The Universality of Language

Remember when your children were little and you couldn’t wait for them to talk? For most of us with children on the spectrum that wait for them to talk, lasted well beyond what is considered normal developmental milestones. But then they do learn to speak and learn to communicate and another issue arises: How do we teach them to use language and how do we teach them that words have meaning and implications beyond the moment?

We have to teach our children that there is another level to what has to happen when speaking. Basically they need to think before they speak. We need to make sure that our children do understand the universal society that they live in. Granted considering so many with autism, and adhd for that matter, lack the needed mental filter that is necessary in modern society, does not mean that they cannot lean this skill. It just means that it may be harder for them to learn to keep their mouths shut and not say inappropriate things at inopportune moments than for their peers. Another issue why not?

As usual, HSB is a case in point.
The other day when I picked him up from school, he looked a little down when he got in the car and I asked him how his day was. Now in typical teenage fashion his response is usually a grunt or a “fine” or a “same as every other day.” However, this particular day he let loose with a barrage.
They had been watching a film in economics class and he happened to make a comment about the single-mother character, that she was stereotypical because she had so much debt. They were studying about credit and debit cards and budgeting. Apparently the para got really angry with him and told him that she was going to report to the special ed teacher what he just said. He was beside himself. He had no idea what the problem was and no idea how he had gotten himself into trouble.
Also earlier in the day, he had had an exchange of words with a boy that seems to like to push HSB’s buttons. They had had a tete-a-tete earlier in the year and in true HSB fashion, HSB just did not let his disdain for this boy go. Now this means every time the child breaths HSB has an annoying look on his face or makes a sigh. Of course, this boy who is somewhat of a troublemaker and the argumentative type, decides to have fun and push my son’s buttons as well. He will start up with another child and HSB will chime in coming to the other child’s rescue. HSB told me about an argument they had earlier that day and how when no one was listening the troublemaker said something that HSB thought was anti-Semitic.
“What did he say,” I asked.
“Something, like God-damn Jews,” HSB answered.
Yeah, I told him pretty anti-Semitic. Since no “Jews” heard, the troublemaker told HSB that it was just fine what he said. HSB couldn’t figure out why he would say that it was fine to say that part about no Jews hearing him, considering troublemaker knew that HSB is Jewish. (By the way that seemed to bother HSB more than what was actually said.) I had to explain to my son, that the troublemaker was trying to upset him by saying anti-Semitic things and not acknowledging that HSB was Jewish (considering my son wears a Star of David around his neck and the troublemaker actually alluded to it at times, that boy knew exactly what he was saying and doing.)Needless to say, momma-grizzly went into action. I polished off one heck of an email to the special ed teacher. What was wrong with the para? Why did she pick on HSB? Single mothers are grossly in debt and that the majority of them live below the poverty level. This may be stereotypical in the movie but it is also true. What was her problem? I have no patience for politically correct crap and HSB knows a few things about reality….etc etc etc

Then I also mentioned the anti-Semitic incidence and how I have had enough of this troublemaker and him picking on my child. I want it stopped and stopped now.  With only ten weeks to go in his highschool career enough was enough with this other boy and I want my son protected. I do not want this child near HSB and that I do hold everyone responsible for his safety. I of course had heard that this child was prone to starting fights.
The teacher emailed me back a.s.a.p. and let me know that she always protects HSB, which I did know, she is his biggest fan. In fact you couldn’t want a better special ed teacher for your child. She is a combination of teacher, mentor and momma-grizzly herself. Takes no guff from anyone when it concerns HSB and takes no guff from him too. (Want to take her to college with him, but alas I can’t.) She told me she forwarded my email to the Vice Principal, so when I heard from her I was not surprised.
Well here is the entire story about what happened:
So they were in economics watching a movie about debt and credit. Periodically throughout the movie, HSB would shout out his thoughts on the matter being discussed along with a long diatribe about the President and how everything that is wrong with the country is his fault. They would discuss it with him, redirect him and go on with the movie. Now if you think HSB’s disdain for Obama is bad, try mentioning Jimmy Carter and you can watch HSB have total apoplexy. Just think what he would be like if he was allowed to watch the news. By the way, he hates Fox News, so he is not overdosing on Hannity or O’Reilly…just saying.Now the teacher and the para do understand him and are able to control and monitor his outbursts for the most part. They get his humor and his take on the world. No one in the school actually tries to stop him from talking or thinking as he sees fit. In fact he engages the teachers and other children in dialogue and quite frankly, from what I am told, can hold his own quite well. (Much like collegeman can do in his classrooms. The intellectual challenge that the boys present seem to be appreciated by professors and teachers alike.) However, this last time, with the single-mother clip, it was a little different.

