Rebecca over at The Bates Motel blog today address an uncomfortable, scary but so important topic - "Disability and Abuse - the Latest Findings, and How You Can Protect Your Loved Ones". All parents of children with disabilities please head over to her blog to check out what she has found and the links to important information.
The statistics on different types of abuses against people with disabilities are varied but always terrifying. The report that Becca references from 2013 found 70% of the 7000+ respondents reported being victims of some time of abuse including bullying. Her view is a good one in my opinion - these studies are scary but empowering because this abuse is in the past and we can use the information to try to prevent it in the future. A post she did in early October about the same subject actually made me start acting now with hopes of prevention for Cate. Even though Cate is only seven, we have gently started the dialog with her and Lucy. In the last couple weeks, we have have two dinner time conversations along with reminders as we arrive at non-family events, like the buddy walk. We talked about different kinds of touching that are relevant to their ages - kisses, hugs, tickling, high-fives. Cate is very affectionate and although I have never noticed a real problem in her showing affection, she will sometimes hug people who she doesn't really know only recognizes. So now we have rules to help her manage the behaviors - kisses are only for family, hugs are only for friends - which are people who you know their names, everyone else or if you aren't sure gets high fives. I have also asked her to tell me if anyone asks her to hug or kiss another person or if a non-family person tickles her no matter who it is or why. I try to make sure she knows she won't be in trouble but that mommy just wants to know. I have actually brought up the "don't do what others tell you too" conversation before as it relates to other kids because a common form of bullying for second grade girls seems to be getting a weaker girl to get in trouble for kissing a boy. Most of these situations are pretty harmless in general but it is a good place to start in making sure Cate knows what to do in this type of situation. The adult part of that is harder right now given her habit of testing every teacher and helper at school to see how much of what they say she actually has to do. We'll have to tackle when to not listen to an adult later on.
The last part of our conversation has dealt with not everyone wanting a hug. Of course this concept is completely foreign to Cate but it came up at a recent school event when Cate tried to hug one of the boys in her class and he ran away. I told her about boys not liking hugs as much as in 2nd grade and she seemed to accept that pretty well. So now we have added a reminded to not hug people that don't look like they want one because that is OK - which I hope will translate later into her knowing that she has the right to not let someone hug or touch her.
This is our plan for now - start talking about the easy stuff and as both girls get older transition in to the hard stuff. It may not seem like much but it feels like the right way to start with prevention. It does seem to be sinking in so I feel hopeful we are starting off on the right foot. When we arrived at the Buddy Walk (promise pics this week after this heavy subject!) this weekend I did something I aways do at events and asked "what are the big rules for a crowded place". This time I got a new answers "stay by mommy or daddy", "don't run off" and "only kiss family and hug friends". We'll keep at it so some day it is stuck in their heads!
And if you are a teacher, therapist or caregiver for Cate and you are reading this - we will probably not talk about it in person but I would be happy if you would back me up on this with a gentle reminder if you see Cate hugging someone she probably should give a high five too or someone who doesn't really seem to want a hug. Just a simple "you don't know his name so next time lets give him a high five instead of a hug" or "did you see his frown, I don't think he wanted a hug do you? maybe try a high five next time". As always feel free to tell me about any concerns in this are as well - I don't need an official case of bullying or even need to know the exact circumstances to be able to help Cate with an example of something she should avoid or tell the teacher about next time. With Cate is all about experience and specifics.
Let me know if you have any other great ideas for talking about this subject with little girls! And parents of kids with disabilities - don't wait do the research, get on it and start thinking about the best way to approach prevention with your child. Ignoring it won't make it go away, and awareness might be our biggest advantage against the cruel people in this world.