I started working at a childcare facility, and there is a little girl there named Tessa. The other kids have told me that Tessa has Autism, but to me she presents more like someone with severe Down’s Syndrome. She is not very aware of what is going on around her. She is maybe 9 years old, but has the mental faculties of (what I would estimate to be) a 3 year old. Tessa is a very sweet little girl, but she isn’t truly aware of what is going on in the world around her.
The other day at lunch, Tessa was sitting next to a little boy and he started shaking her by the shoulders. He had wrapped his arms around her, and was just shaking her. He was smiling, maybe even laughing, and Tessa didn’t seem too upset, but I made him stop anyways. When I tried to get him to explain why he was shaking her and apologize, he avoided my eyes and acted as though he didn’t hear me. He stopped shaking her, but he never acknowledged that he had done something wrong.
Once the kids finish lunch, they sit against the wall. When I looked over, the same little boy was sitting next to Tessa and laughing. I couldn’t tell what was going on, but I didn’t trust that boy, so I kept watching. Tessa kept leaning over to him, blocking my view of them, and I wasn’t sure if it was her not understanding personal space (which happens with Tessa) or if (I think I went cold at this thought) she was kissing him. Then Tessa leaned back and the boy laughed and pointed to another girl sitting next to Tessa, and Tessa kissed her on the cheek. I hoped that was a one time occurrence, that he wasn’t telling Tessa to kiss the girl because he’s just gotten Tessa to kiss him. But then he laughed again and tapped his cheek, at the same time gesturing toward Tessa in a ‘come here’ manner. And she kissed him on the cheek.
And he laughed.
Part of me was livid, and part of me was in complete control and knew I was going to protect that girl. I got the attention of another teacher and explained that the boy was getting Tessa to kiss him and then he was laughing about it, and she sighed (almost as if it was just another annoying thing) and went over to them. She actually told Tessa to stop. That ‘we don’t do that at school, sit over there’. To the boy, who I found out was named Blake, she said ‘if she tries to do that again, tell her no’. As if Tessa was to blame.
I told the Director not long after, and she spoke to Blake, but the situation has bothered me since it happened. At first, I thought it was simply because a boy was taking advantage of a vulnerable little girl, and it hit too close to home. After all, I was taken advantage of. Thankfully, I think we stopped everything before it escalated, but that is still not something I want to be around.
Then, I realized it was also because Tessa reminds me of my little sister Emma. Emma has some developmental brain disorders and will never be an ‘average’ adult. Right now, my parents are working with the doctors to see what mental age she will be able to reach. Right now, she is physically 6 1/2 but mentally 4 years old, and she has already started to plateau. It’s possible she will always mentally be a four year old. What if someone did that to Emma? She loves giving hugs. She loves people. To her, everyone is just a friend she hasn’t met yet. But what if someone hurt her? What if someone took advantage of her? I don’t think I ever realized before how vulnerable she is, how much protection she needs. Rob and I have said that if/when my parents pass away, we will be Emma’s advocates to make sure she gets the care she needs, and it had never felt hard before. I want to be there for Emma. We will be there for Emma, but I never truly realized how vulnerable she will always be. She won’t be able to protect herself from the evil in the world, she won’t be able to know what people should or shouldn’t be allowed to do to her. I just don’t ever want her to get hurt.
And now, and I write this, it dawned on me that the other teacher’s reaction bothers me, too. She scolded Tessa. That’s like scolding an abuse victim. It’s unfair. Tessa was being manipulated, and she got the blame. It’s way too similar to the kids blaming me when I tried to get help. I hope the teacher didn’t mean to take the side of the ‘bully’ or ‘abuser’, but that’s how it came off. It makes me very wary of that teacher.
This was one of those hard things to face, and I’m still figuring out how I feel about my third realization. It was a really hard thing to face on my second day, but I think (hope) I did the right thing. I’m still going to keep an eye on Blake, and I’m definitely going to look out for Tessa. The other teacher I will hold my judgement on until I get to know her more.
Like I said, it was a really hard thing to face.