“Peter, you will never ever go to those apartments to play; those boys will beat you and you could get badly hurt or even die if he hits you with the bat? Do you understand? Even if we want to, we may not be able to help you. These boys are bullies, you cannot make friends with bullies. Do you understand me? – I said sternly filled with anxiety.
“And dare you break my rules, your Coimbatore trip will be cancelled, you will have no holiday and definitely no meeting relatives or friends. I will make your holidays miserable and you will feel very sad. Do you get me?” – I spoke with a soft but forbidding tone.
Peter, please understand that it is not done kanna, there is no need to go to play with those boys anymore. – pleaded the father.
And did you have to speak such words? Tell us what happen. – asked the desperate mother.”
Peter is a child aged 11, who I must say is amazingly astute and resourceful for his age. He is on the spectrum and loves his gadgets, obsesses about his cartoons, characters from the real and unreal worlds and like any other child loves to be loved and appreciated.
Peter is a super chatter and comes across superficially as too bold and bratty for his age. My friend, who is a leading behavior therapist and autism professional and someone who is an authority on who can or can’t fit into my space mentioned with a ghastly expression that this child was denied from school to school, which totaled to 8 schools.
I was dismayed to hear that and wondered where we as a system were going wrong. If we can’t work with him; then whom can we work with? Feeling sad and disgruntled was not something that would help so we went on with the assessments and had many chats to understand what we would be dealing with.
Peter’s main concerns seemed to rest with his compulsive obsessions, his wayward attention span, the dearth of motivation and in bold from the many school denials – the many many aggressive and unmanageable BEHAVIORS.
One thing that struck me was that his past experiences in the varied environments had taught him to be rude, rebellious, unruly and extremely impatient. But his need to please others, to gain attention from others and also the insistent urge to prove that he was intelligent was immense too, so I knew that while I would struggle – the possibilities of triumph were also equally high.
One of Peter’s main strengths is his ability to chatter away. I see it as a strength because I have spent many silent moments with my boys wondering – “if only he could tell me” – and this is a feeling I do not like.
He chatters away like a train and many times only about his obsessions and the many anxieties that possible define his world. I suspect anyone sensed that he was chattering away as he felt calmer and it helped him cope with difficult situations. However, for this behavior he was being punished and excluded. This skill with talking and or understanding whatever little he managed to, did not really help him include; as we will discover in the following story.
BACK TO TODAY:
The whole episode blew up in front of me, when the mother received a call from one of the neighbors whose daughter Peter would play with on a regular basis. She complained to the mother about Peter being a bratty youngster who spoke rudely and used explicit abuses on all the boys that played with him. She also expressed her concern over allowing such a child to be his daughter’s friend and especially when they are left unsupervised.
The chat was a long one and the mother seemed to sink deeper as it progressed. Though I have known for the mother to be a fighter – the things that were told to her about her son were so extreme that as a mother anyone would find it difficult to manage.
During the conversation it was mentioned that two boys aged 14ish, were spreading the word in the apartment that her son was troubling all the kids and also creating a negative environment with his explicitly abusive language and bad behaviors.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPEN: Mostly in Peter’s Voice.
Moving backwards to a few more months earlier as reported by Peter.
Sometime in March 2014.
“I met Vito and Pedro on March 2014, at my friend’s birthday party. They were continuously talking about some cartoons and I was not interested. I kept telling them that I am not interested in the cartoons” – retorted a confused voice to me.
“So, then, they both started repeating – ‘Peter does not like anything in the world.’ I did not care about it then. At that time, I thought we were all friends. – said the little one.
17th April 2016:
“I was very happy to go and play with Steven and so I took the cricket kit and went looking for him.” – said a happy face that was obviously revoking the happy feeling.
“I met Vito and Pedro again and I was happy to see them. My friend Steven suggested that we go play cricket with them. So, I went along and they seemed nice first. We were playing cricket and after some time they started to call me a fool and did not want to play with me. They said – “Get lost rascal, we don’t care about you and we will never take you in the cricket game and never be friendly with this foolish Peter.” – said the little one with big eyes fluttering while looking at his teacher and parents.
Steven said that you kept chattering and so the boys got irritated – said the mom.
Yes I was talking but…. – heaved a somber Peter.
