Category Archives: Bullying

“Autistics Aren’t Welcome Here”: The Bullying of Autistic Students in America’s Schools

His final social media post said he was “tired of being bullied.”  According to his mother, he had been hounded at school for years—at one point coming home with a broken nose and a concussion.  The school administration knew that other students were preying on him but took no action.  At one point, he even visited the school nurse and told her he wanted to kill himself, but the school never followed up. 

And then, suddenly, a ray of hope.  The district STEM school admitted him to their program.  This meant, his mother said, that he would finally be able to “leave a school where he was tormented by students and neglected or ostracized by the administration.”  The STEM academy was aware that he was autistic but was willing to take him anyway.  But then it turned out that the STEM school didn’t offer a “base class that was required for the boy’s autism.”  And so the school district rescinded their permission for him to transfer, leaving the child “devastated.”  So he did kill himself.  He was eleven years old.[1]

Suicide attempts and successful suicides are far more common among autistic than more neurologically typical children.[2]  Bullies, especially cyberbullies, encourage suicide with messages like “you should die” and “dig a hole and bury yourself.”[3]  But autistic children don’t need such messages to realize that their lives in school are unbearable, or to look to death as a relief: “I would have killed myself if my parents didn’t take me out of public school.  The bullying was that bad.[4] 

The fact is, if you are a school bully looking for an easy target, the nearest kid with autism fits your needs perfectly. Generally naïve about social customs and interactions, such children are easily manipulated or tricked into dangerous situations.  Because of their unusual behaviors (and sometimes by personal preference), they tend to be socially isolated, lacking any protective support network of peers. They may also be mistrusted or even disliked by teachers and other authority figures, who will fail to back them up when they report being bullied.[5]   And even when parents report bullying to the schools, too often nothing is done.

What We Know About the Bullying of Autistic Children in Our Schools

So here’s the thing. I just started high school. And up until today, I have been really liking it. But today when I went into my binder, I found a note. It said, “Autistics aren’t welcome here go find a new school.”[6]

If students with autism are especially likely to be suicidal, it is mostly because they are so disproportionately affected by bullying. Some researchers have found that autistic children are four times more likely to be targeted by bullies than non-autistic ones. 40% of autistic kids are bullied every single day, compared with only 15% of neurotypical kids.  Children with autism are also more likely to be targeted than children with other special needs—with the possible exception of those with ADHD.[7]  In any given year, researchers estimate that between 57% and 94% of all autistic kids are bullied.[8] 

In general, bullied children receive little support from American schools.  “I feel like the public school system failed me,” writes one disillusioned adult.[9] This is true of all children, sadly, but autistic kids have special difficulties.  Most of these kids believe that their teachers and school administrators are indifferent to their suffering. It is possible, of course, that busy teachers genuinely don’t see the cruelty perpetrated in their classrooms.  However, victims often find it hard to imagine that their teachers can’t see what’s happening, since the situation is so painfully obvious to them (and since they often report it).  So they conclude that the teachers just don’t care: “They did absolutely nothing.  Ignoring it was their best policy.”[10]  This perceived (and to often real) indifference adds an additional layer of trauma to the experience.  A fourteen-year-old with autism who had already made two suicide attempts reported that the bullying

made me feel sad, depressed. It made me feel like people don’t care anymore because when I got bullied I felt like well if they cared about me they would have done something.[11] 

Even when bullying is formally reported to school authorities, it is remarkable how often the autistic victim’s testimony is not believed. Taylor Ibarra, an autistic fourteen-year-old in Aynor, South Carolina, killed himself in December 2017, after years of bullying. A classmate who had also been bullied at the same school stated, “It’s not fair how they treat the kids and how the administration does nothing about it. I never really fought back physically, but I went to the counselors the principals the teachers, nothing was done. This kid actually lost his life to it when it could have been prevented, and they did nothing.”[12]

