When a fifth-grade boy is told by the school that he can't go on a class camping trip because he doesn't have friends to bunk with, his heartbroken mom turns to Reddit in search of a solution.

mom on phone next to upset son
Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

March 8, 2019

No parent wants their child to feel left out, and when it does happen, it can be hard to decide how (and if) we can intervene. When one mom's son was excluded from a school field trip because he couldn't find friends to room with, she turned to Reddit for advice on how to handle the tough situation.

As the Reddit user named Tanclan explained, her fifth grade son "is on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum." He's in his second year of the gifted program at his school and absolutely "loves it." She said he's made "three quirky friends, which may not sound like a big deal but his birthday parties from kindergarten through 3rd grade were family only because he knew no one would come."

Tanclan was proud that her son wanted to on the three-day, end-of-year field trip with his class. He "wasn't sure about going at first because new things make him nervous," she said, "but my older kids convinced him to go and he's excited about it."

He went to all the meetings for the trip and even took notes. In the last meeting, though, the kids had to finalize their groups. "They sleep in a cabin and there are four boys to a room with two bunk beds," Tanclan explained. "You can have three, but aren't allowed less than three or more than four."

For various reasons, Tanclan's son's friends are not going on the end-of-year trip. His mom said one of the boys "has sensory issues and hates the outdoors, another has autism and OCD, and the other has a mom who doesn't feel comfortable with her son going if she can't chaperone because he has meltdowns." But Tanclan's son bravely "put himself out there and found a group."

Two of the three boys in this group are friends with Tanclan's older son. "[I]t was probably a pity invite," she acknowledged, "but my son didn't care. He had a room with kids he knew would be nice to him because of his brother."

Unfortunately, the best friend of one of the boys in that group decided he wanted to bunk with them, so Tanclan's son got the boot. Undeterred, he "said 'okay' and searched for other groups," said his mom.

Here's where it gets really heartbreaking. "When he couldn't find one, he told the coordinators that he didn't have a group and they called up the kids who only had three people in their groups," Tanclan said. "There were two groups of boys that only had three people and all six of the boys said they didn't want to share with my son."

"From what my son says the teacher tried to convince them," she said, "but they all said that he was weird and they didn't want him in their rooms."

Awful, right? So as Tanclan said, her son "was told that he can not attend this trip because he does not have a group to room with even though there are two beds on the boys side not being used."

Tanclan's son "suggested sleeping in a sleeping bag in the room of the two boys who invited him to join their group originally but was told that wasn't allowed because the maximum is four to a room."

Understandably, Tanclan's son is "extremely disappointed." His mom is devastated, too, because he really tried to take all the right steps. "He is such a shy kid," Tanclan wrote, "and for him to find a group, get kicked out, go searching for another group, tell the coordinators that he didn't have a group, get turned down by six boys who all said he was weird, try to come up with another solution, and continuously get rejected showed a lot from him. In the past, he would have just left the room when it became overwhelming but he wants this bad and was willing to fight for it."

The school offered a full refund for the trip, but that's not the solution Tanclan was looking for. "I know this may not seem like a big deal, and we could do something similar," she said, "but it was a way for him to experience something with his classmates. I don't know how many more of those opportunities he will have and he really wanted this one bad."

Tanclan polled other parents. "Should I just take the refund and shut up?" she asked. "Am I overreacting or should I go to the school about this?"

Almost unanimously, other moms and dads agreed that the school hadn't handled this right. One Reddit user by the name of VoteyDisciple suggested Tanclan use a "'deliberate ignorance' strategy" here. This would involve telling the trip organizers, "[Son] told me there was apparently some confusion when it came to picking groups, and he ended up not being any group. Please let me know which group you're going to be assigning him to join. I'd like to make sure he knows who's going to be in his cabin in advance, since as you know he struggles a little socially."

Another parent said they "would absolutely raise hell" over what they described as "teacher-enabled and supported bullying." Several suggested Tanclan reach out to the parents of the boys who didn't want to bunk with her son, and some even said she should contact the local media about what happened.

Tanclan made it clear that she wasn't trying to vilify the kids who didn't want her son to room with them. "They are jerks but they are 10-year-old boys," she said. "They do a lot of dumb things."

Her real issue was with the trip coordinators for not speaking up. "Kids can be jerks, but you correct the behavior when you see it," she said. "The teachers who allowed these boys to do what they did bother me more than the name calling."

Tanclan didn't want the teachers to make the boys who called her son "weird" room with him. "I'm most worried about how the other kids would treat him if they perceived this as him ruining everything," she said. "There is minimal (read: zero) oversight in the cabins from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m."

One Reddit user suggested that the two boys who originally said Tanclan's son could bunk with them (they were the friends of his older brother) still bunk with him, and their third friend bunk with one of the other groups of three boys that still had space for a fourth.

Luckily, things took a turn for the better about three weeks later. The concerned mom shared an update saying she decided to speak to the principal with her son in tow because he still desired to go on the trip.

Although appearing uncooperative at first, the principal decided to speak with two of the original group members; they both said they still wanted to share a room with her son. One explained he simply agreed to exclude her son because “otherwise he'd be the odd man out and would be searching for another group.” The principal put the three boys back together.

He gave the other two ("the ringer leader and the late to the party kid") a choice: they could either stay in the room where Tanclan's son was or opt to room with one of the other groups of three. They both chose another room.

Now, the mom is hoping changes are made so no other child has to face the same treatment her son did. 

“When you parent a kid with special needs it is hard to know if you are overreacting or not. I'm glad that most people think I was right to be upset about what happened,” she wrote. “I will do whatever I can to make sure no other kid is humiliated in front of his peers and called names while staff watches. I don't know how they can change the process to make it less harsh on kids without friends but something needs to be done.”