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Op-Ed: What we can do in light of Newtown

December 19, 2012|By Debra Kessler

Scary, disturbing, disgusting and virtually incomprehensible. These are the immediate feelings that overwhelm me as I watch the news unfold about the Newtown massacre.

The shooter, like all children, had his own social, environmental and neurological history. This story brings to the forefront critical lessons in need of attention.

We must guard against jumping to the conclusion that autistic-spectrum-disorder individuals are dangerous. But children who have difficulty with social engagement need support. The issue of bullying has been on everyone's mind and a focus of attention in our schools. However, what gets identified by a child as bullying is sometimes seen by others as the consequence of the child's own awkward behavior or that the child is just “too sensitive.” These children may bring teasing on themselves by misreading others' behaviors as teasing. They may perceive violations of rules as personal attacks rather than in the context of more nuanced communication and get upset. Isolating them amplifies their sense of being alone in the world. Adults must honor when a child complains of being bullied, even when we don't see it that way. Social isolation and rejection are deeply painful.

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It is critical that we pay attention and turn toward these children in the social/school environment. Difference, when mocked, makes for resentment and potentially self-harming behavior or violence. My plea here is that we each examine what our children say about their school experience and peers. It is up to us as adults to discern what is being communicated. We as adults must also help our children move away from rejecting others who they find different and instead move toward understanding and being more tolerant of differences between people.

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