Given two different accounts of what happened, schools may refuse to choose a side: “[The teachers’] favorite mantra was always ‘it’s their word against yours’.”[13]   Remarkably often, though, they take the bully’s account more seriously than their autistic victim’s.  Bullies almost always have a stronger support network than their autistic victims, so they easily find corroboration for their claims of innocence.  When it is supported by his or her friends, schools have no trouble accepted a bully’s version of events:  “. . . when I reported it to the teachers, “sorry we have to go with majority on this.”[14]  And after reporting fails, the situation commonly gets worse. Seeing that they can get away with it, bullies increase their attacks.  Indeed, teachers and administrators may actually punish the victim, while the bully gets off scot-free.[15]  In Arkansas, one autistic child who reported being bullied was called a “tattle-tale,” and forced to sit in the “time-out” chair.[16]  Eventually, victims simply stop looking to their schools for support: “I got tired of teachers never doing anything about the bullying so I quit telling my teachers about the bullying.[17] 

To make things worse, the adults in charge of schools may be bullies themselves.  Most school personnel don’t fall into this category, of course, but across the country many individual teachers, aides, coaches, and administrators have done horrible things to the autistic kids in their charge.  In Georgia, one teacher was forced to resign after the school determined she had repeatedly sprayed Lysol into her student’s face.[18]  In an Indiana school, at the end-of-the-year awards ceremony, a special education teacher gave her student a “Most Annoying” award.[19]  In Washington State, another special education teacher responded to a mother’s request for a “quiet space” for her son to work by placing his desk over a toilet in the staff bathroom.[20]  In Michigan, a teacher recorded and distributed a video of herself and the school principal taunting a child who had gotten stuck in a chair.[21]  In California, a teacher forced her autistic student to clean her shoes in front of the class.[22]  How can students turn to their teachers for help, when the teachers themselves are so cruel?

The Long-Term Effects of School Bullying

The long horrors of their school days haunt many autistic adults. They remember (sometimes they can’t stop remembering . . .) being poked and prodded, scratched and kicked, punched, doused with noxious liquids, and pushed downstairs.  They remember being choked unconscious, set on fire, waterboarded (literally), stabbed with knives. They remember being the one not invited to the birthday party, not picked for the sports team, not wanted as partner for a class project. They remember being alone on the bus, alone at lunch, alone on the playground. More than anything, they remember the mockery and humiliation, the insults and cruel imitations, the echoes of savage laughter. And maybe this is why there was such a visceral reaction when speech pathologist Karen Kabaki-Sisto published a piece called “10 Perks Kids with Autism Get from Bullying” on the Autism Daily News, in October, 2015.[23]  Presumably Kabaki-Sisto meant well, but her piece was jarringly tone deaf to actual autistic experience.  

How could anyone suggest, wrote many autistic adults, that their horrific sufferings at school had a positive side?  And they are right.  Bullying induces such severe distress in schoolchildren that it may exacerbate or actually create psychological disorders— especially what psychologists call “internalizing” disorders (in which emotional distress is directed inwards.)  Loneliness, anxiety, poor self-image, depression, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts appear or intensify after bullying.  Prolonged bullying (the type most autistic kids endure) erodes trust in other people, leaving the victims feeling alone and helpless.  Responding to Kabaki-Sisto, “Jennifer” reports that her own experiences with bullying left her with

A complete inability to trust others: This is due to never knowing who is actually your friend or who is setting you up to be the butt of a joke and/or using you for their own personal gain. You also realize your peers don’t give a damn about you enough to stand up for you, when they see you being harassed, made fun of, and physically abused by others.[24]

Intense anxiety can follow.[25]  While Kabaki-Sisto suggested that bullying might make autistic children more aware of the people around them, one autistic adult described just what kind of awareness might result:

. . . she will grow to be afraid of everyone around her. She will be constantly afraid the next person walking down the street will take umbrage with her behavior. She will be afraid of doing anything that isn’t “normal,” and will question her own behaviors and thoughts to the point of near nervous breakdown.[26]  

Kabaki-Sisto had suggested that bullying might lead to increased independence, but “Purpleaspie” did not view that as a positive thing:

In a twisted way bullying did increase my independence, as it taught me that I couldn’t rely on anyone to help me, certainly not the school principal or vice-principal or any of the teachers or counsellors, so I had to depend only on myself.[27]

Such lack of trust increases social withdrawal, “to avoid exposing yourself to betrayal in the first place, or because you lose the confidence and self-esteem you might have had before.”[28]  But this only worsens the situation. Withdrawal destroys even the tiny bit of social support a child might have once enjoyed, making bullying easier than ever.

