Tuts, Looks and Loud Comments

Mark Arnold by Mark Arnold Additional Needs

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark heads up Urban Saints pioneering additional needs ministry programme and is co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, a learning and supp...

Heartbreakingly, at least 60% of children with additional needs are bullied (source: Ability Path).

With some 2.5 million children and young people in the UK having an additional need of some kind, that’s 1.5 million who have experienced bullying…

One is one too many, 1.5 million is an absolute outrage!

When we think about childhood bullying, the stereotypical environment is bullying at school or in the street.  We may also think about online bullying, a huge problem for many children today.

But do we think about where else children with additional needs, and their families, are being bullied?  It can happen anywhere, in the supermarket, in the cinema, in the park during a family day out…  anywhere!

Surely as a society we should be more understanding, more tolerant, treating everyone with respect, however this is often very far from the case.

Bullying of children with additional needs, and their families, happens all too often…

There are lots of ways that these families, and their children, are treated badly, sometimes bordering on and stepping over the line into bullying, and it isn’t possible to include them all here, but these poor behaviours can often fall into three areas, all linked, but all very hurtful…

The ‘Tut’

A sound that is so short, but which can leave a lasting impact.

People tut when they disapprove of something, or someone; when they wish to show distaste or dislike.

A ‘tut’ can be like a dagger to the heart of a family of a child with additional needs.  It condemns, it judges, it articulates opinion in a cruel and harsh way.

When trying to support a child who is overwhelmed and having a meltdown, the ‘tut’ says to parents “You have failed to control your child and now you are inflicting their issues on me, and I disapprove…”.

That simple sound can be so hurtful… but it is often accompanied by…

The ‘Look’

A harsh stare often follows the ‘tut’; a glowering, accusatory, frowning, purse lipped look that make families with children with additional needs want to hide from the glare.

It reinforces the sense of helplessness and hopelessness that the family will be feeling as they try to help and support their child, just at a time when what they really need is kindness and understanding.

A friend of mine who experiences this all too often refers to people like this as ‘The Meerkats'

She says that when her son is having a meltdown in public, all the heads swivel round and stare at them just like the meerkats do.

She makes fun of it, but there is a serious and hurtful intent to these looks… and then often the third part of the bullying ‘triple whammy’ comes swiftly along…

The ‘Loud Comment’ 

After the ‘tut’ and the ‘look’ often comes the loud comment, ostensibly aimed at someone nearby, but made loudly enough to be heard by the family (and probably everyone else within earshot!)

It can frequently start with “Well...” and continues with something like “if they can’t control their child they shouldn’t bring him into the supermarket…” (control is just about the last thing possible during a meltdown).

Or “I wouldn’t put up with bad behaviour like that in the cinema if she was my child” (this isn’t bad behaviour, it’s could be a response to sensory overload).

I could add many other examples here, perhaps including the ‘Smug Smile’ when the family drag their distressed child out of the shop/cinema/play area etc. so that they aren’t subjected to any further abuse.

Many of us have been there, seen people do one or all of these things, seen the impact it has had on families and their children, on us.

Does it break your heart?  It certainly breaks mine…

We need to be better than this, to model a better way, to make a positive difference to that statistic.  It needs change, change to come from the top, from those with positions of responsibility in our communities and in society as a whole.

Good responses need to be praised and poor behaviour needs to be challenged.  If someone lit up a cigarette in the middle of Tesco’s they would soon be told to stop…  we need the same challenge to be given to someone bullying an additional needs family.

We need to see the ‘tuts’ turned to offers of support and help,  the ‘look’ to become one of friendship and encouragement, the ‘loud comment’ to be “how can we help you?”

So, let’s follow this approach, let’s not wait for it to just happen but let’s lead it ourselves, and let it change us, change society, and change the experience for many families with children with additional needs…


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