No buts or ifs, you are a spoilsport – if you talk while other children are playing then, no one will play with you. You must learn to focus on the game when playing. – I said desperately hoping that we could help him see his mistakes so that he could turn for the better.
“…but, I was trying to play and cricket is so difficult, I cannot understand how to play it properly.” – said a beseeching tone.
“Well talking will not help you understand the game, will it? – I spoke widening my eyes and moving closer to his face. Peter was quiet after which he lowered his eyes.
“OK, then what happen? – continue” – I exhaled heavily.
“I felt very angry with them and so I started saying – Vito is a fool, Vito is a fool, Vito is a fool.
Finally I asked them to get lost and die. They did not like that I was talking with Steven and kept telling Steven that they do not want me to be there. I was getting more and more irritated.” – said a very worried face of Peter’s.
I was very irritated and so I went and complained to Steven’s father about what the boys were doing. – ended a dejected looking Peter with a sigh.
Yes, Steven’s father spoke to me Peter and he helped you too. He took the stumps away from the boys and told them that if they do not include you then they cannot have the kit too. – said his mother hoping to reinforce that there are people who stand by him and he is not alone.
Then what happen – tell us – I persisted.
Then I came home and I felt like crying, I held my parents and told them that I was all alone and that no one wanted to play with me. I realized that day that I only had my parents and brother. I almost cried. I told my parents that I will never go to their apartment again. – said a quivering lip while he was clenching his teeth and frowning his face.
All of us knew that this was a passing phase and he would be up and ready to go back again tomorrow.
“Today, I ran away from home when my mother was busy in the kitchen, and I saw Pedro’s mother and told her about how the two boys were troubling me.” – screamed an unrelenting and jittery voice in my ear on the phone.
“And… what did she say?” – I asked suppressing my displeasure for his sneak-out plan.
“Nothing, I finished telling her what I wanted to and then I went away to play with Steven. Later I saw those two boys. Vito and Pranav came to me and started to tell me that they were angry with me because I complained to their mother and also wanted to slap me. I felt scared and ran from there to escape from these boys and later I told my brother what had happen. – screeched an exasperated sound.
“This started off as a good day. The two boys came and asked for the stumps and promised to include me in the game. I was feeling good that I could be friends again with the boys.” – spoke a voice filled with delight.
“I did all my work for the day and left to play with the boys with a pack of biscuits that I had brought form the store, I wanted to share it with them. I took the cricket kit and went to meet them and offered them the biscuits too. They were not interested in the biscuits. I wanted to apologize to them for the bad words I had said.
I waited while eating but the boys did not call me to play and I was feeling tired of waiting. I don’t like waiting, it’s a waste of my time.” – he looked insistently in the eyes of his mother.
“They cheated me and did not let me play. I was just standing and getting angry. Then, Vito hit the ball with the bat and that ball went and hit Pedro – I wanted to help him and I said – Oh, what happen to him? But I laughed a little bit. I did not want to laugh, I really tried to control my laugh, I really did but I think a little laugh did happen.” – said Peter.
“Then Vito picked the stumps and came to hit me. He said – Who do you think you are? F—K you? Aye, will beat you man, you F__K_R. And I got very scared. I did not know what to do? I really was feeling very bad” – said the little one with a cracked voice.
“I got very scared because they were going to hit me – so I screamed loudly and told them to die a dog’s death and ran away from there to get home quickly. I was very scared, really very scared.” – spoke the little one with fear-filled eyes.
“Peter, did you speak those bad words – telling them to die a dog’s death etc? Did you? Tell me the truth.” – I asked filled with fury and dejection.
“Yes, but why are they saying brain tumor and F–K to me? Why are they allowed to use bad words? What is the meaning of F–K ma’am? Why are you not telling me, you teach us all the meanings in class. So tell me what is the meaning of F–K?” – came a soft and subtle reply.
“But I was feeling very sad ma’am, I was almost about to cry, I don’t understand why they hate me so much?” – said Peter with his eyes filled with water.
“I could see his lost eyes and I was lost myself but I had to say something – I am his teacher – I have to provide him with a solution, something, anything.” I thought.
“Peter you laughed at someone who got hit by a ball and that is not right – which is why they got angry with you and so please don’t only blame them – you must learn to behave and play well with everyone. Would you like it if someone laughed at you if you were hurt?”
“No but I did not mean to laugh.” – said a dejected Peter.
