I cried on the way home

It happened last Friday after picking up my daughter from school.

Every day when I pick her up, I ask the open-ended “How was your day?” when she hops in the front seat. Unlike Jacob, who promptly gives me one word utterances when asked such preposterous questions, Emma knows what I want to know. Well, to be fair, Jacob also knows what I want to know, but chooses not to elaborate.

On Friday, when I picked Emma up, we exchanged the usual niceties. But when she got to sharing about her European History class (another post for another day), she told me there had been a substitute that day and they had been assigned an essay to complete during class time.

She said she was busily trying to complete the essay during the time allotted, but was finding herself distracted by a group of three boys in her class. I asked what they were doing that was so distracting.

“Well, Mom, there is this boy in my class who I know has some special needs. He reminds me a lot of Jacob actually. A lot. His name is Alex.” *

“In what way does he remind you of Jacob?”

“Well, he talks to himself a lot like Jacob does. And he gets really upset sometimes, like when he misses something on a quiz. He will bang on his desk or be flipping though the pages of his textbook saying, ‘That’s not fair! That wasn’t in the reading!!’ or something like that.”

“Yeah, that does sound a lot like Jacob back in the day.”

“Yeah, well, it wasn’t Alex who was so distracting. Today, these other boys in the class were being really loud talking to each other and one of them was all the way across the room. And, well, they were making fun of Alex, Mom.”

<Insert the sound of a record scratching and the world coming to a screeching halt HERE>

“They were what??”

“They were totally making fun of him. I guess I never noticed it before because Mr. L is always talking or we are having a class discussion.”

“What do you mean? What were they saying?”

“Stuff like, ‘Ooooh, watch out! I bet Alex is gonna get all rage-y today’ and then, Alex got up to sharpen his pencil and when he was walking by, they said, ‘Oooh, I hope sharpening his pencil doesn’t send him into one of his rages!’”

Here is where I started to lose it.

I was so upset at the thought of this happening. I know bullying goes on every day in every single school setting (and non-school setting) in this nation. Not only to kids with autism but also to scrawny, nerdy, overweight, effeminate, unpopular, shy, or <fill in your own adjective here> kids.

But, y’all, this hit me in such a tender spot.

That could have been Jacob.

It could have been your kid. Maybe it is your kid. Maybe it was you when you were a kid.

I could feel myself going off the deep end.

“That is just so wrong! Do you think Alex heard them? Do you think he realizes they are making fun of him?”

“Yeah. He was kinda glaring at them as he was at the pencil sharpener.”

I was totally weeping now and babbling incoherently about Emma needing to tell those guys that they were a bunch of ignorant jerks and needed to cut it out. And how if she didn’t feel comfortable doing that, that I would email Mr. L and tell him myself.

Emma was giving me the “uh-oh, Mom’s really lost it this time” look.

And I think I had lost it.

“This, THIS, is why I will never, ever regret not sending Jacob to that place!” I said through my tears.

My heart was breaking, knowing that, without the one-on-one assistant Jacob had in public school from third grade through eighth grade, it would have been him. He would have been relentlessly bullied. I know it. Regardless of my mama bear interference.

And my heart was breaking for Alex.

A boy who is obviously capable of doing AP European History level work. Who has as much right to be in that classroom as those other boys. Who doesn’t deserve the treatment he was receiving.

I wondered if Alex’s mom was aware that this is happening. I wondered if it had been Jacob, would someone have spoken up for him? I wanted to go punch those three jerk-y kids in the throat.

But then, I know that ignorance and insecurity drive kids to say and do such things. And my insane knee-jerk behavior would not be the right response.

And so, I haven’t taken any action—yet. But for six days I have not been able to get Alex out of my mind.

I just keep asking myself, who will speak for Alex? WHO?

This past Sunday morning as we were worshipping in a church we have visited a couple of times, I noticed a family walk in just a couple of minutes late and and get situated on the front row. Emma looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Mom, that’s Alex! That’s the kid in my history class!”

My eyes started welling up again. The hair stood up on the back of my neck and I fought to regain my composure as I watched Alex.

I do not believe in coincidence. Though I did not meet up with Alex and his family that day, I am thinking our paths will cross again.


We—collectively—have a responsibility to these kids. Both the bullied and the bullies. The bullied need to be loved, protected, empowered and encouraged. The bullies need to be held accountable and taught how to love themselves and how to respect others who are not like them. We have a responsibility to love on them both and to teach them about what love is—about WHO love is.

Bullies definitely need to be held accountable for their actions. They also need to be shown that there is a different way. I ask you, who will love the bullies enough to hold them accountable? Who will love them enough to tell them they don’t have to be that way?

We have a responsibility to teach our kids to friend the friendless, to stand up for the ones who can not or will not stand up for themselves. We must teach our kids to speak truth, to stand up for truth and for what is right. If enough kids do that, then the voices of the bullies will be silenced and kids like Alex will be more free to be who God created them to be.

