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.
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?