Bullying: Part I
A few years back I was supervising an afternoon recess. I was watching Mike, a young man with various disabilities (not autism), playing American football with some other boys his age (about 10). The boys were practicing hiking the football (the initial quick pass backwards that officially begins each play), when rather suddenly Mike jumped forward and called out “hike!”. The ball was passed, but another young man rather roughly pushed him back and took his place and the other laughed.
I was angry; this smacked of bullying, and the young man who had done the pushing had a reputation as sometimes getting up to mischief (sassing teachers, sulking, etc.). I headed over to have a little talk with this young man. However, while I was on my way he stepped back and another young man took his place, and then another boy hopped forward. A few turn later Mike went forward and received his hike without concern. I looked again at the group of boys and I realized there was something of a line. It wasn’t a very traditional line, I do not think it would have passed muster in a school hallway, but it was a line none the less.
Mike had jumped this line pure and simple; he had cut in front of the other boy. Nor was he the only one to try, as I continued to watch, other kids also tried to cut and this generally ended with the same results. I did not quite grasp why they occasionally tried to line- jump. However, they seemed to think it was funny whenever someone tried.
In this case what I saw wasn’t bullying, it was young people engaging in rough-and-tumble play. This type of play appeals to certain kids, both boys and girls, students with and without disabilities. Far from being an opportunistic bully, the young man was treating Mike exactly as he would any of his typically developing peers. And Mike clearly grasped this little group’s rules as he demonstrated by laughing after he was pushed and later correctly only stepping in on his appointed turn. I would later come to know this young man as a true friend to Mike and that he had been friendly and welcoming toward him for years.
This was inclusion, but inclusion based on this little group’s rules. There is this teacher’s ideal vision where play-based inclusion involves an orderly board game, or kite flying, or polite discussion of one’s favorite colors. This is true in certain cases, but it isn’t going to fly with a set of rough- and- tumble 10 year olds who are on their outside play-time. And if a student with disabilities gravitates towards that set, and is naturally fully included, then this is typical play. You want inclusion…. you got it.
Part II to follow shortly…..