*name has been changed


Filed under Autism Days, Kids

24 responses to “I cried on the way home

  1. Thank you for your blog. I just happen to find your site and reading your blog post. I have a 1st grader who is going through this very situation. He has 3 boys who pick on him until he is so frustrated he explodes every other day. i have to say the school district is has been great in trying to work thing out. My son has a head injury and is on the Autistic spectrum and throw in a little ADD to spice things up. He has come a lot farther than I ever thought he would.

    • I am so sorry your son is having to deal with bullying at school! My son is also on the autism spectrum and so I totally understand how that can lead to some terrible treatment by other kids. i am glad your school is being supportive and I hope things will get better for him. Thanks so much for your comment, Danette.

  2. You must be proud of your lovely little girl for being so caring.

  3. Your daughter sounds as though she has a wise, compassionate head on her shoulders. I hope you get the chance to build a relationship with Alex’s family, and shine a light on the situation, perhaps changing it for the better.

  4. Rejeanor Scott

    Joelle, this is a profound and moving commentary. My feelings, like yours, are ambivalent. This river is so deep, so winding, and so swift. It is difficult to know how to react as some of those who commented opined. I admire your restraint. Thank you for your blog and for calling attention to this problem.

  5. In spite of the fact that we are all so much more aware of bullying, it continues to go on and on and on. My oldest son was bullied years ago and after he could not seem to resolve it any other way, I went to the teacher (with no names). She insisted nothing of the sort was happening in her classroom. When it continued the point that my son asked to be home schooled, my husband called and named the kids and asked her to do something about it. Her response was oh those are nice boys, they’re just kidding around. Thanks for the help school system. So much for the no tolerance rules.

    • I am so sorry that happened to your son and your family. And the denial and/or lack of action on the part of the authority figure is a huge problem in some of these situations. Thanks so much for your comment.

  6. Bullying always has and always will be an issue many have to deal with, day in and day out. As a child, I was bullied relentlessly by three girls two years older than me. I also remember speaking unkindly to a girl in my grade in a way some might call bullying. As an adult, I regret doing that, but I was immature and didn’t realize how it might impact her. A couple of years ago she friended me on FB and I took the opportunity to apologize. (I can’t imagine why she would have wanted to have anything to do with me!)

    As adults, we (hopefully) have the good sense to understand words can hurt. Not every child sees the big picture, until it is too late.

    I believe children who are bullies need to be spoken to kindly and with compassion, not in anger. They need to be taught how deeply words can hurt, because many truly do not know.

    • What a gift to have the opportunity to make amends with your school mate. I imagine she was very appreciative.

      And you are so right about youth…you are living in the moment and don’t really think about the repercussions of your actions.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  7. I agree. It is a difficult thing to witness and hear about. I debate if I would talk to the parents/caretakers, seeing as they are at your church. Maybe they don’t know this is going on, but they have noticed that Alex is more aloof at home and he won’t talk about it… If anything, your compassion and caring enough to say something to these parents would not only make them feel less alone, but would mean a lot to them to think that your daughter was looking out for him and took it to you like that… Thoughts on that?

  8. This is so thought provoking. Thank you for posting.

    • Thanks for your comment. I feel like I am still processing the whole thing and I just wish people would just choose to do the right things and extend some compassion and understanding toward those who are different.

  9. W.O.W. This was so powerful and I’m right there with you. Why are people so cruel to each other? I teared up over the fact that you saw this family in church. I hope you are able to reach out to them.

    • Me too, Toni. After church was over, some really friendly people came up to talk to us and when I looked up, Alex and his family were gone. So, I am praying that I will see them again and have the opportunity to meet them.

  10. Skyla

    While I agree that all kids should be protected and taught the way of love, I also want answer one of the questions you asked. You asked, “who will speak for Alex? WHO?”. And I answer, why not Alex? I am not autistic and I do not know the specific challenges that Alex faces. I do know that every interaction with other living things on this planet can teach us, build us and shape us. Bullying is never okay. However, there are many things to learn from unpleasant, upsetting or even tragic interactions. We must teach the bullies how to respect and treat fellow people. We also need to teach all of our children how to turn adversity to their advantage. This trait is one of the most common among successful and happy people. Protecting our children from any harm or trouble is our first instinct as parents, but acting on it every time can be equally dangerous. If we teach our children how to handle themselves with love and dignity, even in the harshest of circumstances, and remain their backup and moral support, I think we will find that they are as strong as we wish them to be.

    • I agree with you, Skyla. And I don’t know Alex or his specific challenges either, or the history of his interactions with these kids. I only know what Emma told me and that it is wrong. And I agree that we should teach our children to speak up for themselves if they are being bullied. And I agree that if we always intervene on behalf of our children, they will never learn how to do for themselves. But I also know of some autistic children, no matter how high functioning they may appear, still may not have the ability to speak up for themselves. I really appreciate your comments, girl!

  11. This broke my heart too! This is a powerful post. You summed it up perfectly in your last paragraph.

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