For bullied autistic students, school is a place of terror.  School refusal is a very common outcome:  many of these kids bolt when told it is time to go to school.[29]  Others may act up in school on purpose, eager to get suspended.

After I had been suspended the first time and got to stay home from school, I CONSTANTLY was trying to get in trouble in order to get suspended again. My parents never let me watch TV or anything like that on the day I was suspended, but it didn’t matter I was happy to be home, away from bullies.[31]

Even those who can force themselves to go to school suffer from debilitating fear. In ninth and tenth grade, my own autistic daughter used to vomit every single morning before going off to face her tormentors.  (We home-schooled her for her junior and senior year because we just couldn’t stand to watch her suffer any more.)  “IndieSoul” used to “shake and sweat from anxiety in school and hide in the bathrooms during recess.”[32]  Another victim reports fainting “just out of fear.”[33]  Autistic individuals already experience high anxiety, but years of bullying lay the foundation for chronic anxiety disorders: “I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be completely rid of the anxiety.”[34] 

Particularly severe or long-lasting bullying may actually produce post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[35]  To my knowledge, no researcher has examined the numbers of autistic adults suffering from PTSD due to school bullying, but many individuals report having PTSD for that reason.  Some describe their symptoms in online fora for autistics:  

Lately I’ve been having flashbacks of the days when I got bullied in school. They range from the typical teasing, to having things thrown at me, gossiped about, falsely accused of vandalism, being called mentally challenged, ‘roasted’ by the entire classroom when I had done nothing wrong or didn’t say anything at all, and eventually ignore[d] by adults when I complained and after that, beaten up.[36] 

PTSD produces many other symptoms:

I suffer from panic attacks, palpitations, hallucinations, nightmares, physical sickness (rare) and have an overactive responce to potential dangers, even if the ‘danger’ doesn’t really exist. It is absolutely horrific to suffer like this.[37] 

Such debilitating symptoms make a decent quality of life nearly impossible.

The most dangerous lesson bullying teaches autistic (and other) children, though, is that they deserve it.  This is what the bullies tell them, this is what parents and school staff may inadvertently reinforce, this is what they eventually internalize—that they are less than other people, inherently flawed, unworthy of decent treatment, and deserving of the “punishment” they are constantly receiving.

The assistant principal at my old school told me it was my fault I was being bullied and that I should change what ever it was I was being bullied about.[38] 

I even had a school counselor tell me that it was my fault that people treated me the way I did because of the way I acted. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, she didn’t tell me, and I didn’t know any other way to act.[39]

. . . when I was made fun of pushed around etc in school I always thought I deserved it because I “asked” for it, not being normal etc.[40] 

By high school, Kirsten reports,

. . . my self-esteem had been damaged to the point that I couldn’t even conceive of the notion of self-love. In the back of my mind, I thought I was slow, stupid, ugly, a loser, and any other unwanted adjective I could think of.[41]

Children who have absorbed these lessons often develop clinically significant depression. “I got bullied at school and was depressed all of middle school/high school.”[42]  “I got a major clinical depression because of bullying.  I’m on meds now.”[43]  Depression hinders both social and academic achievement, but it also frequently leads to thoughts of suicide—one study has found that such thoughts are 28 times more common among autistic than among neurotypical children.  Suicidal ideation is not something inherent in autism; it arises from being bullied. The same study found that bullying multiplies by three the likelihood that children with autism will think about or actually attempt suicide.[44] 

If I had not been bullied at school I would have had a refuge.  Not having that?  I tried to kill myself a few times and failed.  I didn’t get found or helped, I just didn’t do it right.  I am glad of that but telling me that I am stronger because of this [as Kabaki-Sisto did] is an insult to my intelligence, common sense, and every autist on the planet.[45]

