Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Hand Went Up

They aren't getting it.

They aren't getting it.

I've got to come up with something new.

Think. Think. Thinkthinkthink.

In a theatre in Simcoe, I'm in front of an audience of just over 60 people with intellectual disabilities. They come from the local schools as well as from the local community living associations. I am doing an workshop on Bullying and Teasing - something that everyone in the room is familiar with. We are having fun as the workshop is designed to have a lot of laughter, maximum participation and loads of learning. But they aren't getting one of the primary concepts I want them to walk out with. The way I typically teach it hasn't worked. I can see that.

I've got to come up with something new. An idea begins to form in my head. It's worth a shot.

I bring the room to quiet. Joe glances over, he knows the rhythm of the workshop, he is startled by the quiet. I look over the group solemnly. "I get teased all the time," I announce, "I want you to guess why I am teased."

They grow uncomfortable. They don't want to guess. They don't want to seem mean. I ask them again to guess. One fellow at the front puts his hand up as says, "Because you are big?" I say, "Yes, I'm big, but that's not why I'm teased." Now others are curious, "Because you are in a wheelchair," calls one, "because you are bald," calls another. I tell them that they are right about the wheelchair, right about me being bald, but that's not why I'm teased. They then start using other words for the same thing, "fat" "disabled" "old" ... yes I am, but no not why I'm teased.

I said, "Let me see if I can help you guess by giving you a hint. I am fat all the time, I am in a wheelchair all the time, I am bald all the time, but I'm not teased all the time. Figure out why I am teased some of the time but not all the time and you'll figure out why I'm teased."

I can feel all of you shaking your head and thinking 'that's way to complex a question for people with disabilities' ... no, it's not. Once you get them going, get them focused and get them learning, they are capable of understanding much more than you expect. The trouble is too many people dumb down the material for people with disabilites, make it so dim as to be dull - like with anyone else, interest increases IQ.

The answer dawns on a boy of about 13, he puts his hand up but slowly stands up at the same time. The group, as one, turns to him. He's beaming with realization, "You are only bullied when a bully is there, when there is no bully, there is no teasing. It's not because you are fat, it's because a bully bullies you." He starts to cry, his hands cover his face, he knows what this means. It means that all the hell he's gone through isn't about him, all the names he's been called aren't about him, that it's the bully who does it, who causes it, who is responsible for it. People are crying all over the room. They get it and get it big. The release of self blame, the letting go of shame, is a group experience.

One person applauds and then the whole room is cheering. I'm glad that they are looking at him because I'm crying.

He got it.

They got it.

I hope you do too.


rickismom said...

All I can say, is WWOOWW!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I tried to teach this to my college students. I'm in the middle of marking final exams and unfortunately most of them did not get it - there were 4 optional answers - 3 blamed the victim and one was because the abuser was present. the majority chose to blame the victim. I would have loved to taped this moment so that I could share it with my students. The kids got it and were able to express it better than me or my students!. thanks MDN

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post.

Anonymous said...

Damn, now I'M crying.

I'm so tired of the world being hard.

lina said...

not only did I get it, but you brought me to tears as well!
Another post to be shared.

Lola said...

thank you thank you thank you.

I was writng you an email in my head this morning (while I was in the b

I sometimes do this when I feel dispair and frustration especially about things that are so big it seems impossible to change). Your post was the perfect relpy to the email in my head!

The group of people with learning difficulties I work with have been exploring the issue of hate crime, bullying and harassment. We found that having a NO voice was so so hard even if it is easy to speak using words.

Being able to communicate to people 'that's not ok with me' when they are treating you badly is hard especailly if they have a role in your life such as a supporter, someone who might be needed to help you to do the day to day things that are essential to your life.

We have talked about findiing a 'NO' voice. We have been practicing and it really is not easy but we're getting there :-)

We are doing this so that we can work out how to support others to know they can communicate NO and to help make sure that people aren't treated like this.

