We reached a new milestone and it was, like many things in parenting, bittersweet.

When our son was in pre-school and kindergarten, I think he mostly saw other children as noisy little creatures that were just around him. Sometimes they were nice to be around, sometimes they were not so nice, most of the time they were just there.

He would play along side them, in his own world, rarely playing with them and more interested in what he was playing with. He did not observe how they interacted with him, how they interacted with each other, or how they interacted with adults. He just didn’t see it.

He intellectually knew there was this thing called “friends” but perhaps he did not intuitively understand it. His first friendships were with very patient, caring children that were comfortable following his lead and didn’t mind that all he (very authoritatively) talked about was dinosaurs.

In first grade he started being more interested in playing with other children, so long as it was play on his terms. There was a lot of dinosaur tag and dinosaur role-play on the playground. He also started being aware of social opinions and how he felt in the classroom setting among his schoolmates.

He started wanting to interact more, watching how the kids showed that they liked each other.

One day he came to me, unhappy, and said he was being bullied. This surprised me. His school has a strong anti-bullying culture and policies and, being at the school daily, I have many times seen children themselves defuse potential bullying, natural and genuine unscripted acts of kindness towards my son, and strong oversight by the teachers and the administration.

I asked him if he wanted me to talk to his teacher, and he said yes.  I told him I was going to need some more information and asked him to tell me who it was bullying him. He said it was a lot of children. I then asked him where it happened, expecting to hear it was in the lunchroom or playground, and he answered that it happened in the classroom.

I was perplexed. His classroom is somewhat small, his teacher incredibly active and aware of what is going on at all times, and children are never in the classroom without an adult. I was baffled that many children were bullying my son in the classroom and she did not know or did not do something about it.

Then it dawned on me what was going on.

My son was not being bullied, not in the commonly understood sense. He was seeing something new. He had subconsciously realized that children were communicating in a language he does not understand. There were facial expressions, body language, and non-literal language that he recognized as other layers of communication that he could not follow.

This made him feel uncomfortable and scared, like the children were being mean to him and, having never really experienced it before, he concluded that this was bullying.

I did follow up with his teachers, just in case, but I was convinced that my son’s vision of his world had changed. He realized there was another layer of which he was unaware.

I was glad that he could see it because now we could teach him to read it.