Friday, December 7, 2012

When bullying is normal

I wrote recently on the "Amazing Adventures" Blog about my sons experience of being bullied during his first year in high school (which is year 7 here in Australia). You can read the full post by clicking here.

Here is a short excerpt....

"This past year has been a stage with heaps of new skills for my 13 year old Autistic boy to learn, as he started in Year 7 at High School this year, in a mainstream class. We did as much preparation as we could before hand, and off he went. Sadly, it is true that kids on the Autistic Spectrum are much more likely to be bullied than their peers (46% compared to 11%). This has proved to be the biggest issue my son has faced this year. We had him prepared to navigate hallways, deal with 7 teachers, able to cope with a daily timetable that changed over a fortnightly rotation, ready to plan out and manage assessment tasks. We have started teaching him more complex, adult style social cues and responses. What we couldn't get him ready for was having his lunch box stolen, being shoved in the hallways, being called rude names, having money demanded of him by other students, having his school bag urinated on and having his mobile phone stolen. We supported him through all of these things, with the help of our Psychologist and with the co-operation of the school."

Since I wrote that post there have been 3 more incidents of bullying. Physical and verbal.

The awful thing about it all is that the boys who I believe are the main perpetrators, whose names are mentioned every time something happens, are clever enough so that when the school investigates they can't actually prove anything. The boys organise alibis and tell lies about what happened. Even the school staff think it is them, but they can't take appropriate disciplinary action if they can't show conclusively that it was them.

So bullying has become normal for my son.

Today I am feeling overwhelmed by it all. And so is he. He has asked not to go back to school. Ever. Part of me wants to say OK. Instead, after chatting about it, Hubby and I have decided that he will not go back to school for the rest of the year. That will give him an extra 1 1/2 weeks time off, making a total of 8 weeks break. We told him that next year is a fresh start, with a new class of kids who are  much less likely to cause problems (read about that in the post linked above, too).

We haven't told him yet that I have called the police, who have been very supportive and given me some good advice, which I will be following.

Enough is enough.

This normal is not OK. It needs to be changed.

It saddens me that just because my boy is Autistic he is statistically expected to deal with bullying, and that somehow there are people who think that is acceptable. It is not.

It saddens me that people want to question him about his "weirdness" and that they will stigmatise him for being "different" even though he is hurting no one, when there are people out there purposely harming him and not being held accountable.

I read a great article by Ariane Zurcher yesterday (click here to read). Here is my favourite part,

"How is it that we can say we "care" about autism and those who are autistic, yet not fund programs that will make their lives better? How is it we can use war terminology and ignore that these words make those who are on the spectrum feel badly about their very existence? Is this how we want our children to feel? Do we really want our own children to grow up believing they are fundamentally wrong, at fault and "broken"?
Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that our autistic children, whether they speak or not, whether they are in a special education classroom or are included with a regular classroom, most of them, if not all, can and do understand what is being said about them, but they cannot tell us or do not have the ability to communicate in a way that we, who are non-autistic, can understand or recognize. Can we at least imagine what that would be like if this were done to us? Can we try, just for a moment to have the empathy needed to imagine? Are we compassionate enough to pause, even if for a moment, and consider the implications of what we are saying and doing? Even if we cannot or do not want to think about all the autistic adults whom we do not know, can we think about our own child? Our children will be adults one day, do we really want them to feel as so many autistic adults do? Do we really want our children growing up feeling they are a "burden" to not just us, but to society? Is this the message we want to pass along? Because at this moment, that is exactly what we are doing."
It speaks strongly to me because I can see that the school system is not set up to give my son the support he really needs, even though the powers that be make sure everyone knows how much they care because they spend [some pitifully inadequate amount of] money on providing [hopelessly inadequate levels of]  support in [inappropriately identified] areas they deem necessary. And I can see the effect this has on my son. He doesn't want to bother people again telling them of what has happened. The paperwork he is required to fill in to report incidents is too much for him to manage, but must be completed so there is a record to justify time spent. He feels like a burden when I have him home extra days or have to pick him up early.  These boys are disempowering him and telling him he is not important, and the school inadvertently reinforces this message every time they "investigate" and then fail to make any changes that actually help him. 
I'll say it again- THIS NORMAL IS NOT OK. 
But I don't know how to change it. And I feel overwhelmed and sad. 

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