Junior high. A time in life where a young person learns a lot of things. Vitally important things, as a rule. My son, who is enrolled in the autism special education unit at his junior high school has learned two very important lessons so far this year. Well, we both have actually.
Pacing for a full week around the first week of February, my son kept muttering about bullies, day-after-day with no definitive details to speak of. Frustrated and concerned, I tried to pin him down so he could let me know what he was going through and asked, “Son, is someone bothering you at school? Is there somebody picking on you?”
He would just hang his head, saying nothing.
Determined to find out if my boy was being subjected to bullying on a campus that espouses a zero tolerance for bullies, I pushed a little harder (okay, louder). “You know sweetie, if there is a person who is saying mean things or hurting you physically, we need to take care of it. You need to tell mommy or daddy or teacher or an aide about this person who is being a bully. Is there a boy or girl who is a bully at your school?”
With a look that can only be described as a combination of concern for my mental health and disdain for my dimwittedness, my son (who is normally uncomfortable with any and all eye contact) looked me squarely in the eye and shouted, “They’re ALL bullies!”
Oh, that. Why, yes. Yes they are. I think we can all agree that this is probably one of the first and most important lessons of junior high, and a lesson that cannot be sugarcoated. The squirrelly ages between 12 and 14 have got to be the roughest couple of years in the life of any young person (and parents and staff and administrators and community members). Honestly, didn’t we all sort of whisper under our breath something to the tune of “if we can only endure, we shall survive” just to get through those years? It’s not pretty, but this is the training ground where the rules of negotiation and diplomacy take root. If you can get through the boot camp that is middle school/junior high – you just might go on to rule the free world one day. At least, this is the wisdom I choose to dole out to my boy. Just. Get. Through. It.
Valentine’s Day. Ah! Abstract thinking at its finest wrapped up in a big red satin candy box with a bow. Love, in general, is not the easiest of concepts for the neurologically typical male to process, but even harder for a hormonal teenage boy with autistic wiring. But, I thought we had dodged a big Hallmark bullet as the 14th of February came and went without a bang. Turned out cupid’s loaded weapon had just ricocheted around a corner to blow up in our faces by the 19th. Apparently, some things had changed on the school yard by then. My son disembarked the special ed. bus, made his way up to our front porch with 12 angry steps and hollered, “Mom! They’ve all got girlfriends!”
This time, I was the one to avoid eye contact. “Hmm? What? WHO?!”
“They’ve - got - girlfriends! ALL of them. They’ve ALL got girlfriends! How do you get one of those?!”
Super. Only a couple of months left to the school year and my kid learned two things: 1) They’re all bullies and 2) they’ve all got girlfriends. Yup. My boy managed to concisely sum up the junior high experience of everyone since the dawn of time in a nutshell. Not bad for the kid with a language processing disorder. When I have the chance, I’ll be sure to let the experts know that his heart is apparently processing just fine, thank you very much.
Homework will come and homework will go, but I will be spending the rest of this school year and the next helping my boy learn to navigate the shark-infested waters of junior high. I will see to it that the kid with emotional and social water-wings comes out on the other side, like one of those greased up swimmers of the English Channel, victorious. Or… at least safely with his senses about him and stories to tell about the lessons we both learned along the way.