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.

37 thoughts on “More on Autism – Bullying

  1. That is a great post and I agree with everything about autism as I have autism myself and I can see myself in similar situations in the past. Keep up the good work.

  2. We, as a society, need more of this. Posts like this create and promote empathy and understanding. The more we learn about different-abilities, the more we understand and realize that “normal” is an individual state of being, not a broad sweeping definition. My heart breaks that you and your son have endured such torment and I pray for the best for your family in the future. I’d like to leave you with a positive story. I live in a very small town, and though I’m sure there is bullying going on, I do know through my kids that a particular boy with autism who graduated two years ago, was looked out for by the majority of students. If anyone messed with him, others stepped in to defend him. And if a kid from another school caused problems? Our kids were quick to stop the situation. It has always made me proud the empathy and caring our town sometimes displays.

  3. It’s such a shame that our society not only allows bullying, but sometimes encourages it to “toughen people up.” I’m glad that bullying is being attacked right now, but it’s still rampant. The ignorance and cruelty of some people just amaze me. And not in a good way.
    I’m sorry for everything you and Jeremy went through, Rachel.

  4. Thank you, Rachel for continuing to round out our knowledge about this continually growing issue. How lucky for us, and the people who are directly affected by Autism, to be able to hear a voice speak so clearly about it. This is really quite unusual, and we who get to hear this first hand are really quite blessed. Thank you for that – and huge hugs!

    There seems to be a lot of stories of bullying coming up right now. I wonder if it’s because the school season has begun. Anyway, I just read another story from a guy who wrote about his friend in high school who was mostly ignored. So tragic. Are you aware of a fellow called Dan Antion?

  5. Whenever I read about kids who are being picked on, I just want to hit something, or go out and talk to the bully until they’re in tears. I know I can do it, too… I don’t even raise my voice or use abusive language, and somehow people end up intimidated…
    I used to get picked on without really knowing that I was. It wasn’t anything that actually was physical, but I would be getting these feelings when some people would talk to me that they were making fun of me… It wasn’t until one of the bullies got mad and snapped at me when I politely asked her to stop talking in dance class (unintentionally showing her up to the instructor, I guess?) that I realized that I was being bullied. I stopped taking dance classes–in the middle of the year–after that because I couldn’t handle that bully’s negativity any more.

  6. Oh, Rachel, I’m so sorry about the bullying you and your son have had to take. This makes me want to take the bully aside and ask him/her if they can be as brave in private as they are in a crowd, or if they need the approval of the crowd to back them up. I hate seeing anyone being picked on in any way, and the story of how your son was tortured is sickening.
    I guess most of us have been bullied or picked on in some way at some time in life, and I can remember the exact comments that were made to me so many years ago, as well as the person making them–usually a different person at different times, but oh, how it hurt. I remember the remarks, the pain, everything about it as if it happened yesterday, even though it wasn’t anything like what you and your son have had to endure. I’m holding you near my heart, and praying for you both.

    • Thank you! I think you’re definitely onto something about asking the bully if they could be as brave privately. It’s often hard to remember that the bullies are likely victims elsewhere as well. 🙂

  7. Such an amazing post Rachel! The more you talk about autism, the less I see it as a disability, although I’m not denying how difficult it must be to live with. What I mean is, it seems to me that you have special ‘powers’, for want of a better word. The strength of your memories, the audiographic memories, the dreams of foretelling, the empath, the tolerance of pain… you might think I’m crazy, but they seem more like super powers to me, and that you are more ‘able’ than the rest of us. Perhaps they are only intolerable to you because we have lost the ability to control it. And because humans have become so narrow minded over history, we fear what we dont understand and label it as inferior, or defective in some way. I’m so sorry for the abuse you and your son have endured. Its ignorant and inexcusable. Xxx Love these posts… please keep them coming.

    • LOL! Thanks, Ali. It’s not really all “super powers.” I just have a way of trying not to focus on the negative. There’s a lot of hard stuff along with it, too. And of course, it affects each person differently. I think you’ve just inspired my next month’s post, though. 🙂 Thank you again! ❤

  8. Thank you for the post–and for sharing your own experiences. There is more information about autism around these days, and even TV show characters (the son Max on “Parenthood”), but reading about real experiences along with explanations–such as audiographic memories–is enlightening. I think more information tends to make people more understanding. I hope so anyway. I’m so sorry that you and your son had to experience bullying, but maybe you will help to prevent it from happening to others.

  9. It doesn’t stop at children. My husband has been mocked and made fun of as an adult by ignorant people. He is a gifted accountant, of course, but adult people making a mockery is beyond the pale.

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