It is so great to hear what the young man said... beign able to see that you are being treated like that because the person is a bully not becaise there is something wrong with you, must be one of the best ways to help find that NO voice!!

Thank you for this today Dave, perhaps I will write you an email to tell you exactly why it was so important to read this today.

Lot's of Love

Laura x

Marcey said...

Mr. Hingsburger, hello. I'm trying to reach you, and unfamiliar with blogging (while enjoying your posts tremendously) am sure there is some obvious way I'm missing to contact you directly without posting a comment. Hoping you actually read these...

I am a consultant working for the Consortium on Innovative Practices. Our client, a U.S. state agency, is interested in identifying experts in sexuality for people with developmental disabilities. It didn't take long in my research to come up with your name. They have asked me to provide them with contact information for you, but alas, I have not been successful so far. Would you please be willing to share a direct email address and/or phone number and/or mailing address with me, please. I am happy to discuss with you further. I can be reached via email at or by phone 770-435-2550. Thank you SO much!

Marcey Dolgoff

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,
Let me just echo the WOW. How wonderful to put the responsibility right where it goes and have people recognize that the bully owns it.

Anonymous said...

What a nice coincidence! I am part of an online group of autistic women. One thread of discussion lately has been how thoroughly we've been taught to blame ourselves. Now I have this wonderful blog entry to point them to. :-)


Kei said...


And I'm crying too.

Anonymous said...

A friend told me about this blog. It's great to see you still out there fighting the good fight. I am no longer involved with any acl. A lot has changed, obviously in both our lives. Take care and keep up the good work - many count on it


Anonymous said...

I started reading your blog this week and already look forward to getting to work in the morning to read your new entry. I am from BC but currently living in Sydney Aus.
So G'day from down under!
This post brought tears to my eyes.
Truly Beautiful!
Take care!

Dorian said...

That story is absolutely phenomonal!!!! Thank you so much for sharing!!!!

BTW, I've only commented once before, to your request for quotes. But I read your blog regularly, you are an inspiration!!

All 4 My Gals said...

I just read "The Are Word" and wanted to thank you for that work. This story gives me one more thing to teach Tarenne. I can't thank you enough for affecting our lives.
PS you need to add this story to the next printing of "The Are Word".

Ettina said...

Reminds me of what I was thinking of saying to the author of Parenting Your Asperger Child, who quotes himself telling a boy 'being teased is what happens when someone acts weird'. I might just send them this link.

Kathryn said...

Wow. Powerful. Genius! David thanks for sharing that. What a lovely thing you did for everyone in the room. I know what it is like to be released from self blame like that and it is a wonderful amazing thing. Wow. You're a really good teacher, btw.!

Anonymous said...


That was so powerful...



Anonymous said...

Ettina: Having read about that person on your blog site, I think that's a good idea to send them this link. Bullying should never be just accepted as an "expected" response to who the victim is or the way the victim behaves. That wouldn't be okay even if the so-called "weird" behavior was intentional and is even less okay when the behavior can't really be helped.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Incredible. Thank you.
And for the record, that 13-year-old boy got it waaaay before I did.

Cecilia said...

Wow is right. :)
Thanks Dave. :)
I was wondering... Could you maybe also talk about how to possibly get a person to stop being mean? Everyone says I should ignore them... but it doesn't really work... And I don't know what to do anymore.
Thanks. :)

Zephyr said...

*sniffs* That was beautiful. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I was bullied and teased through out school. The teachers told me to stay away from the bullies. Many years later when I was diagnosed with a disability, the therapist said thats why I was bullied.

For the first time someone has said it wasn't my fault. That I'm not to blame just for existing.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I would also like to say WOW, maybe even twice....WOW

This is a truely amazing way of teaching and I think that this should be shared with all schools that are dealing with bullies as well as anyone who is being bullied.

Thank-you so much for this wonderful insight.