Friday, April 9, 2010

Autism, Asperger's & Bullying - A Reality and Some Resources

Our oldest son is 10 1/2 and in the 5th grade.  He will be transitioning to middle school in September.  Having remembered my own unpleasant junior high school experiences with being made fun of and feeling alone, I really am nervous and scared for our son.  I'm afraid he's going to be the victim of bullying.

Whether or not you have a child that it is on the autism spectrum, transition from elementary school to middle school or junior high is a big deal.  Even though there can be teasing and bullying in the early grades, the elementary school is usually a more inclusive and understanding environment than middle school or high school.  Studies show that a lot of this has to do with childhood development and the transition from childhood to adolescence.

Here is a good website that talks about bullying in middle school:

http://family.samhsa.gov/teach/middleschool_bullies.aspx

In middle school, kids start to become more interested and concerned about fitting in, making friends and being part of a group.  Appearance, the way one talks, the extra-curricular activities one participates in and who one hangs out with will often separate kids into cliques.  This continues well into the high school years.

For a child with Autism or Asperger's Syndrome, social cues, boundaries and theory of mind are different than they are for a child who is neurotypically developing.

An article on bullying by Melissa Hincha-Ownby, the feature writer for Autism / Asperger's Syndrome at Suite 101 was published a couple months ago online that talks about children with Autism facing more bullying than their peers.

Melissa states, "While all children on the autism spectrum have some level of difficulty with Theory of Mind, those that have the most difficulty with this concept often misinterpret bullying acts as being non-bullying in nature."

The reason I wanted to mention this is because in my personal experience, both growing up as a female with undiagnosed Asperger's and as the mother of two children on the autism spectrum, I have seen not only many autistic boys and girls bullied but I have seen many boys and girls on the autism spectrum also bully others without understanding that what they were doing was socially unacceptable, hurtful or wrong.  In fact, I would speculate that a couple of the biggest childhood bullies that I came across may have also been on the spectrum.  Not so ironically, these bullies often were too victims of relentless bullying.  It was a cycle where the strong preyed on the weak who preyed on the weaker.  In many cases, I believe the bullying was partially learned behavior without social understanding.  In many cases, it was without empathy.

It can be very hard to explain to someone on the autism spectrum what is playful teasing and joking around and what is mean, taunting and hurtful.  Because oftentimes children on the spectrum do not fully understand sarcasm or may take things very literally, what might be an unintentional good natured tease might feel to the recipient like bullying.  Slang can be very hard to understand. 

As a Mom, I try my best to stay on top of the current slang.  OMG, dude, TMI and EPIC FAIL are part of my oldest son's vernacular.  I know all the Mario characters by heart.  Anything "Diary of A Wimpy Kid" related has a presence in our home and yes, during Spring Break, our whole family even went out to see the movie.

(Tangent Alert!) Thinking ahead, we went into Oregon where they were not on break and watched in a theatre where there were only 6 other people.  Our youngest could wander.  Our oldest brought his best friend (DUUUUUDE) and John and I could get a glimpse into the mind of future middle-schoolers while eating popcorn.

Although I can read articles, books, have heart-to-hearts and talk with our son about bullying, I can only do so much to protect him.  He will become an adolescent.  He will have to go through middle school and then high school.  John and I will do our best to remove his obstacles while still helping to encourage and empower him.  We'll be there as a shoulder to cry on when needed. 

I still wish that I could protect him from any harm....  I read today about the Phoebe Prince case and it horrified me what that poor teenage girl had to endure.  I've read about cyberbullying and have unfortunately seen a lot of it in my years online.

My son is incredibly smart but still so naive and potentially gullible.  I don't want him to become a victim nor do I want him to ever think it's cool making fun of someone else or being manipulated to do so.  He's my child and I love him.  Like any good parent, I don't want to see him hurt or picked on.  I realize that he has to go through ups and downs to become a stronger person but I want to soften the blows as much as possible. 

I know we all make mistakes growing up.  I was picked on for various issues including weight, intelligence / giftedness, my sports (bowling), my hobbies (acting, writing), my looks, being a tomboy, being tall, being an outcast, not being cool or fashionable, being a computer geek / nerd, etc. and I know there were times when I lashed out at others undeservedly or in what I guess I understood to be defending myself.  I know of times that I went along with a crowd not fully understanding or socially comprehending what was going on. I can Monday morning quarterback it but I can't change what happened when I was in junior high or high school.  I laughed inappropriately at times and I take responsibility and apologize if I ever hurt the feelings of anyone who happens to come across this blog. 

As I strive to be the best parent, as I realize that being on the autism spectrum is lifelong and not something my kids or I are going to grow out of, I also understand that I need to keep educating myself, bettering myself and trying to contribute to society.  I want to make a difference in this world and if my writings touch or can help others, it is worth every moment of time I spend blogging.

Wouldn't it be amazing to rid the world of bullying?  Yes, I realize that I strive for an ideal where people accept and respect each other.  I know with all the fighting about politics, religion and other heated topics, that isn't reality here on this earth.  The worst bullies I've ever come across have been adults. 

If you see bullying activity around you, whether it be a child, teenager or adult, please don't be afraid to speak out....

Here are a few resources you may find useful:

Stop Bullying Now! - http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/kids/

Bullying At School and Online - http://www.education.com/topic/school-bullying-teasing/

Asperger Syndrome and School Bullying - http://autistic-students.suite101.com/article.cfm/asperger_syndrome_and_school_bullying

Bully OnLine - http://www.bullyonline.org/

BullyStoppers.com - http://www.bullystoppers.com/

As I said a number of blogs back, I have high "Aspie"rations and I want my children to also. You don't have to be on the spectrum to aspire to be better.

Every day you can make a positive difference in yourself and in the life of someone else.

Thanks for stopping by and for taking a stand against bullying!

Karen

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