The single-mother on the screen was a woman of color and HSB’s para is a woman of color. She did not think HSB was making a racist remark when he said that the portrayal was very stereotypical, but she thought that others could take it that way. That is why she told him it was inappropriate what he had said. The problem was that she didn’t explain it to him. She just told him not to say that.
The Vice Principal was trying to tell me the story so I wouldn’t be mad at the para. I told her I wasn’t mad at the para at all. That this was not an indictment of how she supported him. That the truth of the matter is that she should have just told him that the way he said what he said could be taken by those that didn’t know him as racist. That it is important that he think through when he uses words. The Vice Principal thought the young woman was reticent to explain it to HSB because she didn’t know how we would take it. The Vice Principal tried to explain to me the town I live in where parents don’t like when you correct their “perfect” children, as if I didn’t know that already. I tell you, it can’t be easy being a teacher in this school district at times, with all the entitled people that live in our little quaint village.
The truth of the matter, the para probably had a visceral moment herself and probably didn’t know how to explain it to HSB. The more she thought about it she realized that he didn’t mean anything.  Whether when talking to the Vice Principal, she was trying to cover up something she felt she did wrong or trying to process what happened herself is not important. I think this became a learning experience for all of them, HSB, the para, and for the entire school for that fact.
I told the Vice Principal that we talk about this topic all the time at home. That language and how you use it is very important. That the way you say something is just as important as what you say. In society you need to be careful and think about the people who are around you. You are obligated to try to not hurt others and think about them when you speak and make yourself clearly known. This entire episode could have been avoided if the para had just explained to HSB why someone might think that what he said was racist and why. She should not be afraid to talk to him about it. It is important for his future. It is important that when he goes to college and people do not know him and his humor that he think through what he wants to say when others are around him. It is important if he goes out into the world, whether it is a restaurant or a store that he realize that there are other people there too. It is important that he hear this from someone other than us. Truthfully the idea that he has to stop and think is not a bad thing.We talk about that all the time too. Hubby actually will ask HSB; can’t you control your mouth at all? This is usually at dinner after he has annoyed collegeman for the umpteenth time, and has started a bit of a verbal altercation with his brother. The reality is, that I think at times HSB can’t control his mouth and truly has no filter. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t work on the filter, watching what he says and understanding how it aggravates and hurts other. OK as far as his brother is concerned he may actually understand the fact that he is annoying him and pushing buttons. That is part of the fun of being the younger brother after all.

One more thing about this incident…I told them that he shouldn’t be allowed to call out that way. It is inappropriate and I know they do not want to stifle him, but it is not proper behavior for college and he needs to be reigned in now. I do not want him to have issues like collegeman did at the beginning of college.Then we went on to talk about the troublemaker boy. The Vice Principal did assure me that the boy is NOT violent and that he argues with people all the time. Yes, it is for attention. Sad really that at this age he still has the need to garner attention in such a negative fashion. She also did not seem surprised that he said the anti-Semitic statement, it seems he is known for saying “inappropriate” and “controversial” things to get people upset. The kids in school know that he does these things to just get a rise out of everyone and usually avoid him and his shenanigans. The teachers do keep a watch on him and try to curtail it whenever they see it coming. As far as what he said to HSB, I am not sure that there will be a consequence for the boy, she didn’t say. But we did talk about HSB and his buying into the situation.

HSB being who he is will jump at the chance to argue with this child and will allow him to push his buttons. The troublemaker seeing this will push all the buttons he can. For HSB the trick is not to watch what he is saying in this situation, but to not take the verbal bait, walk away and keep his own mouth shut. HSB needs to learn to let things that are said go in certain situations and that he needs to move on.As I have told my children time and time again,  “ Wherever you go in life, there will always be one asshole. The trick is to not be that asshole.” Of course when I mentioned this to the Vice Principal I substituted “jerk” for “asshole.” Didn’t want to be called into the Principal’s office myself.

So for HSB there were two profound lessons about language learned in one very overwhelming day. ONE what you say needs to be thought out clearly before you say it. You need to think who your audience is and how it may affect them. This is not politically correct nonsense, this is being able to live in the real world and get along with people. It is a social skill not unlike being able to take turns, be appropriate at school or a job and actually live and function in the world around you. TWO there are people in the world who are total jerks and who you need to ignore. That no matter where you go you will run into them and it is a learned social skill how to deal with real life trolls.

I did tell HSB though that if the troublemaker ever says anything anti-Semitic again to go right to a teacher. Don’t wait. Don’t pass go and definitely don’t worry about whether it is what you think it is. Anti-Semitism and racism generally are very straightforward and very in your face.

By the way, HSB did ask if someone like the troublemaker could be considered a troll, like from the Internet. I told him absolutely and like those trolls on the Internet you ignore him and move on. “Ok,” he said and he went away.

Learned from the Vice Principal that it seems he was just checking with me to make sure his vernacular was correct. Apparently in his argument with troublemaker, HSB called him a troll as well an asshole. Guess maybe I really should change the wording in my saying to the word “jerk” before we all get in a little bit of trouble in the future. “Troll,” I think I will leave that one alone, however, personally I think that that was quite descriptive of the troublemaker and quite apropos. Ah words…

Until next time,


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Elise Ronan
The purpose of this blog is to document the practical and realistic approach taken over the decades to help our two sons grow, and develop in order become all that they are entitled to become as human beings.
Elise Ronan

Elise Ronan

The purpose of this blog is to document the practical and realistic approach taken over the decades to help our two sons grow, and develop in order become all that they are entitled to become as human beings.

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