to cure cancer. Don’t think that there is some sort of secret knowledge that science and Big Pharma is hiding from you – there’s plenty of problems in our health care system and with corporate pharmaceuticals, but spreading autism isn’t one of them – and plenty of Big Pharma developed drugs are good and helpful, even life saving.

Realize there is no cure for autism. So instead of curing and overcoming, focus on ways you can raise your kid to be at the fullest of his autistic potential. Listen to him when he complains (with words or otherwise) of environmental stimulus (like sounds, tastes, etc). Try not to add to a stressful life!

Find your kid’s strengths and gifts. What does he do best? Did you know that research has shown that there are some brain functions that autistic people do really well, not just ones they do badly? Discover what is unique and wonderful about your child. Autism or not, he’s your child!

What’s a Safe Space?

Previously, I’ve written about what I see as the overuse of the word “trigger” – how it has essentially become code word for “something I have a strong negative reaction to” and thus not at all the original intent of the word (which was to label those things that, when present, could cause a person to become a danger to someone or to lose the ability to manage their life for a time).  That overuse means that people who feel strongly about some subjects and people who have serious risk to themselves are characterized the same – and that’s a disservice to people who need to explain that, no, this isn’t just something they strongly oppose and have anger about, but is something they can’t be around – not because they don’t like it, but because they’ll lose control.

There’s another term that has morphed over the years: safe space. This term has evolved over the years – I’m going to discuss that evolution and how safe space might be applied by an organization that isn’t only designed to be a safe space, if that organization would want to. I’m going to use the example of a church service for this, but obviously it would apply to other contexts.

Th term, “safe space,” seems to have originated with domestic violence shelters and outreach – the goal was to provide a physical “safe space” where a victim of domestic violence would be safe from their attacker.  These spaces might not have well publicized locations (so the abuser can’t find it), would not identify people staying there, would have procedures for people arriving and departing the space without being tracked, might have security staff, and would be understanding that people who have been abused in their home will feel uneasy just about anywhere after their sanctuary was invaded.

Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t make something like a church a “safe space” in this regard – it probably wouldn’t have security personnel, a hidden location, and procedures to keep the identity of attendees secret, nor would other attendees be well-vetted before arriving.  They might understand domestic abuse and do what they can to keep a victim physically safe, but a normal Sunday service wouldn’t be a safe-space, no matter how great the church, in the original “safe space” sense, without substantial changes.  That said, that doesn’t prevent them from being decent and using some sense – things like child release policies (make sure children in child care are only released to an authorized person, for instance), ensuring that ushers and others know about legal orders or the need to ask certain people to leave (with police help if needed) if they visit the service, and respecting the idea that the victim is in a very vulnerable and hurt state.  A church might even offer key sacraments through a visit to a truly safe space. But, regardless, it’s not likely to be able to make the service itself a safe space in the same way as a domestic violence shelter may, no matter how well intentioned or how good the people are.

Later, the term, “safe space,” became used by feminist and LGBT groups.  Both used the term to means something different than the space used by the domestic violence safe spaces.

Some women’s groups used the term to mean, “places where we are safe from oppression by men.”  This was some of the original intent of women-only (or womyn-only) space – the idea was that, generally, the people oppressing women were men, so without men, there would be less oppression.  This greatly simplifies the concept, and it is quite a bit more nuanced than this would imply – and I know that (and you should too before you just repeat this!).  However, two things came of this – first, obviously some women can internalize prejudice and thus perpetuate prejudice against themselves and other women.  Secondly, creating such a space meant creating a definition of who could be there – and any such definition will be controversial (for instance, is a trans woman allowed?  Whether or not she’s had surgery?  How about an intersexed person?  Or a trans man?).  There have been many fights over who is a woman (I’ll also add that women aren’t the only marginalized community to fight over who is part of their community).  So this definition has been changing over the years, bringing it more in line with the LGBT definition of safe space.

There’s some purposes served by having a space for a marginalized community – it can be valuable for growing a community, giving people a sense of comfort the outside world lacks, and providing freedom for people to say and do things they might not do in the wider world.

But of course this, too, isn’t a definition of safe space that could be applied to our hypothetical church service – unless the church was to exclude all whites, men, non-disabled, etc, people to make it a safe place in this sense for marginalized populations (such as non-whites, women, disabled people, etc).