However happy, engaged, and enthusiastic they may have been at an early age, autistic children—like other bullied children—ultimately lose their early sense of self.  Izzy Tichenor was “a happy child. She was a happy little girl, she did well in school …”[46]  But early in November, 2021, ten-year-old Izzy killed herself.  News stories about her suicide have focused on the racist bullying she endured at school—because her death came soon after the U.S. Department of Justice had issued a scathing report about racism in Salt Lake City’s Davis School District, where she was a student.[47]  Racism was certainly a factor in her death. Izzy told her parents that her classmates had repeatedly called her n*****, and used other racial slurs.  They told her she was ugly so often that she asked her mother to remove a birthmark on her face with a razorblade.[48]  Izzy took a bottle of Febreze to school one day; asked why, she said it was because the other kids had told her she smelled bad.[49]  And other African-American students in the school district reported similar problems.  Their classmates had criticized their skin color and their smell, called them “apes” and “slaves,” and talked about lynchings.

But Izzy was not only African American; she was also autistic—an extremely dangerous combination in American society.[50]  Although most news reports have focused on the racism at her school, Izzy’s “autism and learning disability were also allegedly targeted” in the bullying, according to her family’s lawyer.[51]  And not only by students.  Izzy told her parents that her teacher didn’t like her: “She doesn’t say ‘hi’ to me. She says ‘hi’ to all the other kids.”[52]  When Izzy asked her teacher for help, she was told to sit down, that she [the teacher] didn’t want to deal with her.[53]  Sadly, American teachers often dislike their autistic students, and this teacher’s negative reactions to Izzy may have had as much to do with her autism as with her race. 

Most U.S. schools already have anti-bullying programs in place, but these programs don’t work very well.[54]  Bullying is a complex issue, with social, emotional, intellectual, and institutional components.  Much more research and many more trials will need to be done to find interventions that work.  But funding for such efforts must be found.  It is clearly long past time for American schools to face up to their bullying problem:  year after year our kids are killing themselves because of it.  More specifically, we need programs that help children with autism—those most vulnerable to both bullying and suicidality.  Unless our schools can find and implement programs that actually work, more children will die.  Like Izzy Tichenor.   Taylor Ibarra.  Kennedy LeRoy.[55] Too many.


[1] “Mother Sues Burleson ISD [Independent School District] After Son’s Suicide, Alleging School Took No Action in Bullying,” NBC Dallas-Fort Worth Channel 5 News, updated July 31, 2020:  https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=burleson+texas+suicide.

[2] O. Shtayermann, “Peer Victimization in Adolescents and Young Adults Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome:  A Link to Depressive Symptomatology, Anxiety Symptomatology, and Suicidal Ideation,” Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing 30 (2007), 87-197; Benjamin Zablotsky, Catherine Bradshaw, Connie Anderson, and Paul Law, “The Association between Bullying and the Psychological Functioning of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 34 (2013), 1-8; S. Mayes, A. Gorman, J. Hillwig-Garcia, and E. Syed, “Suicide Ideation and Attempts in Children with Autism,” Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7 (2013),109–119, 2013; Danielle Ung, et al., “The Relationship between Peer Victimization and the Psychological Characteristics of Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 32 (2016), 70-79.  See also the personal accounts of Hello07, in the “People With Aspergers Don’t Care About Being Bullied” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, January 19, 2011:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=149165; redrobin62, in the “Is Suicide Common In People With Aspergers?” discussion on the same website, April 23, 2015: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=280538.

[3] Kayla Epstein, “A teen with autism attempted suicide after bullies told her to ‘die.’ Her family is suing the school,” The Washington Post ,May 30, 2019.  Compare the “Why Are People Telling Me to Kill Myself?” (2017) and “I Was Jus Bullied, Called a Retard & Told To Go Kill Myself” (2015) discussions on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=341134, and http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=299688.

[4] PunkyKat, in the “People With Aspergers Don’t Care About Being Bullied” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, January 19, 2011: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=149165 .

