Monday, July 9, 2012

‘What Does Happy Look Like?’ helped me share feelings about bullying

Cover image: What Does Happy Look Like?
On the U.S. News Education blog, “High School Notes,” Kelsey Sheehy reports that “School Buses Breed Bullying.”

Sheehy cites a statistic from the U.S. Department of Education: that roughly 30 percent of middle school and high school students are bullied, and nearly 10 percent of the abuse happens on the school bus. Sheehy adds that “the problem is likely much worse, since nearly two thirds of the incidents are never reported, the department estimates.”

Count me among the 30 percent.

But rather than simply rehash what took place during my bus rides to school, I’d like to highlight a book that, several decades later, helped me to talk about it: What Does Happy Look Like? by Joseph and Silvana Karim (Autism Asperger Publishing Company, 2010).

As I relate in my January 2010 reaction to What Does Happy Look Like?:
“‘What Does Happy Look Like?’ If you asked me, I’d agree that sunshine yellow is a good match for this emotion: but a school bus would not be on my list of images that articulate happiness. If you painted a prison transport bus with bright sunshine yellow paint, you would more closely approximate what school buses represent to me.”
When responding to the image of that bright yellow bus, I took my cue from instructions that the book offers to parents and other adults:
“Emotions are difficult for many children to understand and describe. They experience them but often can’t say why or express what they mean ... As you read the book and look at each illustration, ask the child what she is feeling. Have her comment on Joey’s words and then ask her to describe the picture in her own words, with as much detail as possible. This helps make the child aware of the nuances of emotion and to secure the understanding in her mind.”
 Short version of my response: the school bus brought me each day to a place where I was taunted and shunned. If the bus arrived late, the entire day cascaded downhill from there.

When I began to communicate in adulthood about what I had experienced, I learned that adults who were closest to me during the time that I went to school were unaware of the extent to which I was bullied on the bus and at school. I believe this book could help with conversations about what a child is feeling.

So, just as I did in my earlier reaction to What Does Happy Look Like?, I encourage parents and caregivers to make use of this book. But I repeat my caveat:

Don’t be surprised if any of the images, like the bright yellow bus, elicit a reaction from your child that is different from what the book’s authors anticipated. Your child may have a different idea of what “happy” or another emotion looks like.

What Does Happy Look Like? is available from Autism Asperger Publishing Co.,

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