That takes us to the LGBT definition.  I remember being a kid in school when this started in my area – certain teachers would have a pink triangle (pointed down). I didn’t know the pink triangle had roots in LGBT oppression and was now a symbol of the fight against that oppression, but I was told it symbolized “safe space.”  That is, it was a place where an LGB (I suspect most safe spaces weren’t ready for T at the time) student could go if he or she needed someone to talk to. It would be a place where the person’s sexual orientation wouldn’t be challenged, nor would the person be told they were a sinner. There was physical safety as well – the person displaying the triangle wasn’t going to attack someone who discloses homosexuality.

Being older, and with more understanding of the LGBT movement, I now realize that it was meant to be a place of support, to give the student a place to have a shoulder to lean on that wouldn’t be judgmental, wouldn’t gossip about it, and maybe could help the student find ways of dealing with the discrimination they face. There weren’t a lot of places where someone could go without hearing about the old testament or telling someone who might gossip about it.  I also learned the LGB safe space concept started not in classrooms, but in corporate America, as a way for allies to show their support in a more practical way.

Other oppressed populations have also adopted this concept (including many women’s rights organizations, replacing the original definitions used by these types of organizations).

I believe this last form of safe space – the LGBT movement’s definition of safe space – is the most common definition of safe space used today.  Today, when someone says, “safe space,” what they are probably saying is, “Certain beliefs will not be expressed here, nor will people be judged for certain actions. There’s a community standard in place.”  For example, a disability-rights safe space might prohibit blatant ablism and might require people participating to understand the basics of disability rights already (so that each new non-disabled person joining the space wouldn’t need to be taught disability 101 by the disabled people in the space who are likely very, very sick of doing this teaching with people).

Again, with our hypothetical church service, making it this type of safe space can be difficult. Let’s continue with our disability-rights safe space concept. Maybe the church does decide that they will not allow, uncontested, the discussion of why disabled people should be in institutions. That won’t however stop someone from coming off the street and raising the topic until someone stands up and says, “We don’t do that here” (which will probably raise all sorts of other problems, like how the person is disabled themselves or how they have a disabled family member). Yes, hopefully others will step up, but should the person be removed from the church or should they be educated? If educated, that is one of the things that safe space is supposed to protect the marginalized person from having to do – it gets old to have to give disability 101 training to everyone! But of course some people do need disability 101 training. Maybe you can get non-disabled people to do that training, but that training will take time. What do you do in the meantime?

I believe strongly in value of all the types of safe space listed above, and feel that it is important to have these spaces for people. But, at the same time, I also believe it’s important to define exactly what we want out of our safe spaces – particularly when extending this to spaces that aren’t dedicated safe spaces in the way a domestic violence shelter may be (such as our hypothetical church service). How do we make that church service (or anything else) a safe space? What does safe mean? Does it mean physical protection from your abusive husband? A place where people who you won’t run into a person who shares a common characteristic with your most common oppressors?  A place where you will not have to listen to people’s “ism’s”, such as racism, ablism, and misogyny (an -ism by another suffix)? Or is it a place where you don’t have to explain to every single new person how to interact decently?

It’s worth having these discussions. And certainly, once people are aware of an issue of oppression or safety, they should consider it in the spaces they have authority in – certainly no ally of the LGBT community, for instance, wants to be part of a place that allows homophobes to spew hate. Or which requires the one person in a commonly oppressed group to have to educate everyone in the organization, continually. Or to allow a domestic abuser to gain access to children he (or she) abused. Nothing is perfect, but we can get better.

At the same time, it’s important to say what we want when we want safe space. What, exactly, are the parameters for our space, and how is this different from just wanting a space where everyone is like us or nobody disagrees with us? It is different, but it’s important to be able to explain why and not just use the code word “safety”. Everyone wants safety, but we all have different ideas of what “safe” means. So we need to be explicit.

In the meantime, we need to keep working to eliminate the -isms, to educate people about different kinds of people, and to make sure abuse victims really are safe from their abusers.

Why Don’t Kids Report Bullying?

HRC posted a piece on why kids don’t report bullying to school employees.  The article’s a good read, based on fact, but it brought back why didn’t report bullying.

It was simple: reporting the bullying didn’t help.

