Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Football players protect a bullied girl with special needs: a true victory?


It's the sort of story that's supposed to restore your faith in humanity, only it left me concerned.

Chy Johnson, 16, a sophomore at Queen Creek High in Arizona, was getting bullied by other kids. She has a brain disorder, and she says kids stooped to throwing trash at her. Chy's mom knew the mom of the school's starting quarterback and said something to her. That mom said something to her football star son, senior Carson Jones. Carson started eating lunch with Chy and made sure that a posse of football players escorted her through the hall. It's worked—the bullies have stayed away.

Here, watch:



Of course, those boys did a great thing in standing with Chy, no small feat considering the typical social castes of high school. They've made her feel safe; as she told Arizona Family, "They save me because because I won't get hurt again." Both Chy and Carson will be recognized next year by the Arizona State Legislature for their anti-bullying efforts.

But will the football hero's actions have an effect on how other kids view Chy? Perhaps, although I'm not sure it means they will start including her more in their activities or welcoming her into their social circles. Have the bullies learned that people with special needs do not deserve ridicule? Has the school used this as an opportunity to launch any bigger sort of discussion? Probably not. 

People who don't have a child with special needs in their lives might see a story like this and give it a big woo hoo. If I didn't have Max, I'm sure that would have been my only reaction. But I am mom to Max, and acutely aware of the challenges he faces making friends with so-called typical kids. I've seen the way kids stare at him, and the questions they ask that make it clear they think he is nothing at all like them. And so while I'm grateful Chy is OK, for me her story opens up a minefield of concerns. 

I ache for more programs that would help kids better understand those with special needs—programs that start early on, in elementary school, and continue into high school. I ache for schools to push for acceptance of all abilities as fervently as they spread anti-bullying messages. And I ache for parents to do their part in raising kids who welcome those with special needs

If all of that happened, kids like Chy wouldn't need protecting. They wouldn't get teased for the different way they talk or walk or think. They'd be a normal part of a school population. 

This is a good story, to be sure—but there is no true happy ending. And there never will be one for people with disabilities unless kids get the message early on: respect those with special needs. Don't pity or fear them; friend them. Find the commonalities. Understand the differences. Know that in many ways, they are just like you.

How did you react to this story?

31 comments:

  1. Walking and talking together is a start.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I really do think that the football player mentioned sitting with this girl at lunch will make a difference to some. "Special Needs" children, are still just children. Maybe this action will help others to be less afraid to step up and be a friend to someone that has different abilities than them. And truthfully this boy could have decided to do nothing. Doing nothing is easy. I would be proud of my son if he took a stand and was a friend to someone that needed him. To me, any small message is better than no message at all.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Heather, yes, a start, and Jennifer, I really do hope it made a difference to some and agree that the boys could have done nothing and what they did is admirable. But what I'm wishing for here is the ideal: that things like this wouldn't happen in the first place...and that schools would do more to prevent it from happening.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ellen, yes Heather is correct, it is a start. Unfortunately trying to use it to rain on the parade of Chy and the football players, will not help your child at all. Using it as an example of what the youth can do to make things right and encouraging other football (and other sports figures) teams to adopt special needs youth would do a lot more for your child and others like him. Laws and school founded and/or controlled programs to accomplish what needs to be done have not worked. One on one approaches by concerned parents like Chy's mother and her church members have. For another story of how a one on one approach did work, check out http://foxnewsinsider.com/2013/01/14/heartwarming-story-high-school-girl-with-down-syndrome-crowned-homecoming-queen/

      Delete
  4. Yes, I had mixed feelings about this too. I have a daughter with special needs at high school. And although I don't believe she's bullied, she eats in the cafeteria at a table with other students with special needs--not with the high school football team.

    There are some events at high school that pair students with and without special needs--such as having peer coaches for a special olympics event. But, everyday inclusion, such as naturally having lunch together or strolling through the halls as friends, sadly, can be rare. Ideas for change?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My main ideas for change I mentioned above—programs in elementary school that encourage awareness (and, yes, inclusion). True inclusion—as in, from the heart—starts with an understanding that kids with special needs aren't that different. And that understanding needs to be grasped while kids are young. I know that doesn't help your daughter, Amy.... I wonder if more high school education that help kids see what's more alike than different could help. I don't just mean classes where they get to see, say, a video. I mean open discussions between those with special needs and other kids about how each FEELS and THINKS—get it all out in the air, talk it out, moderated by a teacher or educator.