Whatever it is you will not speak such words? You will not copy others – if he jumps in a well – will u do it too? If no, then you will not be a parrot, you will not copy anyone especially if they are doing bad things. Is that understood? – I insisted.
And because you have copied someone else who is doing bad things you summer vacations are cancelled – you will not go anywhere for your holidays – is that clear? – I said sternly.
No, ma’am please don’t cancel my holidays please don’t – he said
No arguing – why did you copy someone saying and words – did u say it or not?
Yes I did. – he said with his head lowered and his shoulders almost touching the floor.
Then that’s it – your vacations are cancelled. You are not going anywhere. – I concluded and ended the conversation which had dragged me so deep within myself that for a few days I was left questioning myself about what it is that I am doing and if it is the right thing to do.
So then what happen –
DELIBERATIONS, DELIBERATIONS AND MORE DELIBERATIONS…
Post this episode, I am engaged consistently in damage control. Peter will persistently ask the meaning of the foul words used, he has coined those boys as enemies and sometimes keeps pestering me to go and talk to them and fix the situation. To a large extent we have contained the situation with the commencing of the school and hence cutting possibilities of his rendezvous but the scars still remain.
To help Peter understand bullying, we showed videos and it is sad but the child still hopes to be friends with them even after all the bad things they have done. We have negotiated that I will tell him the meaning of F–K when he turns 18 and that was solved there. I do not know when he will see reason but at least it heartens me that my boy is not as dark and devious and still has the immense ability to forgive.
It hurts me that I am always forced to do this – I am always forced to find faults with my children so that they learn to forgive, so that they learn to reform and adapt to fit in to this world. I try to get the children to introspect, work harder at getting better and enhance their own skills in socialization instead of actually telling them that the world is a terrible place and people can be very difficult for reasons that they will not comprehend. Some day I will talk to him and explain in a way that will help him understand things from a deeper perspective. This may help him build some essential survival skills, yes may confuse him but will also give him the freedom to chose and work with his comprehension to know what is safe, good and hence mandatory.
I could see him feeling devastated with the consequence which we then revoked as he worked hard to earn his points back, but I had to make him understand that he could not mindlessly follow random people, definitely not bullies. It is super essential to draw the clear lines between the good and bad for Autism.
Once a bad learning – it will remain and grow into monstrous proportions leaving no room for it to be tackled ever. As a trainer, I have always come down very strong on my staff if they did not follow protocol because once the child learns the wrong thing, the undoing is the larger battle to fight which most times is lost because the child cannot understand why something that was allowed once suddenly becomes a taboo.
Autism can be unforgiving if we are bad teachers and the price we pay is – A HUMAN LIFE. Is it then not worth making the extra effort and ensuring that you are doing no harm. Unfortunately, I have seen that many trainers are not equipped to think effectively and that is the main problem with this system. We have gotten so use to living the ‘It’s OK‘ lives that we are no longer accountable hence, not responsible or organized in our brain to think effectively.
Now does all this matter?
Not sure, but it did matter to his parents and me; so we kept talking to Peter. We believe in him and over time we will bare the truth that is the ugly face of what we call a civilized society.
What is surprising to me is being human is about being patient, giving the benefit to the one who have more difficulties, supporting the underdog, justifying situations and never judging too soon; yet we do just the opposite. Our cultural designs that encourage justice, courage, compassion and protection for the weak have obviously been thrown down the drain if I may put it crudely.
This is a classic tale of why we still struggle with social stigma, why we are not focused on solutions instead more on blaming and thrashing and not to forget also capitalizing on other people’s pain and miseries.
The community capitalizes by either gossiping, excluding, pointing the weaker as bad examples to their own children hence creating a more selfish and capitalist future and the healing/educational industry which is large and growing from what I have seen, most sections do not even do justice to the children or maintain any accountability for the work they do but charge the skies for their services without even providing accountable services.
What kind of a world is this? Really why have we become like this? And how will this stop? These are larger life questions to which answers are probably found in journeys etched in generations. We don’t have the time or inclinations to be human – how will we find time to learn about spiritual or emotional or even justice quests of the generations?
Long way to go I guess…
Signing off with a heavy heart and an even heavier head…
Note: The actual identities and names of the children have been protected for most obvious reasons, and I write this piece not for effect but in the hope that such atrocities may be stopped by those who still can afford to manage some compassion and humaneness within themselves.