Laura Shumaker, an autism advocate, writes that the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) has launched a national survey to find out the prevalence and impact of bullying on students with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The survey, for those living in the United States or its territories, is a good thing and I would highly recommend parents go to the IAN site and complete the survey.
As many regular readers know, my son has an ASD and, although now in his forties, was bullied all through public school, whether he was in a regular or segregated class. In fact, I remember all too well the day he came home from school in Grade 7 covered in blood — an experiment in regular classroom integration that went very badly. For months, we had arranged for an older youth to accompany him to and from school. But, one day unknown to us, that young person was not available. So, when our son arrived home at the end of that particular day he was covered with blood and bruises and screaming uncontrollably — as a result of two very mean bullies.
While our son was not seriously injured physically, he was emotionally since he knew who the bullies were. So, he begged us not to make him go back to that school. My husband and I talked to school officials but they claimed they could do nothing beyond school property. In the end, our only realistic option was to have him bussed to a special education class farther away from home. Meaning, as happens in far too many bullying incidents, the bullies got away with their anti-social behaviour and the victim was the one who had to change schools.
I suspect that the IAN study will find that most, if not all, young people with an ASD will have been bullied at one time or another because they are “different.” Why, I don’t know because differences only make our world more interesting. But, I do know that our son was regularly called a “freak” and a “retard” — which he was not. Thank goodness there were no social media in those days or it would no doubt have been much worse.
In any event, school districts all over the U.S. and Canada (where I live) need to find ways to prevent bullying, as well as to hold those students (and perhaps even their parents) responsible for their anti-social words and actions! Unfortunately, however, that does not seem to be likely because of what appears to be a misguided belief that it is the bullies that need to be understood and protected.
Which prompts me to say that, even if bullies have an ASD, they need to be made aware their behaviour is wrong and their parents need to do something about it — even if it means they have to change schools or special education programs — thereby protecting both themselves and their victims.
Endnote: I hope the IAN survey provides a way for parents to identify, not only that their children with an ASD were bullied but if they were, in fact, ever bullies themselves. A politically charged issue? You bet. Particularly since most children and youth with an ASD are integrated into regular classrooms, no matter how severe their ASD symptoms. But, while accommodating all exceptionalities, we also have to ensure that all children have the right to a safe school environment.