More on Autism – Bullying

My reason for this month’s Autism post is because of the recent incident of the bullies that talked the Autistic boy into doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and put urine, feces, spit, and cigarette butts in the bucket instead of ice water.  If you Google “Autistic Child Bullied,” a disgusting amount of different headlines show up.

Why are Autistic kids prone to being the victims of bullying?  I believe the answer is simple and is threefold…

The first part may be obvious.  We can be a little on the weird side.  I mean absolutely no offense to anyone else who is or has kids that are Autistic.  Remember, I’m Autistic, and both of my children are as well.  I just mean that the behaviors that come naturally to us can be different from those of non-Autistic individuals.  And to kids, anything that’s different is a reason to pick on someone.  Autistic kids (and even adults) often have narrow interests.  For example, in the case of my son growing up, he was interested in the weather and wrestling.  If you didn’t care to talk about John Cena or cumulus clouds, then tough for you, because that’s what you got.  All day, every day.  For years.

These kids often have socially inappropriate behavior.  And to give you an example, the developmental pediatrician who my son used to see cautioned me that some kids he treated with Autism even went as far as masturbating publicly!  (Thank God Jeremy never did that!)  But there are many less severe, yet still quite inappropriate behaviors that can set aside an Autistic kid — such as nose, ear, butt, or scab picking, invading others’ personal space, inability to look people in the eyes, lack of facial expressions or gestures, or overuse of pedantic or formal speech.

Part two of my theory is that Autistic kids are exact-word oriented, and they often lack the ability to decipher voice inflections that would evidence sarcasm.  For example, when an Autistic kid insists on wearing their favorite Big Bird scarf to middle school (despite the scarf being far too juvenile for the middle school crowd) and the other kids sneer and say, “Nice scarf!” the Autistic kid will likely take that as a compliment because “nice scarf” means that people like it.

When my son Jeremy was small, he was frequently bullied by teachers as well as students, not to mention his biological father and my birth mother.  And the sad thing was, he didn’t even realize how horribly he was being treated.  Once when he was in the third grade, the police came to my work to get me and take me to his school.  They wouldn’t tell me what had happened until we got there.  Apparently they were investigating some form of abuse.  Even though I would never abuse my children, I was afraid they were saying that I was in trouble, and furthermore, I was scared of what might have happened to my son (who was fine when I sent him to school that morning).

As it turned out, Jeremy’s arms were covered in puncture wounds!  After some investigation, it was determined that he was being repeatedly stabbed with a math compass as well as a pen by two little girls in his class.  They told him they were his friends (so he believed they were).  Then they’d stab him to see how much he could take without crying.  (Jeremy’s Asperger’s makes him have a lot higher tolerance for pain than most people.)

A couple of years later, a similar incident happened at the community recreation center where he went after school.  An older boy stabbed him repeatedly with a pen until he drew blood.  When Jeremy got home, I first noticed the holes in his shirt, then I noticed the holes in his back!  I was furious!  I marched him up to the rec center and demanded that the counselors look at his wounds.  They looked as horrified as I was.  I questioned him, and they questioned him, yet he didn’t want to tell on “his friend,” and said he “asked him to do it.”  My poor boy had no clue that friends don’t stab you, and if they do, they need to be arrested!

Finally, these kids know their brains are different than those of their peers.  I personally often feel like I work twice as hard to get half as far.  Believe me when I tell you it is very stressful having this brain that never shuts off!  I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

Certain sounds are louder, certain tastes are stronger, we have more aversions to food tastes and textures, and it is a fact that people with Autism have a higher instance of food allergy and intolerance than other people.  So, besides our own bodies working against us, and knowing we are different, we then have to deal daily with the difficulty of social interaction that doesn’t come easily for us.  Casual chit-chat with a stranger might be something you can do anytime without even giving it much thought, but for me, with my Asperger’s Syndrome, it’s literally painful.  It is difficult and makes me very ill at ease when I’m just standing in line at the store and the person in line behind me starts talking about the price of food these days.  And as a kid, I was so uncomfortable that my reply was nearly inaudible.

My point is that these kids want so badly to fit in and be liked by their peers that they go along with whatever the bully says just to hope to have somebody accept them.  My heart breaks every single time I read or hear about a case of bullying, but it is compounded so much more when the victim is Autistic (or disabled in any way, really, but especially Autistic).

Allow me to elaborate.  With my Autism, I have what I call an “audiographic memory.”  I not only remember just about everything I ever hear, but I remember how I felt when it was said just as clearly as the moment it happened.  I don’t always want to remember so vividly, but it’s not something I can elect to turn off.  In fact many people with Autism have this same type of memory.  That being said, while any victim of bullying can be affected well into their adult years because of the bullying they suffered as a child, at least their memories of the attack can be somewhat put behind them because their actual memory wanes a bit over time.  But for these Autistic kids like me who remember every word, every voice inflection, every moment as if it were tape recorded and stored in a memory bank, and they vividly remember exactly how they felt when the instance occurred — it’s like reliving the pain, the humiliation, the denigration, the feeling of being a social outcast, the feeling of being mocked and laughed at, the feeling of being abused for the sheer entertainment of some sick punk — those people can never move past the incident of being bullied.

So, in the case of my Autistic son who was bullied, I’m almost thankful that he never caught on that he was actually being treated badly.  At least he never had to suffer the negative feelings associated with his abuse.  But I was bullied by a girl from the summer before third grade until I changed school after ninth grade.  And during those seven years, I can still list each and every moment that she treated me like a subhuman and then laughed about it.  I don’t choose to remember them, but they’re still present in the forefront of my brain. And anything that might be relative, such as seeing an announcement for a children’s Christmas pageant, can set off my brain to remembering  — because once in fourth grade, we were in a Christmas pageant when she bullied me, and as I tried to get her to stop, the teacher caught us, and I got in trouble for talking, and she didn’t.

This concludes my Autism discussion for this month.  I’ll be back tomorrow with my regularly scheduled “Goosebumps” theme, and I’ll be back the first Sunday of next month with more on Autism.  Have a wonderful month, friends, and please be kind to one another.