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We all want to be accepted and to have friends,  particularly at school but sometimes kids with special-isms are so socially different that they stand out from their classmates.  Standing out makes it much harder to find acceptance among their peers. One method that these kids use to convert unwanted attention into acceptance is comedy. It’s actually quite common for kids with special needs to become the “class clown”.

As parents, we will usually find this concept abhorrent but the important thing is not whether we are witnessing discrimination but whether or not our child is safe and happy. Many children are very happy being the class clown. They feel as if they belong with their group of friends and quite often these fringe friendships evolve into fully fledged and sometimes long term, friendships. Sometimes however, being the class clown can be dangerous.

Bullying and the Class Clown

There are bullies everywhere in schools and they will usually target people who are different and people who draw attention to themselves. The class clown by definition does both of these things and will quickly become a prime target. Sometimes being a class clown provides protection from bullies because they don’t want to be seen associating with the “weird kids” and clowns can be quite resilient when insults are hurled. Most of the time however, bullies won’t give up so easily.

One unique way in which bullies use class clowns is to set them up for potentially harmful effects. These can include getting caught, blame-taking, causing disagreement and dangerous stunts. As parents, we must be vigilant and need to regularly discuss school with our kids while keeping our ears open for signs of this activity. In particular, if your child frequently says things like, “Daniel told me to do it” or “Claire said we couldn’t tell anyone”, there is probably cause for concern.  If the same names keep coming up whenever there is trouble, it’s fairly certain that you child is being bullied via deliberate negative suggestions.

It’s important to note that many special needs children who are bullied in this manner don’t realize that they are being bullied. They often see these types of bullies as friends and resist separation.

When Clowning Backfires

It would be wonderful if we could simply blame all of our children’s negative behaviors on external parties, such as bullies but this is usually this is not the case. Class clowns expend a lot of effort to keep their peers amused and it’s hardly surprising that occasionally they overstep the mark. In fact, often, they are their own worst enemies.  Special needs kids, particularly those with ADHD, Autism and related issues have a reputation for being impulsive and sometimes their less considered entertainment strategies can cause a lot of damage. Physical injuries are common but the damage can also be reputational and/or emotional. Inappropriate clowning choices can also lead to serious long term issues such as depression.

If your child shows signs of significant “clowning” then you need to ensure that they are giving due consideration to actions and words before they do anything “silly”.  Signs that this might not be happening could include frequent injuries at social events or significant reactions from others to their verbal, written or photographic submissions.   This is a problem which affects both genders and which needs to be addressed at early ages before their potential for damage increases.

If your child has frequent access to electronic communication devices, such as iphones, ipads, android and other devices, then you need to make sure that you know how they are interacting with others. For example, they may be “trolling” forums using their real names. Trolling means to go around saying things intended to anger others. It’s a common behaviour and is often done for amusement. Trolling with one’s real name however could leave someone open to a real-world attack.  Similarly, taking photos of their own, or other’s body parts for amusement purposes could lead to legal issues.

In the real world, clowning behavior can lead older children to alcohol abuse, dangerous driving, recklessness  or to attempt to entertain others using “Jackass style” tactics.  Youtube is full of examples of youths who have attempted to amuse their friends in this manner. Many of the injuries sustained look painful and permanent. It’s not enough to attempt to block your child’s access to these videos because they’ll get access to them somewhere away from your protective embrace.  Your child needs to fully understand the risks of “stunts” intended to amuse others.

Non-Harmful Clowning

Of course, if your child manages to remain safe and happy while clowning, then the major areas of impact could be their academic progress. Depending upon the individual child’s capabilities and the circumstances, this may range from minor to severe. You will need to make your own assessment. If the impact is fairly minor, then it’s best to allow your child to be a clown if he wants rather than force a change which could upset the social dynamics of school.  Clowning behaviors have positive benefits too and will help your child cope with stress. They don’t last forever and usually disappear quickly once children have left their school years behind.