      Delete
    2. You could follow the example of Chy's mother. Get to know the parents of some football players in your daughter's high school, or you could show this story to your minister and the one on the Girl with Downs Syndrome being elected Home Coming Queen http://foxnewsinsider.com/2013/01/14/heartwarming-story-high-school-girl-with-down-syndrome-crowned-homecoming-queen/
      Then ask your minister to help. Both stories worked at the grass roots level, not with authorities.

      Delete
  5. I had the same mixed reaction when I posted this video on BLOOM. It is a positive step but there is such a huge gap in our kids not being seen as part of the group. Thanks for articulating this.

    ReplyDelete
  6. maybe the kids will be less intimidated by what they don't know-ignorance and bullying go together- and ask questions and be willing to step out more. Inch-stones- yes?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know, I hope that, but not convinced. I'd love a follow-up story on how this impacted the school.

      Delete
    2. Hi Ellen I am Chy's mom. First I want to say that I went to Carson about Chy being bullied. This has made a huge change in the schools student body. That was validated when the boys went on to win the State Championship. 1 of the football players did an interview after the game and said that it has made a difference in the community and student body. He see other kids being kind to ALL the sped kids now. He sees people being much kinder to Chy. She has been invited to birthday parties and other events by typical kids. She has even been invited to a Christmas party by a typical girl at the school. Sunday Dec. 16th the boys and Chy will be recognized at the Cardinals football game against the Lions. Chy and Carson have been invited to sit with quarterback John Skelton's family during the game. The bys have spoken to a few schools and the kids about what they have done and that it is ok to be friends with sped kids. Chy has also spoken at a couple of schools as well. Although she does not speak to an auditorium full of kids like the boys do. Hers is done in a much smaller setting. With much fewer kids at a time. I understand you skeptisism but this truely has turned into something positive for my daughter and other sped kids in her school. I hope this helps easy your mind some for Chy and her school.

      Delete
    3. It is SO amazing to hear from you—and to know that, yes, what happened really did have lasting effects. What the football players did was outstanding and a major step in the right direction, but as you know, inclusion is a never-ending, ongoing challenge. I am especially thrilled to hear that Chy has been speaking at schools, a great thing for her and the kids she speaks with. Thank you so much for getting in touch! I will share your response on Facebook.

      Delete
  7. I think I would have felt better if the girl herself were empowered to change her circumstances, instead of being "saved" by a group of non-disabled kids. I think it perpetuates the myth that children with special needs are "less-than" and deserve pity instead of respect.

    That's my perspective as a person with a disability ... not a parent.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I was thinking that, Sarah—and also why the school hadn't done more themselves to prevent the bullying. What do you think Chy could have done herself?

    ReplyDelete
  9. It's great that the football players protected her but it's sad that they had to.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sad but I can also relate. I'm in a wheelchair. Through high school my best friend was the star of the boys varsity basketball team. However, this didn't stop people from picking on me. Awful she needs to be protected. I coped with sitting by him regularly. However, people picked on us for being a couple. I was told by my counselors that bullying is not about me it's about the bullies feeling pity for themselves or jealous of the person they pick on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are so right, a lot of bullying is about insecurity.

      Delete
    2. Yep Ellen. Instead of people pitying people w/disabilities pity the bullies.

      Delete
  11. When I do presentations in school; I try and think of things that kids could relate to. For example, swimming. To explain cerebral palsy I used the analogy of a phone. That the phone can be busy or dial the wrong number. That my brain gets a busy signal sometimes or gets the # wrong.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tooner, love that, I'm going to use it!

      Delete
  12. I agree that we need bigger changes at bigger levels, but in my experience, one willing person stepping forward with one small practical step is worth more than 10 years of meeting, talking and planning. This will not change the nationwide situation of bullying, but one girl's life and experience are changed as are the lives of each team member supporting her and their friend's and family's lives...don't underestimate the ripple effect this may have. A followup story would be great, but don't forget to celebrate...one kid made a right choice...this is how change starts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I do think this is wonderful, as I said. But I can't help but feel wishful that this wasn't such an isolated event--and that it doesn't end with the kids' actions. I truly hope you're right about the ripple effect.

      Delete
    2. My take is that politeness is what keeps the world from descending into anarchy. A kid isn't (and frankly can't and shouldn't) be compelled to like another child, but they ARE required to be polite and treat them kindly. Period. It is the bare minimum required by the social contract.

