Friday, May 8, 2009

Autism and Trauma Part Two: Bullying

Bullying is killing our children. Don't believe me? Put the words "bullied to death" in your search bar or Google them and see what you get. You'll see a list that boasts over 32 million results for how children are being relentlessly tortured by their peers. You'll find stories of schools getting sued because they failed to protect a child on their premises, and he or she took their own life. Time magazine recently put out an article on two eleven year old boys who hung themselves because they just didn't know where to turn. They were accused of being 'gay' and harassed to a breaking point. So far as I found, those were neurotypical children. They were bullied because they were different. If our typical children find it hard to escape or let it go, how must that be for the autistic?

I survived bullying that has brought instant tears to the eyes of some of my readers in the past. For that matter, it shocked many just by talking about it. Much of what happened to me ocurred in the presence of an adult. Why didn't they intercede? They were under the impression that we were just being kids. A boy on the playground once looked at me strangely and said, "Here, let me fix that for you." Being an Asperger's child, I took him literally, having no idea what he intended. He put one hand on the back of my head and the other over my nose. He pressed suddenly and hard, blood erupted down my face. "There, that's better," he said with a smile. I went straight to the teacher on the playground. I don't remember him getting any more than a minor 'slap on the wrist'. No follow up was done and every day on the play ground after that, he would smile at me from a distance until I noticed him and then run away.

That was in elementary school around fifth grade. Junior High was truly a nightmare. I was singled out for just about everything I did or every reaction I had. Between every class I ran a guantlet trying to avoid being shoved into lockers, having my books taken away and thrown downstairs or in the garbage, being kicked and punched, or even shoved down the stairs myself. I walked home from school an average of twice a week with blood on my face from my nose or mouth. I had no safe haven and there was no justice.

"Why don't you just be normal?" the adults would ask sternly. So it was my fault that other kids wanted to brutalize me. I know today that isn't true, but that was the loud and clear message to me back then. Besides that, I could not be normal. I had autism, though Asperger's is a self masking condition and no one knew. The simple fact is this, I am not now, not then, nor shall ever be, normal. It's a word I have come to despise.

So, what can we do about bullying in our schools across the nation? Education is the answer. We need to teach our children that hurting each other, teasing each other, is wrong. Stop passing it off as 'they're just being kids' because that's just not true any more. Child cruelty is growing out of control by leaps and bounds. When a child as young as seven years old, decides to take his own life, you lose the power to say, "he was just being a kid".

Schools need to implement a zero tolerance policy with mandatory counseling for both bully and victim. Make that policy known in every single classroom. Get the kids involved. When ever bullying is witnessed, all the kids should point right at the bullying child and say, "Hey! NO BULLYING!". It's an instantaneous public and social response that puts the bully on the spot by his peers.

I also suggest the book, Asperger's Syndrome and Bullying by Nick Dubin. He's an autistic author I have come to respect a great deal from his writing. You can find his books on Amazon. The school my son goes to has a beautiful program called 4>2 (Four is greater than two), or better said as 'for is greater than to'. It simply means that doing something for someone is better than doing something to someone. It is taught through all the grades of his school and powerfully advertised with bulletins on every wall. It's a system that has impressed me greatly.

If you see a need at your child's school to combat bullying. You must pull all stops. Print out this blog and show it to the faculty of that school. Print out the stories of lost children and use them as teaching aids as well. Find public speakers (like Nick Dubin and myself) to talk to the school and teach them about how bullying must stop and what can be done about it. Or take the podium yourself and share your own experiences. Help your school to implement a program. You can also demand that the school take steps to protect your child from an aggressor. If they absolutely will not take action after all these steps, you may have to consider the consult of an attorney. Our public schools are obligated to protect our children. This has now been proven by case law across the country.

I survived bullying in order to spread education on the trauma it causes. Even the most good natured teasing can be tough for our autistic kids, so imagine what outright bullying does. Take action, stop bullying.

Part 3 will be about abuse, so stay tuned and thank you.

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