I was kicked, hit, sexually assaulted, burned, choked, manipulated, humiliated, insulted, excluded, scapegoated, and teased for 13 years of public school.  13 years.

The other kids figured out quickly two things. First, they figured out that I was different. I didn’t act like the other kids. I don’t remember all the names, but I know in my early elementary years, “retard” was a favorite. And in my high school years, “faggot” was a favorite. But it didn’t particularly remember what the name or label was, or whether they were accurate or not. An unathletic, tiny, weak, autistic kid is an easy target. I was an easy target.

I never will be able to express what the humiliation felt like every day of my school career. I just wanted to disappear. I just wanted to be ignored. Anything would have been better than the humiliation.

Even in early grades, I learned I was the problem. I heard that not just from other kids, but from the school itself. I was the problem. I was the kid that didn’t know when to be quiet in class. I was the kid that would get distracted and look out the window. I was the kid that would leave class for no apparent reason (not being able to cope wasn’t a good reason, after all).

I spent two weeks in isolation in elementary school for telling the truth to a principle – that I didn’t vandalize a bathroom. The kid who “witnessed” this destruction (who later I realized probably did it) was thanked for his truthfulness. I was put in a small room with no humans for two weeks. It took me 20 years to simply be able to pee in a public bathroom after that. I wasn’t believed. That was typical.

In Junior High, a teacher watched a 9th grader who was much bigger than the 7th grader I was (well, they were all bigger than me in Junior High – I started Junior High in the .1 percentile of weight) literally lifting and throwing me to take my place in the lunch line. The response? We were both given detention. For fighting. (as an aside, I finally did grow in the 9th grade – and am average height today – something that boggled the heck out of my poor parents trying to keep clothes on me my 9th grade year!)

I remember other times where was the problem when I was bullied. I remember the PE teacher I ran to, fearing the kids chasing me would kill me. I was told to be a man. Again, I was the problem. I remember being sent to a behavior program during the sumer because I was causing too much trouble in class (yes, they sent a bunch of bullies to the same program; you can guess how that worked out for me, although the worst injury I received their was inflicted by a staff member – and, no, I didn’t bother to tell an adult). I remember day in and day out of abuse.

When I reported it? I was the problem. If only I behaved differently. At one point, I was actually told to laugh differently if I didn’t want to be bullied. Even the rare expression of joy was a problem to be corrected.

Most often, the response was to tell me how I could have kept the kids from bullying me. I could have stood up for myself. I could have walked away. I could have told an adult (uh…that’s what I did when I got told this…). I could have…well, it doesn’t really matter. Only rarely were the bullies dealt with – and when they were, they got no more than a token punishment. And who was the bully? Damn near every other kid. And some teachers. I was always in trouble. When the bully got in trouble, it was a “good kid” that did one minor mistake. I get two weeks in the hole for telling the truth about not throwing toilet paper around a bathroom. They get a detention for giving me a black eye.

You learn quickly not to report it when you live through this day after day. I’d guess I reported maybe one of a thousand incidents. Yes, thousand. There must have been tens of thousands of incidents during my school career. Sure, most were minor – minor insults, light pinches, subtle humiliations. But even minor, when you have thousands of these events happening every year to you, it wears you down pretty quickly.

I’d like to say that I was uniquely bullied in school. I do suspect the degree of bullying I received was well beyond the comprehension of most adults (including my parents). I know my parents were shocked when, as an adult, I told them I didn’t vandalize the bathroom in school. They were sure I did it. They believe me now, but it took 20 years to be believed by anyone.

I did tell adults. They just did nothing about it.

And I told in ways other than voice.

I missed over two months of school every year from about 4th grade through 11th grade (in 12th grade, I finally found an adult that would rescue me by allowing me to skip classes when I wanted – unsurprisingly that’s the only year I had a decent GPA).

I failed about half my classes in 8th grade through 11th grade (I not only passed everything in 12th grade, but got a 4.0 GPA; the difference? Being able to escape my classmates).  What kind of kid can earn a 4.0 GPA in 12th grade but fails most of his required classes in 11th grade? It’s simple: an abused kid, where there was at least a partial solution in 12th grade.

Any PE teacher could have watched how the kids picked people for their team. It would have been darn clear that something was going on there. And, no, it’s not that I wasn’t a skilled athlete.

