In an informative, eye-opening piece, one mother from the United States recounts her autistic son’s harrowing experiences of bullying within the school system.
By Brooke Price
Each of us parents of Autistic individuals have our own stories of how bullying has impacted our child’s life, or most of us do. As near 82% of special needs kids are bullied. Each story is unique and each as sad as the next. Whether it be stares, snickers, name calling, or actual physical violence, bullying affects each person in its own way. My son’s story with bullying started in Kindergarten- before he was able to even understand what a bully was or even speak a word to us. His journey with bullies started from almost the moment he entered public school.In Kindergarten Zain exhibited many quirks. A lot of behaviours that called attention to himself; such as screaming randomly, scripting, carrying a stuffed animal for comfort (something he still does), beating his head on the wall and his desk, roaming the classroom, messing with other children’s things and eating crayons. Many of these things he still does to this day. It wasn’t the children in his class that bullied him back then though. It was the older kids, especially during recess and lunch. They would throw food at him and trip him as he walked to put his tray up. They’d make the sounds he was making back at him and laugh; and, they’d make fun of his comfort object.
By first grade, Zain had started to talk a little and had started to also pick up on the other children’s bullying behaviors. As many times as I reported it to the school it never seemed to stop.
Finally, one day in second grade it all came to a head in my son’s first physical assault from a group of bullies. They grabbed him at recess and pulled him under the slide; from there they beat him up and called him names such as alien. They told him he didn’t belong there, and he better not come back. No teacher saw it happen, no child reported what was happening; instead, they found my son crying under the slide after he didn’t report to line to go back inside. From there all parties were suspended, including my son. It was what the school called a “cooling off period.”
I do not believe any schools suspend the victim anymore, but I may be mistaken. Back then that was common practice. I wish I could say this was the last instance of my son being assaulted but I cannot.
In 3rd grade he was bullied on a daily basis to the point of him having depression surrounding the school. The school he was going to at the time was in Washington State and they’d send home reports of what happened but would rarely call me to come get him or to even tell me that it happened. If they did call it was always at the end of the day, not when it happened. He was targeted at recess a lot. They’d circle him and call him names and push him around in the circle, making him sick to his stomach.
They’d take his comfort object from him and play “keep away.” Something that is devastating to my son as he doesn’t understand to this day that his stuffed animals do not have personalities of their own. It got so common for him to be bullied that a paraprofessional was assigned to him. The paraprofessional assigned to watch him never showed up and the bullying never ended; therefore, I pulled him out of school and placed him into the K12 Online Home-school Program.
He went from a child that was being beaten up at recess on a daily basis to a happy child again once we started home-school. I worried often about him getting enough social time, but the school made sure that there were plenty of opportunities for him to communicate with other students. I am proud to say that all the depression that had clouded his school experience had disappeared within 2 months of starting home-schooling.
I continued to home-school for a number of years. Until life happened. Home-school couldn’t last forever though, as a move across the country prompted me to have to re-enroll my children in the public-school system again.
Zain was marvelously lucky to be placed with the best teacher and aides I have ever worked with in his new public school. You see, he was placed in a self-contained special education classroom for Autistic teenagers. It was like turning on a light bulb. Being in that classroom, with those individuals helped my son grow and mature so much.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t always be there to protect him from the bullies that seem to stalk every school hall anymore. They tried their best but within 3 months of enrolling in the school my son was assaulted in the bathroom outside his special needs classroom. Several general ed students seemed to be waiting in the bathroom for a special needs student to walk in. They devastated him that day. He was sent home to me a different child than I sent to school that day.
In the bathroom, from what Zain has told me- he was thrown into a wall, cussed, his stuff was thrown away and toilet paper was shoved in his mouth. Those boys took my sons innocence that day, as he felt targeted, and you know what- I feel as though he was targeted as well. It didn’t end there though. Despite my deep maternal instinct to yank him out of the school that day and never send him back; I did not have that option as he was not approved for home-school and I didn’t have the resources to do so at the time. Home-schooling is an extremely time consuming and commitment entitling venture. At that time, I just couldn’t do it.
To my dismay, the bullying just got worse. Except it moved from the students outside of the special needs classroom and became centered around one child inside his classroom. One child that had been his friend. One single bully. For 7 months the teacher and I tried to come up with a solution that kept the two apart and kept Zain in her program. In the end the actions of this child on one fateful autumn day changed everything. One choice by one person changed our lives forever. The events of one day made the decision for me to never send my children to a traditional public school again.
That day the bully and Zain went to the bathroom together, per Zain’s report. The same bathroom he was assaulted in less than a year before. What happened in that bathroom is still not entirely clear as my son has developed PTSD because of it. What we do know is that this teenager, who is also on the spectrum and is 3xs my sons size decided that day to target him in secrecy, as he had been doing for months. I found out he’d been torturing Zain for quite a while. What we also do know is my son was, once again thrown against a wall and hit; except this time the bully took it further. The injuries sustained by my son were equated to that of a hanging. The doctor called it a strangulation by hanging.
He came home to me angry. Nobody at the school knew it happened as it happened at the end of the school day. Zain hid the injuries from everybody with ease, including me. I knew he was acting weird when he came home because he refused to take off his hoodie or talk about his day. I kind of let it go for a bit because he often melts down if pushed when he doesn’t feel social. At bath time it all came out. I about fainted when I saw the marks around his neck! He instantly started crying and begged me not to tell his teacher. I told him I had to tell her and tried to get him to tell me what happened as we ate supper. His story varied, and his voice cracked but I called the teacher and sent her pictures anyway.
Therapy was instantly started and a visit to the doctor, along with a visit to the school happened the very next morning. As mad as I was I held it together for my son through the appointments – though it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I wanted to scream, shout and cry. I didn’t though. I worked with his teacher to get him to tell us what happened. I had them to my home to follow up to get the rest of what had come out in therapy. We worked together as a team to figure out how to prevent this from happening ever again.
That day I changed my whole life and became a home-school mum again, this time choosing to use Connections Academy. That day my son learned the difference between a friend and a bully; never-the-less he changed that day. It took him years of experiencing it and multiple assaults before he got what bullying is, but he finally understands it isn’t his fault that he was bullied. He finally understands that bullying is a problem in the bully’s life not a problem with the victim. What he doesn’t understand is why bullies bully other kids. That I have no words for because I don’t know why they do it, except in the instances that they learn it at home. All I know is that the instances my son has lived through have left me with PTSD as well and has changed our whole family, as bullying tends to do.
Not every parent has the option to home-school, and if you don’t-do not feel guilty for sending your child to a brick and mortar school. Just be diligent in reporting bullying to the school and the teachers if your child experiences it. And if your child happens to be a bully-teach them respect and morals, teach them how they are acting is wrong and affects people’s lives. Don’t just ground them and move on with it, teach them from the experience so that they do not go on to bully another child again.
This article first appeared in the online health journal, EmaxHealth, on 27th March, 2018. It is reproduced here under CCL copyright provisions with minor editorial adjustments to account for our primarily British and European audience. To view the original article, together with all active links and references, see here