Selective Mutism bullying the special needs peer

When your child reports bullying, a ton of emotions floods through your vanes. However, when that same child tells you about it eight months later and into the next school year, different emotions arise.


It is hard enough when your child is a special needs child, and the diagnosis is slightly hidden like sensory processing disorder, people just don’t get it!
Sensory processing disorder is not an education diagnosis or a mental health diagnosis, making it hard for educators or parents to understand. They see these children as behavior problems, behavior disorders, and attention seekers. Some will say they need social skills, discipline, or separated from the pack.


This type of thinking makes it extremely difficult for our SPD kids to make friends, understand boundaries, and protect themselves. Other problems surface when peers do not understand an SPD kid’s body’s sensitivity, the proprioceptive needs, and the challenges with vestibular engagement.


My grandson struggles with what he calls sensory issues- his sensory processing disorder is newly diagnosed; however, not recently noticed. He struggles with balance, body awareness, pain, and sound. He does not look like he has a developmental diagnosis and does not act as he has in most settings. In school, he enjoys the same type of play other children his age does. One difference is he thrives and craves sensory input, which comes in the form of running, falling, digging, and swinging. When he was younger, it was not as noticeable; now, it is more pronounced in the 4th grade, which opens him up for bullying.


Loving interactions with other children- peers, he jumps into situations that are difficult for him. His father has never stopped him from pushing his limits, so this was not a new adventure for him. Jumping into a soccer game at recess or joining an overnight lock-in was exciting news for family members. Going to school with a new soccer ball, proudly holding it, and running to show his friends brought a smile to family faces.
No ball came home- stolen or thrown on the school roof brought questions. Kids with SPD do not always give an accurate representation of the situation, so navigating through a story can be difficult. What we know -no ball in his backpack and the kids were mean.


What we did not know was how mean they were. The school said; you kiddo gets hurt on the playground almost every day. He has bruises on him, he has a bloody nose, and he cries a lot. Scratching our heads and wondering what is going on? We ask only to be told: “I am bullied?” No more explanation, no words, no tears, and anger when asked about the situation, we sit and wait to see if something happens or someones give a factual report.


A few months into the school year, my grandson asks if he can learn soccer skills for O.T. This is an easy request to fill, and we begin to practice. He seems happy and can play with his peers at school. Until the day he was tripped and received a bloody nose. His teacher asked him to stop playing for a while. He took that literally and stopped playing altogether. This literal business is something kids with ASD and SPD have in common. You will find Autism (high functioning) and Sensory Processing disorder have many overlapping behaviors, struggles, and social issues.


So Covid-19 happens, and my grandson, homeschooled for the rest of the 4th grade, begins to thrive. He learns his math skills; the teacher asked me to teach him because he was behind the class while in school. He also advances in proprioceptive skills. He begins to laugh, play, and talk more.


Summer school happens, and he stays home. 5th grade comes around, and he begs to be virtual. With a duty change at work, it allows him the opportunity to be homeschooled. His father agrees to virtual school and opts out of any in-person schooling.


My grandson learns to ride a skateboard and do tricks on a bike. He loves the skate park on the days we can make it there for him to practice. One day a kid talks smake to him; he runs to the car crying and shaking. He begins crying, yelling, and rambling.


The story of his bullying comes out. We thought it was just kids teasing him or calling him names- granted that is not nice and needs to be addressed; however, it can be worked out at the school level while teaching him new skills. We did work on those skills.


When he came home one day, he mentioned a peer slapped his face while trying to block; he only went to his midline—not realizing the implications of his inability to cross his midline a lightbulb and fear when off in my head and heart. We faithfully and earnestly worked on crossing midline skills. He never mentioned it again.
While in the car at the skate park during his meltdown, he reported what bullying was happening to him.


While on the playground at recess and after lunch, four peers would call him to see a new item. Once he went to be a part of that crowd, they would hold him down and punch him. He said one was a friend because he only tapped him; we discussed that it was not a friend. He continued to talk, saying he did not trust them, so when they called him, he did not go, but they would pull him over when he was walking or running by them. They would punch him multiple times, and this happened weekly. He yelled at me, saying I knew this.


I explained to him I did not know they were hurting him. The incident was not bullying; it was abuse. I let his father learn to find out if this was news to him also.
His father asked what can we do; it was last year! We discussed the importance of talking to family about what is going on at school. Kiddos with Sensory Processing Disorder may also have selective mutism. It may seem strange or misunderstood because of the questions- “WHY? WHAT?” – pops up with that statement.
While reviewing IEP’s and school notes, I have noticed one statement the teacher’s repeat year after year is; ” He won’t talk to me” or “He doesn’t say anything so we can’t help him.” Selective mutism comes from fear, trauma, lack of trust, or undeveloped language skills.


My grandson’s mutism was from fear and trust that people would take care of him. He continued to say things like, “you knew,” or why did you not know what was going on?”
Now, what do we do? What would you do?
Educating teachers, peers, and adults is one way; but teaching my grandson to speak up, yell loudly, fight back, and tell on his friends is also one way to keep him safe when we are not with him.


Knowing all the pieces of that last year in school explained the many bruises, bloody noses, crying, hating school, nightmares, and fears.
My heart hurts that I did not ask enough questions, I did not teach him the skills he needed, and I did not demand answers. My anger at the school and teachers is immense. My fear of him being attacked and hurt while no one is watching keeps me up at night. Having a child with special needs in the world, who looks like everyone else, and wants friends can be challenging and downright scary. Looking into your eyes in the mirror, knowing your limitations, and reaching deep into your soal is hard but necessary.


Now, we train in self-defense!

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