For the past week or so I have been getting invitations, been tagged on facebook, and seen this thing on all of the popular pages I "like", with the exception of a few.
The thing? The facebook page "Happy Birthday Colin".
Reading about Colin very much reminds me of my own son, there are so many similarities. So why haven't I "liked" this page? Why haven't I said anything about it?
I wasn't going to make a post about this because I know when I am critical about things that make the majority feel good, I tend to piss off the masses. But, yesterday the Autism Society of America posted an article from Slate.com about this facebook page/cause. It was a bit critical, but still did not hit on the points I think are being missed. The article on Slate focused on the "no friends" aspect, which seems to be the thing that most are picking up on.
I understand the things this mother is experiencing. It is extremely heartbreaking to hear your child state he has no friends.
But,what most don't understand is there is ALWAYS more to "I don't have any friends" than a child just not being invited to be social or actually having no friends at all. It involves peers intentionally excluding a child from activities, which is a form of bullying. There is usually a good bit of teasing and picking on as well, which is also bullying. Bullying causes a lot of damage in the long and short term. Worst case scenario is death (typically by suicide)
My son was picked on, bullied, and triggered to react for others' pleasure. Most of the time school administrators blamed my son, did nothing at all or punished him for his reactions when they did nothing to prevent or stop the bullying that was the cause of his reaction.
Oh! Well, there was one exception. In 6th grade, an administrator actually asked me if I would be okay with disclosing my son's diagnosis to children that wondered about him. My son did not want his disability disclosed at the time. I believe he has a right to his privacy which also includes his disability. So,I suggested we could facilitate a program on diversity instead. I was shot down. Apparently, invisible disabilities are not a diversity issue that needs to be talked about.
I was also rightfully afraid that if his disability was disclosed to others it would just be more fuel to the fire. I knew the school had no programs to help children (or adults for that matter) learn what diversity or an invisible disability was, so disclosure of his disability under circumstances where the majority was already ignorant would only hurt him.
I also did not want him to be pitied or have people befriend him simply due to his diagnosis. I didn't want my child to be like the autistic boy that Kathy Lee Gifford made cry on national television. I did not want him to be someone’s inspiration porn or someone's way of getting a "good people" cookie. Those types of “friendships” hurt just as much as bullying because they are fake.
I also did not want him to hurt more than he already was. I wanted REAL solutions, not patches over the problems that he was having. I didn't want a few moments of happy followed by months and months of more grief. I wanted improvement over his entire situation... but I suppose that is too much like work for some people. It's not the kind of "cause" they want to take on and not many people do.
Nonconsensual Disclosure of Private Issues
I have a hard time being okay with a parent being extremely public about their child's disability without the consent of the child. Especially when the child is already a victim of bullying. There have been numerous news articles about Colin, some state his disabilities as Aspergers and SPD. His mother states that is incorrect, but that his disability is LIKE Aspergers and he has behavior problems. No matter the semantics of his disability, she has gone very very public with it. That makes me uncomfortable in ways that makes me want to take a scolding hot shower.
The page has almost 2 million likes. That's 2 million people who know Colin is disabled and is bullied. But, Colin has no idea his mom is putting his very personal information out there. I also highly doubt she understands that the repercussions of this could be really really bad for her son. I am so concerned this will increase the amount of bullying that is happening to Colin. I am so afraid that this will backfire on his mother.
I know how mean some children can be. “You suck so much your mom had to make a facebook page to get you friends” or phrases similar to this one come to mind. If it doesn’t happen immediately it will likely happen in the future. Things placed on the internet stay on the internet. This will not be erased and could potentially haunt this child for many years.
I am concerned that instead of focusing on the real problem at hand, his mom is just trying to "patch" it. I am so afraid that once Colin's 15 minutes of fame are up, he will be left exposed and vulnerable, with the same problems as before maybe even worse. It's a very real possibility, and I know my cynicism takes away the "feel good" of this story.
One of the very first posts on this page told of how Colin is picked on and teased. His mom basically says he is a good little Christian boy because he begs the principal not to punish those that pick on him. While I think forgiveness is an awesome thing, it really disturbs me that her son is not wanting any action taken against his bullies. There can be many reasons a person may not want to have action taken against their abusers/bullies. Sometimes that forgiveness is genuine. But, when it’s an ongoing problem in someone’s life that leaves them friendless and lonely, it is rarely genuine "forgiveness" and more of a damaging coping mechanism.
Also, since he is very excluded he may be willing to take any kind of treatment in order to try to gain friendship, that's not healthy.
I have very forgiving children, I can understand how Colin's mom is so proud that her son can forgive. I am REALLY proud of that in mine too. I teach my children that it is really important to report bullying and abuse, even if they feel like they are able to handle the situation or can forgive. We have a responsibility to other people as well as ourselves to report every.single.time. Bullies rarely only target one person. I also teach my kids that bullies are people that need help too and that there is probably something going on with them that may cause them to be this way. So by reporting it, we are also accessing help for the bully. I certainly hope this is being taught to him as well.
I fear Colin doesn't understand that while it's okay to forgive, it's also not okay for people to be bullies and pick on others. I am afraid that the people who are supposed to be protecting him are not doing their job. I am afraid that he is not able to be upfront about everything that he really is going through because he may feel that in order to forgive,he has to endure the pain as well. His mother claims she has taken action, I don't doubt that she has, but what about Colin's ability to speak up? How much of this is he internalizing? How much is he really enduring silently?
I remember when my own son was going through something similar. It got to the point where he trusted no one. When he'd come home from school he'd tell me about things and I'd ask if he told an adult. He'd say "There's no point they won't do anything about it". He was right, they rarely did anything about it and when they DID it turned around to bite him on the ass. He left public school at 13, he is nearly 16 now. It has taken us 2.5 years to build his trust back up and reteach self advocacy skills because people in charge at his prior placement did NOT see that is was important to protect him and take his claims seriously.
One last concern, how much of this facebook page thing is actually for Colin and how much is for his mother?
I’m sure it may make many very uncomfortable or angry that I am pointing out that the one time act of kindness is not going to help resolve much for Colin and could potentially harm him for years to come.
What he needs is adults in his life that are willing to take real action to help change his circumstances.
1.9 million facebook friends isn't going to fix or change that.