How Kindness Can Overcome Bullying: A Parent’s Reflection on Facial Differences & Mainstream Schooling
Raising a child with Goldenhar Syndrome has been challenging to say the least, but we’ve managed over the last 8 years to navigate the ups and downs as best we could. For some reason, I always knew that Kiran would persevere medically – after all, we have the best comprehensive team guiding us along this complicated path. My fears, though, have been just as inherent. Thinking about all the factors that will and can influence Kiran’s psychological and emotional development often takes my breath away. Admittedly, this fear is what kept Kiran in a protected bubble filled with an army of family, friends, nurses, teachers, therapists and advocates.
For 5 wonderful years, Kiran attended a Deaf and Hard of Hearing school. Aside from the unyielding support from the teachers and staff, I took solace in knowing that Kiran fit in socially. In most schools, Kiran would immediately stand out; however, at this school Cochlear implants, BAHAs, and medically fragile children with trachs or wheelchairs were the norm. A facial difference was just one other thing to appreciate. Kiran wasn’t the only child with a craniofacial condition. He was fortunate to have other classmates with similar facial structures who experienced their own medical and surgical interventions. I was also grateful to have other parents who distinctly understood every challenge, every victory, and every tear we shed over the years.
When the time arrived to discuss transitioning Kiran to a mainstream school, I was hit with a multitude of emotions. I was so excited and a bit in disbelief that despite so many hospitalizations, surgeries, and illnesses over the years, Kiran excelled! I was once again reminded of how remarkable this child truly is. But then panic took over as I realized all the groundwork that had to be done, and of course the mental preparation on all our parts to introducing Kiran to a new environment. Our bubble was bursting, but all for the betterment of our son.
Admittedly, the idea of changing schools was exhausting. On a good day, I gave myself pep talks before heading out of the house with Kiran. Inevitably, people stared at him and kids would react to his face. If we were lucky, it was only stares. If we weren’t, I usually had to handle the situation as a “teachable moment” and orchestrate a positive interaction with others, mainly for Kiran’s sake. Either way, the day ended with a heavy heart and a racing mind wondering how I could have managed the situation better. So when it came to changing schools and knowing what was in store for us, I just wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to give up the comforts of his current situation.
Preparing for the transition went smoother than expected. A close friend of our family is a teacher at the new school, and has been instrumental in laying the foundation for Kiran’s arrival. For the past few years, she read the book Wonder, by RJ Palacio, with her classes. Kiran’s experiences were shared with the students, and lessons of choosing kind and accepting differences were reinforced. When Kiran toured the school in June, he was greeted by many of these students with excitement and cheers. The warm welcome was extended by the younger grades as well, with a few students calling his name and recognizing him from the playground. There were a few stares out of curiosity, but the overall positive reception built my own confidence that this was going to be a good move.
With a blink of an eye, it was September and the much anticipated first day of school was here. Kiran was excited to walk to school with his little brother, who entered Kindergarten on the same day. Our family was equally ecstatic as evidenced by the seven person parade joining our new students on their journey. This moment was a long time in coming for Kiran, and we all couldn’t be happier. Lots of laughs, pictures and hope filled that morning. Some tears from me too.
It’s hard to believe that October is already here! Four weeks of school has flown by and Kiran is seemingly off to a good start. As he celebrates RESPECT week in school, I’m reminded that October marks National Bullying Prevention month. Like all parents, I consistently worry about my child being picked on and developing low self-esteem. This is especially true for Kiran, where his facial anomalies draw immediate attention to his differences. But then I reflect back on the last several months and the various people who have positively influenced Kiran’s development. I’m reassured by the school’s devotion to programs where kindness, respect, and empathy is elicited and expected of its students. I’m encouraged by my family and friends who walk this journey with us and help to raise awareness of craniofacial kids like Kiran. Above all else, I’m relieved and thankful for the continued smiles Kiran has for me when I come home at the end of the day.