Anyone could have been a hero. Way too few were.

The signs were there. It should have been easy to see. Even when I didn’t speak about the abuse. Even when I had lost hope in the adults.

To the teachers and administrators, I have one simple, simple message: look out for that wierd, small, annoying kid. Nobody else is. Maybe, just maybe, his behavior problems aren’t a desire to torture you. Maybe they are a result of never-ending abuse. Help and you’ll be amazed. The few adults that did listen, that somehow spotted me, that somehow saw something beautiful in me despite the labels and behaviors, they are my heroes. They saved my life. You have no idea how important you might be to a kid. That 12th grade teacher (who didn’t actually teach me!) willing to write me passes to get out of class…she saved my life.

I probably should have told those few adults who actually helped me, who respected me. But by then I was too beat down, and too far from being able to heal. But they still provided me some respite from the abuse. And even that is a blessing.

And when an abused kid – whether abused by adults or other kids – actually tells you about abuse, act on it. You might not hear the word “abuse” used. You’ll probably hear that someone did something to the kid, and it probably sounds like the kid’s blowing it out of proportion and not dealing with things. But maybe, just maybe, you should investigate it and find out if this might just be one of thousands of incidents, and maybe, just maybe, the kid is hoping he can trust. Show your courage and your heart. Show you can be trusted. Do something. It takes a lot to build trust in someone that’s been abused. But show you can be trusted. Show you will listen. And believe. And do.

To that kid: I know it’s damn near impossible to believe me, but you can keep going. Just make it through to another day. I believe you. You don’t deserve this crap. The happiest day of my life was when I left home and traveled 300 miles to college. I had plenty of problems there too, and definitely lacked support (primarily because I had no trust in the ability of others to help me) – heck, I didn’t eat for a week simply because I had no way to ask where the cafeteria was. Not eating for a week was better than being in my hometown. And I did eventually find out where to eat. And I made friends. Yes, friends. People who actually liked me, protected me, spent time with me. What a relief it was to actually have a human to spend time with.

I do know how hard it is. Maybe I had it harder than you, maybe you have it harder than I did. I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. Torture is torture, and is never okay. I’m hoping you keep going, that you somehow find strength that no human should need to find. But you’ve done it so far. Please, go on another day. There is hope. In your heart, you believe it too. You had to or you wouldn’t have gotten this far. Listen to that, and don’t let your brain tell you otherwise. Even when you can’t see a way out, things can change.

Notice Anything Missing?

frontlineFrontline (PBS) did a program recently on assisted living facilities (you may be able to watch it – I don’t know if there are geo restrictions or not, but I can see the video as a US resident).  For people who don’t know, these are the mostly unregulated places that are sold to older people (and their families) as “better than nursing homes.”  However, as this program explains, they too often come with problems too.

But, that’s not why I’m writing this.  I’m writing because something was missing from this program.

No, I’m not writing about the program’s bias towards nursing home care (you need nursing home care to prevent bed sores in elderly disabled people?  Really?!).  That was a problem too, but that’s not what I’m writing about.

I’m writing that not one single resident of an assisted living facility was part of the program.  Not even one.

Oh, they’re crazy batty old folk.  Why would they matter?  Why should their voice be part of a program about how to treat old folk?

I’m kind of used to this.  I’m kind of used to watching TV programs about autism that don’t include any autistic people (but do include plenty of parents, researchers, doctors, teachers, and staff people).  And I’m used to us being excluded from the story when one of us is hurt, abused, or murdered.  Heck, we’ll hear how hard it is to take care of an autistic person, but we won’t hear how this type of thing makes autistic people feel.  Or what we might want done about it.  We don’t matter.  We’re just crazy people without emotions.  Ya, right.

Apparently older people are in the same category, particularly if they have dementia.  Get a diagnosis like that and you can’t possibly know if you’re being taken care of or not, right?  Uh, no.  You can.  Surely there was at least one person in one assisted living facility somewhere in the United States who had an opinion on their living situation that was worth hearing.  Maybe they like it.  Maybe they hate it.  I don’t know.  I didn’t get to hear them.

I’m sick of the people affected being ignored when this type of thing happens.  Yes, I’m used to it too.  But that doesn’t mean we should be silent.  Shame on you, Frontline!  There was a story there.  But you missed the most important people in that story.