Elementary School Students Get a Lesson on Tolerance
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Why does James cry at popping noises?
This is a very serious thing I want to address [I spoke to the whole class but everyone knew I was really talking to a handful of kids in the class]. I understand that there have been some popping incidents during lunch, where people are popping chip bags at James. This must stop. James's ears are shaped differently on the inside and popping noises scare him because they really hurt his head on the inside. They hurt James like he is being hit [I made some good eye contact here]. If James were given a million dollars inside of bubble wrap he would throw it in the garbage [there was a huge gasp from the class at this revelation] because popping is so horrible to him. We can't have balloons or anything else that might pop in our house because we don't want to hurt or scare him. When something pops near James it feels like he was hit in the head—that's how much it hurts. So if you are popping chip bags at James, it is the same as if you hit him. Popping is hitting.
How can we help James? What can we do when he is upset?
You can help him by being his friend, and by acting like he is just one of the group. You can pretend not to notice the ways he is different from you, the noises he makes, or the "weird faces." Instead of asking what's wrong, you can act like you don't know he's about to cry and let him recover by himself so that he doesn't feel embarrassed. You can protect him from other children at lunch and recess if he is having trouble understanding the rules to a game or if they are making fun of him for doing unusual things by inviting him to hang out with you.
One time I fell off the stage and had an accident in front of everyone.
I bet you felt scared and embarrassed too. [Nod.] So you especially know how James felt last week at recess. [Nod.]
Why couldn't James walk to the bathroom on Wednesday? Was he paralyzed?
He wasn't paralyzed but his insides kind of were. James couldn't get to the bathroom because his stomach hurt so badly he couldn't walk. You know how your insides hold everything inside for you so you have time to get to the bathroom without an accident? Sometimes James's body doesn't do that for him, and there is nothing he can do about it. Can you imagine how much it would hurt if you couldn't go to the bathroom for 2 weeks? [Lots of nods.]
What can we do to help on Monday when he comes back?
[This was asked about 15 different times and ways, and I answered the same way with slight variations each time.]
The best thing you can do for James is to pretend like nothing ever happened, because James has already forgotten about it. All James needs to be happy is a bunch of good friends. James is not worried about coming back Monday because he doesn't know what happened is such a big deal anymore. I am worried as his mom that he will be made fun of, so I need your promise that you will not mention what happened on Wednesday and that you will tell a teacher if you hear anyone giving James a hard time, especially at lunch or recess. [A classroom full of thumbs up went into the air.]
It was 3:00 and almost every child still had their hand in the air though I had been answering questions for an hour. The minute the session was "closed" I was swarmed by children who were eager to touch my 8-month-old, who I had brought along for the meeting. Children were touching his cheeks and holding his hands, while others were bringing up classwork and pictures to show me. I could barely get out of the room for them to pack up—I must admit, I felt like the popular kid (it was probably the baby) and I hoped that I could pass off some of my popularity onto James.
Yesterday I sent James to school with one change of clothes and no small amount of anxiety. I felt that my meeting with the children had gone well. The teachers and administration had been nothing short of supportive, amazing, kind, helpful, wonderful, and amazing (seriously, this does not even begin to do justice to how amazing they were). BUT, James had not "gone to the bathroom" since the incident. Even with the new meds. Ugh.
Despite my worrying, there were no calls during the day, and when I came to get him after school he looked relaxed and happy. The teachers said he had a great day and James came up to inform me that "Kasia was his best friend today." Other children said hi to the babies and all was well. I instantly felt about 10 pounds lighter.
It looks like I underestimated the kids. So, fourth-graders everywhere, but especially in class 318, please accept my apology for not giving you enough credit to take information and use it for good. I hope one of you gets to read this at some point a few years from now—no matter what else you have done up to that point, I hope that you will be able to find out what a difference you made in someone else's life. James may not have been able to tell you, but as his mom I am telling you how grateful we both are for your help, support, and kindness.
*James is an amazing boy in a CTT class (4th grade when the above was written). His main diagnosis is a rare chromosome defect which has resulted in numerous medical issues, global developmental and physical delays, and labels such as PDD-NOS, Sensory Integration Dysfunction, and ADD. Despite multiple surgeries since birth and new challenges every year, James is generally a very happy, affectionate child and brings a smile to the faces of nearly everyone he meets.