Disabilities come in all flavors and sizes, enter our lives at different times of life, and always leave a bitter taste in our mouths.  There is little good anyone can find in any disability, especially if the disability is severe.  As parents we have to find ways to cope with our new understandings of life.

1.  That we are not as much in control as we thought.  We don’t control the boy/girl gender of our offspring, and that’s not just at birth.  it includes when they tell us they have gender identity disorder and want to transgender.

2.  Still no control when we find the strategies that work for others don’t work for us.  Every case is unique, so what works for others may bring us hope but it may not bring the success we hoped for.  Enter the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

3.  No control exists when our children discover they are not us and they start deciding things for themselves–and not the way we would have decided at all.  In fact, they’re self-destructing and there’s nothing we can do about it.  Sometimes all we can do is step back and let consequences teach what we could not.

4.  And less control when society steps in and offers its critique of our parenting skills, the quality of our work (the success or non-success of our child), and the perceived social value of the individual who has the disability.  Social critique is often worth the paper its written on, and don’t forget that.  No paper?  That’s exactly what I mean.  You do the work and something must result.  Society can praise or critique all it wants, but until it steps in and helps us, it doesn’t get the right to shred us if the results aren’t stellar.

It probably isn’t possible to measure the full impact of one individual’s disability.  It affects the individual and everyone who knows him.  When Office for Civil Rights says that bullying studies show 50% of the targets of bullying are people with disabilities, that’s a damning statement.  It’s not saying we eat our young, but it’s uncomfortably close to that.  We’re raising a generation that contains far too many members who feel it’s okay to demean and hurt others, and too many adults sit around and watch saying “Boys will be boys.”  Sorry folks, the last time I checked, being boys did not automatically include being bullies.  The best boys will not be bullies, and guess what–girls bully too.  Their bullying is more likely to be the mentally and emotionally abusive behavior.  If it’s your child people say is the bully, you are your child’s best hope for a better future if you don’t allow the child to dominate you, too.

What did that paragraph just say?  That disabilities present too tempting a target for bullies to ignore and that no bullying behavior is “normal” enough to ignore.  The remedy is control.  Our schools and our families must find ways to teach discipline to both the bullies and the victims, disabled or not.  If we engage that challenge, we may someday have control over something that today is raging out of control.

So there is your challenge.  If your child’s disability involves impulsivity and your child is aggressive enough to be considered a bully, your challenge is to teach your child different perceptions and strength of character so he or she doesn’t feel a need to behave in bullying ways.  If your child is being bullied, you need to find ways to boost self-esteem and social skills so bullies don’t think at first glance that here is a handy target, let’s go play with it.  Just in the way one walks, others can tell if we feel confident or not, and confidence radiates strength unattractive to bullies.

Our own future lies in how we teach our children to be themselves and how to be with others successfully.  Schools are developing anti-bullying measures, programs, etc.  But until we recognize bullying in all its forms, we can’t get rid of it.  I have an idea that the definition of bullying should include “any behavior that makes another feel intimidated, smaller, less valuable, or less capable.”  That would include both physical and verbal interactions.  Find what works, whether your child is the bully or the bullied, and at least two futures will be better due to your intervention.

Here are two resources for dealing with bullying.

PACER National Bullying Center

Anti-Bullying information collection