      I think what Caraon et al did was great -- a tiny, personal action that has made the world an ever so slightly better place. Right this instant (not at an indeterminately later date, after school staff finally decide to do their duty and enforce the anti-bullying policy).

      There's a long way to go in getting folks to treat those with special needs politely - but that's exactly where everybody's efforts should start. Goal #1 for the high school is everybody is polite to everybody else.

      Delete
  13. I think there's too many holes in the story - so much we don't know. How did the school respond? Did they do nothing? How much did the football players & their friends learn - did they really become good friends with her on a real level, or just protecting her by presenting a strong physical threat? I would like to know more history & more of what happens next.

    ReplyDelete
  14. When my grandma became a mom, kids with special needs were institutionalized or hidden. When my mom became a parent kids with special needs were segregated in special schools with no integration/inclusion opportunities. My parents were in some ways embarrassed that I limp and I have VERY mild CP. There was no pt in school or adapted PE. But I am fortunate enough to be able to 'pass" I'm in my mid 40's- my kids would have had the opportunity for an education in 'a least restrictive environment'. That's a shift in roughly 60 years- less time than other human rights were realized for certain populations in our society. I am not saying it's great progress- but it is progress and old ideations die hard.
    Teach the youngest of the young....take away the mystery....

    ReplyDelete
  15. Although I teach elementary PE and have several special needs kids (hearing impaired, autistic) in my classes, I would like to share as a mother something I did with my own daughter when she was little. We found a dolly at a yard sale that was missing her arms, named her and took her home. My daughter Sarah loved that dolly by dressing, bathing, feeding, scolding (yes that too!) and in every way treating her like any of her other babies. Sarah grew up with a tender heart toward those with extra challenges, and later spoke out against bullying when she witnessed it in school. I know the school staff needs to do as much as they can (and we do!) but compassion for others begins, or doesn't, at a very young age at home. Thank you for your blog and your obvious passion on this subject.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chris, you're right, compassion is part of it, and I loved what you did with your daughter. It's important that compassion not veer into pity, because that's the last thing many of us want for our kids. I would like Max to be treated as an equal--just like Sarah learned to do with all her dollies.

      Delete
  16. In a way I do find it comforting but I wonder when they are not around how she will cope. I absolutely agree that there should be more programs to help children understand the importance of acceptance but the reality is that the schools won't. They struggle just to teach the basics on a daily basis sadly it's not something I no not see happening in the near future.

    ReplyDelete
  17. People do these things because they want people to be the same. I disagree and say that different is good. I mean, who really defines normal? God calls us to love everyone.

    Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

    ReplyDelete
  18. I think what has happened here, for Chy, is a great and amazing blessing for her. And just like in the old parable about the old man throwing back the starfish on a beach littered with dying starfish, it definitely matters to this one. My question echoes many of the points that have already been raised by other commenters: The way I see it herein lies a tremendous opportunity for systems change in this school. How do we know that the bullies haven't moved on to hurting others who have disabilities? The school has a larger problem: that the bullying of a child who has a disability was being tolerated in the first place. Those boys are seniors and will be gone in a semester and what happens then, knowing bullies my guess is they will not stay down. I hope they will, but my fear is that they will not. There needs to be systems change to help not only Chy but others, I suspect that she was not the only person with a disability in the school that was/is being bullied.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Ellen -

    It is easy to see why the school did nothing. I am not at all surprised that Chy's mother got little help from staff. I would say it's typical, in my experience.

    I went to a school where I was bullied every single day. The staff and administration knew that it was going on but refused to do anything - they couldn't do anything unless they saw it (which never seemed to happen). The principal told my parents in a meeting: "we can't make them like her".

    Yes, progress is progress, but I was only in public school a short while ago.

    All of these comments talk about getting her to take care of herself, what does it teach, etc. I will tell you something: I wish that I'd had a protector. Maybe it would have helped me feel safe. God knows the school didn't try very hard.

    I could be here all day telling you about the harrassment that I endured at the hands of other kids (and I am sure that many others could, too). But if just one had stood up and said 'this is not okay'...school could have been a much happier place for me.

    Reinforcing the idea that 'disabled people need help' is so far from the point, here. What it reinforces is that you must BE the change you want to see in the world. That is what these football players are doing. They are the change in HER world. It reinforces standing up for something and being a leader or falling for anything and being a follower.

    If you took Chy's disability out of the equation - if she were gay, or black. Would your uneasiness change?

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for sharing!