Friday, September 25, 2009

Autism and Bullying

Being bullied as a kid is tough business. It happens too much, and goes equally unreported. Many times the bullying goes on until the victim sees no other choice than to --- well, on this blog, let's just say --- take extreme personal measures. Fortunately however, a significant number decide they don't have to go it alone and elect to talk to a trusted adult. How wonderful when that happens.

What do the victims do to get bullied? They're smaller. Or fatter. Or have red hair. Or wear glasses. They are simply different. {I have to pause here for a moment while I ponder the significance of that word: "different" --- because something about everyone, every single person on this whirling sphere, including that bully, is different --- I've always found that to be curious} What then, when that difference is hand flapping or kooky behavior? Holding your ears and rocking back and forth during the middle of the teacher's lecture: that'll get you taunted on the playground, sure as I'm typing this.

What then, if the same condition that causes you to incessantly gnaw on your shirt sleeve also makes it difficult for you to communicate even your most basic emotion or concern? How as a child with a diminished ability to express your feelings are you supposed to explain to anyone just what's going on every weekday during that twenty minutes outside after lunch?

A friend who writes a family blog encountered just such a moment with her own son (read about it here). So far, their situation has been improving. But I have to sadly imagine that this is not always the case.

When you can barely speak, if at all, and can not communicate in abstract terms, and the ones who make you feel warm and secure live at the end of your six hours away from them, how do you cope with such a situation? Are the surrogates who are supposed to be looking out for you --- when your family can not be there --- looking out for you? Do you feel dread, or do you even comprehend the awful things being said to and/or about you? Maybe that's a benefit of autism for some: the teasing can't get to you, because it means nothing to you.

But just as with the neuro-typical kids playing around those of ours who are autistic, bullies can be cruel. I'm hard to convince that autism is an emotional armor suit against such a barrage. Kids are kids, no matter the shape, color or neurological challenge. And though our son who lives with autism is a year or two away from the potential bullying, this will be our issue tomorrow.

So I'm addressing it today: Do you have an autistic (or any special needs, for that matter) kid? Have you encountered bullying yet? How have you handled it? How has your little loved one handled it?

Please share your comments with us; they are very important. Give us some advice. Let us know what worked for you. We'll visit this subject again very soon.



Corrie Howe said...

Jon, I haven't had this problem personally, but I think talking to the child and to the teachers is a great start. Our school system has a zero tolerance for bullying. As a school system, they have counselors go into every room and talk to kids about what bullying is and how to address it as the one being bullied, the peers seeing bullying, the teachers and adults witnessing and handling, etc.

At the upper grade levels, police officers come in and give similar talks. We have retired police officers in all the schools as advocates, so I think this is why they address it in the upper grades.

Finally, I was just on another website and learned about this peer program Our school system has something similar but not peer initiated.

Jon G said...

Thanks for your feedback. Yeah, a mom with a child on the spectrum ran into this issue and I thought it is important enough to mention. I hope we can have some visitors provide suggestions and dicussion about it.

Deanna Schrayer said...

Jon, thank you so much, not only for mentioning my story, but for your insightful thoughts on bullying. Very well said.

Corrie, thanks for posting the website; right now I'm not able to get to it, but I will keep trying. I'm sure I speak for Jon as well as myself when I say we appreciate all the resources we can get our hands on.

Jon G said...


I'm happy to be able to say the things I do. I only pray that at some point I'll never have to say them again. For now, I'll continue to soldier on, crusade, advocate and thump people on the melon (metaphorically speaking, of course).