Autism Spectrum Australia

To grab the bully by the horns

  • Posted: 19/09/2014
  • Author: Thomas Kuzma
  • Comments: Loading.. .

Howdy readers! Welcome back to the blog. I hope you guys are having a spectacular week, I know I am. Kuzco made his triumphant return in Oz Comic-Con, I did stand up at the Cosplay competition, and it felt great to be able to be accepted by so many people in the Cosplay community. A lot has happened since the days I was bullied in high school.

As much as I would like to do a blog on the epic event that was Oz Comic-Con, I’m afraid we need to cover a much sadder topic. We are talking about something that not only happens in the world of autism but everywhere. I am talking about bullying. Aspect’s We Belong Too study last year found that 58% of adolescents with autism needed more support to cope with bullying. Not only that, 75% of parents reported that their child needed more support when it comes to managing bullying and discrimination. This is something that just cannot be ignored; it must be dealt with.

The professional,  motherly and Aspie opinions

Trying to fight the metaphorical monkey of bullying on my back, I decided to talk to Seana Smith, mother of a son on the spectrum and author of Sydney for Under Fives, Australian Autism Handbook Edition 1, Beyond The Baby Blues and The Superfoods Index.

My son is 17 and he’s a tall, but a fairly innocent and naïve young man. He chatters on about his favourite topics, which are soccer and heavy metal music. Recently he was sent a private message on Facebook by a boy from school asking him to keep away from that boy and his group of friends. It was pretty nasty, saying that none of them like him and threatening some aggression. The message also said that they could tell him what he was doing to annoy them, but they weren’t going to.

My son was really shocked as he says he hangs out with these guys. In this case, we wanted to keep it low key.  I took screen shots of the messages and sent them to the school and the assistant principal talked to the sender and asked him not to contact my son at all. She also pointed out that sending a mean message during exam time was especially unfair.

The boy has since sent a long apology on Facebook. I helped my son to phrase a short reply saying that the apology was accepted; he hoped they could both be respectful to each other and that if the boy was finding my son annoying, could he just talk to him.

Let’s hope that’s the end of that.

In the past a couple of months boys used to pick on my son. They were very verbal and quick and he found it hard to keep up with what they were saying and he’d get upset and a bit aggressive sometimes.  He had a safe haven at school and a teacher to talk to, which was helpful. The school talked to the boys and to their parents and that helped. I feel it’s important for other pupils to know my son’s diagnosis and to be encouraged to cut him some slack.

When this was going on he sometimes came home angry and uptight and then played his drums for hours. Those drums really help him calm down.

It’s terribly distressing to hear of people being mean to my son. He is a kind and open-hearted person and he doesn’t deserve it. I know, all too well, that his obsessions can be wearing but I hope to live in a kind world where people are tolerant, or calmly tell him to change topics.

Anyway, I think that I am quite protective of him, but really I aim to foster his independence so I have to be brave and send him off into the world on his own, little by little. 

Learning not to panic and how to stay calm is really important. I’ve had many heart-stopping moments over the years. So I have had to work out lots of coping strategies, and that’s included getting plenty of support for myself from friends and from professionals too. It’s hard not to over react, but I work hard at it as I want to model calmly sorting out the many problems we encounter.  It’s easier said than done on some days.

I’m so glad that my son told me about the Facebook message and what had happened. So I’d really encourage all parents to try to keep helping their kids with their online lives. My son does trust me to help him out in many ways throughout the day and whilst this can be wearing, at least I know what his problems are.

A good relationship with school is very important, as so much of what happens depends on the people at school and how committed and efficient they are.

What else…? Do whatever you need to do to stay calm and keep a sense of humour.

Thank you Seana. Now it’s time to hear from a very special Future Leader, here is a snippet from my conversation with Alexandra.

I used to get bullied a lot. I was called ‘four-eyes’ because I wore glasses. I was also called teacher’s pet because I had to sit at the front of class and the teacher had to give me my Ritalin lunchtime dose.

I had some strategies in place for when I was being bullied. I would go to the library and read books; try and pull sickies on days that mum had off work. I didn't want to believe that people l called friends were users and abusers.

For those who are currently getting bullied I would say: be strong, be confident, and have someone at school that you can confide in like a counsellor a deputy principal or Chaplin.

My Two Cents

I have had to deal with bullying most of my life. The bulk of it was during high school. It doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, but there are times where I am haunted by the memories. I do know that is all behind me now, that there are much more important things that I should focus on.

I hate talking about this, I really do. Bullying is one of the worst things to happen in my life; I don’t want it to happen to anyone else. Because of my autism I was considered to be very gullible. I was tricked into doing things I didn’t want to do because I thought it would mean I would be accepted as a friend. .

The strange thing however was that I turned these bad times into lessons. I now have a firm ethical grip on respect. I believe that everyone deserves respect, whoever they may be. Whatever age, height, sex, social status, religion or any other features people may have, they deserve respect and humanity.

 I also learnt about dealing with betrayal. The bullies would find out what I like by “befriending” me, then mocking me for liking Star Wars. Today I am a much better judge of character. If someone humiliates me, I will not give them another chance.

I’m sure you are asking yourselves if this makes bullying acceptable then. NO IT DOESN’T. There are many different ways people can teach these lessons without mocking, bullying and tormenting people who have done nothing wrong.

With autism often comes depression and anxiety;  we can feel trapped, like there is nothing we can do, when we are getting brought through the metaphorical dirt and gravel of humiliation. You want to scream, but your mouth is tied shut. You are suffocating and there is nothing you can do.

 Something we don’t realise is that communication is a two way street. That we can fight back! NOT PHYSICALLY. We must remember we may have these conditions, but they come with benefits. Beat the bullies at their own game by using their minds against them, think like they do and then realise how you can stop the bullying from happening.

So all I can say is, think about your words, and just respect others.

In Conclusion

As you have seen here today, when someone is bullied, it doesn’t affect just one person, it affects families, friendships and social dynamics. Everything we say has meaning, it doesn’t matter if it’s the words “I like pie” or “You are fired”; these words mean something to everyone.

Being able to talk is a luxury but communication is a necessity. All kinds of people around the world aren’t able to communicate their ideas because of a variety of reasons, whether it’s a disability or a mental state. So it just hurts to see people abuse their power of being able to communicate to humiliate other people. As you have seen however, there are ways to beat the bullying beast. You just need to find your voice.

Also remember to check out the We Belong Too report for more insights into adolescents and young people living with autism.


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To grab the bully by the horns