Kids with Special Needs: Easy Scapegoat

our new 'hoodOur new house is on a cul-de-sac, and we found out early on that there are a few kids around.  This has been great for The Boy.  Even though the others are in early elementary, he gets along well with everybody, and has been riding scooters and running around with his new friends a bit.  One day last week when The Man and I were working on the new siding for the house, our place was the hub of activity, with several neighbors stopped by to chat, and all of the kids making a track for their bikes and scooters around our house.

I’ve been pretty pleased with this new social aspect in The Boy’s life, as we didn’t know too many kids on our block in our previous house.  I was pleased until yesterday.

One of the neighbor boy’s grandpa came to our house, letting me know that the young boy had told him he had given his smartphone to The Boy.  I asked if it was a real smartphone, and he said it was, pulling out his own to show me what it looked like.  I invited him in while I spoke to The Boy in his room.  As is often the case with kids with autism, asking a direct question will not often get a direct answer.  I asked The Boy if this other boy had given him a smartphone.  His responses were, “I don’t know”, “I don’t think so”, and “I can’t remember”.  Pretty evasive (and would be suspicious in a law enforcement situation, I kept thinking in the back of my mind), but I knew he didn’t have it.  If he had, I would have gotten a much more emotional response like, “What are you asking me for?!”, “Why do you want to know?!”, “I know what you’re trying to do! You’re always trying to find out what I’m doing!”

I let the grandpa know that I didn’t think he had it, but that The Boy does have autism, and therefore can’t always communicate that well, so I would look for it and let him know if we found anything.

He wasn’t accusatory, but he wasn’t conciliatory either.  He seemed suspicious, but said the young boy could have dropped it somewhere, too.  I apologized, reiterated that I would search for the phone, and said goodbye.

I did search for the phone, but found nothing, as I suspected (except a huge, scary spider! Check it out on my fb page).  And the more I thought about it, the more disappointed I became because it was obvious that the little boy had lost it somewhere and used my son as a scapegoat.  Our kids with special needs are easy targets in these cases.  Other kids quickly become aware of their communicating difficulties, and get a sense of how adults perceive them as “different”.  So when something goes missing or gets broken, one may have more luck blaming the special needs kid.

By the time The Man came home, I was resolved to not ever let The Boy play with him again, and I was angry.  It was clear this little boy had lied.  And then The Man mowed the lawn and almost ran over a smartphone laying out by the street…  He called me on his phone to come out to the street, which I did, and the little boy, another little girl from the neighborhood, and our adult neighbor from across the street who often rides bikes with them were standing there, too.  The Man addressed the little boy, asking him if he had lost a phone, and pointed to it, laying there in the partially mowed grass.  The adult neighbor looked sideways at the young boy, and told him, “We better take this to your grandpa right now,” and off they went.  Good to have witnesses…

I’m glad that everything ended well, because you know how neighborhoods are.  That could have been the beginning of years of suspicion and bad blood, with my boy on the wrong end of it all because a 6 year old decided it was easier to blame him than to admit he lost it somewhere.

My anger has cooled.  The young boy is only six, and most little kids probably would have done something similar if given the chance, and I suppose that’s how they learn about honesty.  It doesn’t make anything easier, and I have to say I’ve already warned The Boy not to take anything this young boy “gives” him.  I will always be wary in the future, and this is a reminder that I have to be wary of people who aren’t our neighbors, too.


PS  Who the hell gives a 6 year old a smartphone??


10 thoughts on “Kids with Special Needs: Easy Scapegoat

  1. I don’t necessarily agree that the 6 year old chose your son to lay blame simply because the Boy has special needs. Most little kids will pick ANYONE to be a scapegoat and the best scenario is the new kid who his Grandpa doesn’t quite know yet. In his 6 year old mind, his Grandpa would have believed him over a kid who just moved in and seemingly so! Just my thought.

    Glad everything worked out and there were witnesses to the finding because you’re right, there could have been bad blood. But in this case I think it would have merely been over some another kid possibly taking a cell phone, not anything to do with him having special needs.

  2. We have split custody over our 2 oldest – when they are with their Dad, he doesn’t let them use his phone to call their Mom.

    So, since the kids were about 6, we have given them a cell phone that they always have available to call any one of their parents anytime they want, regardless whose house they are at.

    I think its part of being a growing boy to blame your friends for lost things…thats how boys start learning who the snitches are, who the sell-outs are, and who the cool kids are. I took the heat, as a kid, for losing my best friend’s toy fire-truck…even though I never touched it (and know exactly what he did with it…I just didn’t want him to get in trouble, and figured things would go easier on me for “losing” his toy than it would on him for lighting his toy on fire). Boys will be boys.

    That said, I am totally WITH you about the frustration with the accusatory tone of neighbor boy’s Grandpa. What a jack-butt.


    • I don’t argue with kids having cell phones – sometimes they are necessary. I take issue with a 6 yo having a smartphone. And it being lost for a week. And then someone comes looking for it…

      I know boys will be boys, but I will be a little more wary just because my kid may not understand what just happened, and may not have the social sophistication to decide whether or not to be a snitch or take the heat.

      Thanks for joining the discussion, LBD!

  3. My personal feeling is that the 6 year old probably didn’t target The Boy because he has special needs….in my mind most 6 year olds just aren’t that cunning. He likely would have tried to place the blame on him regardless. I think that time will tell on this one, I guess, but it’s good to proceed with caution.

    Also: a 6 yr old with a smartphone is ridiculous. You’re just asking for it to get lost or broken. Even a regular cell phone for a 6 yr old makes absolutely NO sense to me at all.

    • Target is a strong word. I don’t think the 6 yo made a conscious decision, but more likely followed some hidden social cues to arrive at his course of action. Who knows? I certainly don’t. But I know that most 6 year olds are a little more socially savvy than we give them credit for. 😉

  4. After reading your story it makes me conflicted sometimes about Jeffery’s lack of communicative skills. Because Jeffery doesn’t interact in the ways “normal” children do, we never have to worry about him having conflicts with other children…but he also misses out on the fun that can be had with playing WITH other children. I envy your son’s abilities… As for the smartphone, I don’t know of many older kids I would trust with my smartphone…let alone a 6 year old. However I do let Jeffery play with it on occasion but he seldom leaves my side in those instances…how else can I learn to use it unless I watch the expert! 😉

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