An Epidemic: Bullying and ASD

18 Oct

Remember the good ol’ days, when bullying was some sticks and stones with a side of words that really did hurt us? Come on, remember, that was after the time that we had to walk both ways up hill in the snow for two miles to get to school? In case you have not forgotten, holding onto those memories might be of high priority given the state of bullying these days. It’s not just rampant. It’s an epidemic that targets the ASD population due to some of the inherent qualities of ASDs.

1. “It’s hard for me to trust people. I like ‘Pokemon’ and everyone at school tells me it’s for babies and losers. I still like it, but I don’t talk about it. I’m always worried that it will leak out on purpose or on accident.” Logan made this comment in the context of a conversation about making friends amongst a group of other middle schoolers with AS for whom friendships have been more successful than one might guess. Logan talked further about how he and his three friends carefully select a cafeteria table that is secluded “enough” so that they can talk, but they are “always on the lookout”. Expressing personal interests makes everyone vulnerable but not necessarily a target. Logan shows us some of the “ammunition” bullies gather for future use.

2. It appears that bullies find doing their deed much easier to those who resemble them. Enter, Asperger’s Disorder, the hidden disability. In IQ and phenotype, no “apparent” differences. Behavior, speech, mannerisms, appearance, apparent differences. These must be “choices,” a bully thinks, so let’s make fun.

3. To some extent, no matter how much I cringe at endorsing this, life is about fitting in. NTs have somewhat of an edge because they understand the endless derivations of mainstreaming one’s self. Aspies and auties are just trying to figure out “the rules” and, in this process, they stand out.

I once tried to explain to a teenage girl why she had to shave her legs and under arms, wear a bra, fresh underwear, and clothes that fit her, wash her face, hair, and body, brush her teeth and her hair, apply deodorant and …… the list still exhausts me. My basic premise was health oriented, rather than the utilitarian, “You just have to.” When that failed, I tried this explanation: Imagine you and everyone else in standing on the Earth (we already do, I know). Each of these things you don’t do moves you one planet away from those you know and love. This failed, too. My savior? The eternal homogenization: high school.

4.”If I tell you to go jump off a bridge, do you think I really mean it?” “Only if there is a bridge in sight.” The desire to have friends, fit in, and homogenize can make anyone gullible. It just so happens that auties and Aspies are (lovingly) gullible and naive to start with. Struggles with understanding social nuances, pragmatic and nonverbal communication, and perspective taking can leave some with ASD a bit less than prepared for savvier predators. Take Josh for example. He has a crush on a girl. This girl “likes him back.” Two boys at school discovered this mutual attraction and used text messages to “invite” Josh over to the girl’s house, only to have her be “out” with her ex-boyfriend “having sex”.  Josh had to be told that the number texting him was not his crush’s.

5. Ultimately, individuals with ASDs become the ideal target because we turn a blind eye. Two years ago, a client had been relentlessly bullied in his middle school. His only response, “Please stop” because it was polite and courteous. Tyler and I tried many, many different things to no avail. So, finally, I gave him two little words and told him I would pick up the pieces if he got in trouble. The next day, Tyler’s school called. He was in the principal’s office for yelling at his lunch table for making fun of his kosher meal. “Tyler informs me you told him to say this. Are you sure you are the right fit to work with kids?” I was asked. So, I told him about the day I came into his utopian school and heard “fag”, “gay”, “freak”, “weird”, and “douchebag” amongst other choice words. I told him about how most of those words were spoken to Tyler on a daily basis. I told him that I most certainly told Tyler to say “shut up” and that if he was punished for those words, I was assuming the principal would also use some good ol’ fashion soap washing for the rest of the student body.

But those words by those kids hadn’t been heard or reported. They knew when to shut up.

Bullies have it made. They’ve found the perfect mark, it seems. Those who stand slightly apart, who don’t always know that they do, who don’t always care that they do, and who can’t or won’t defend themselves.


4 responses to “An Epidemic: Bullying and ASD

  1. Emma Apple

    October 20, 2010 at 6:50 AM

    This was very real & difficult to read, having been there. Thank you for writing it so well.

    • jholverstott

      October 20, 2010 at 7:03 AM

      Thank you for your kind words. I hope it helped more than hurt.

  2. Diana Huetteman

    October 28, 2010 at 12:24 AM

    You are describing my son’s school world. Unfortunately, his social worker and speech therapist, learning consultant, teacher consultant, principal and assistant principal have yet to reach your level of compassion. Its a lonely world.

    • jholverstott

      October 28, 2010 at 1:32 AM

      Lonely, yes, but hopefully only at times. If you offer me a bit more on the issue, I might be able to provide some pointers with the school. If you are interested and on Twitter, send me a message and I can give you my email.


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