[5] On the reasons behind bullying autistics, see Rebekah Heinrichs, Perfect Targets:  Asperger Syndrome and Bullying (Shawnee Mission, KS:  Autism Asperger Publishing, 2003), as well as the articles cited below.

[6] Horsegirl, in the “Not Sure What I Should Do About This…” discussion on the AutismForums website, September 25, 2018:  https://www.autismforums.com/threads/not-sure-what-i-should-do-about-this.27179/#post-549051.

[7] For comparison with neurotypical children and children with other special needs, see Jessica Schroeder, et al., “Shedding Light on a Pervasive Problem:  A Review of Research on Bullying Experiences Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 44 (2014), 1522-26; Neil Humphrey and Judith Hebron, “Bullying of Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Conditions:  A ‘State of the Field’ Review,” International Journal of Inclusive Education 19 (2015), 849.  For comparison with obese children, see Ryan Adams, Somer Bishop, and Julie Taylor, “Negative Peer Experiences in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” International Review of Research in Developmental Disabilities 52 (2017), 75-107.

[8] M. C. Cappadocia, et al., “Bullying Experiences Among Children and Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 42 (2012), 267 and 271; Neil Humphrey and Judith Hebron, “Bullying of Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Conditions:  A ‘State of the Field’ Review,” International Journal of Inclusive Education 19 (2015), 849.

[9] Victim of bullying, IdahoRose, in the “How Did Your Teacher’s Deal with Bullies?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, December 24, 2010: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=146798.

[10] LeeAnderson, in the “How Did Your Teacher’s Deal with Bullies?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, December 24, 2010: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=146798.

[11] Cyberbullying Research Center, “Helping Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder When Bullied or Cyberbullied,” September 14, 2016:  https://cyberbullying.org/helping-kids-autism-spectrum-disorder-bullied-cyberbullied.

[12] Amy Kawata, “Vigil held for 14- year old Taylor Ibarra in hopes to prevent teenage bullying and suicide,” WMBF News (Myrtle Beach), January 21, 2018: https://www.wmbfnews.com/story/37312824/vigil-held-for-14-year-old-taylor-ibarra-in-hopes-to-prevent-teenage-bullying-and-suicide/.

[13] Verdandi, in the “How Did Your Teacher’s Deal with Bullies?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, December 24, 2010:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=146798.  See also Pandora_Box, in the same discussion, December 24, 2010.

[14] Pandora_Box, in the “How Did Your Teacher’s Deal with Bullies?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, December 24, 2010: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=146798.  See also CreativeInfluenza, in the same discussion, December 24, 2010.

[15] Some examples of the negative consequences of reporting:  Sparrow Rose Jones, No You Don’t: Essays from an Unstrange Mind (Self-published, 2013), p. 94; MightyMorphin, in the “If You Were Bullied At School . . . “ discussion on the Wrong Planet website, July 22, 2012:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=204456&start=45; JoeDaBro, in the “My School Hates Autism” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, May 27, 2013:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=231793.

[16] “Parents of Child with Autism File Bullying Lawsuit Against Omaha, Ark. School District,”  KY3 Television (Springfield, Missouri), December 12, 2017:  http://www.ky3.com/content/news/Parents-of-child-with-autism-file-bullying-lawsuit-against-Omaha-AR-School-District–463754753.html.

[17] ladyelaine, in the “Why School Sucked” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, December 29, 2017:  https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=357585&start=45.

[18] Carl Willis, “Mother Says Son Was Sprayed with Lysol by Teacher,” WSB television (Atlanta, Georgia), November 14, 2017: http://www.whio.com/news/national/mother-says-son-with-autism-was-sprayed-with-lysol-teacher/MoQdOQjYHI7i4NA35prrLJ/.

[19] Liz Weber, “A special education teacher gave her autistic student a year-end award: ‘Most annoying’,” The Washington Post, June 4, 2019:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2019/06/04/indiana-teacher-bailly-preparatory-academy-gives-autistic-student-most-annoying-award/.

[20] Emily Rueb, “A School Put an Autistic Boy’s Desk in a Bathroom, Setting Off a Debate on Stigmas,” The New York Times, September 24, 2019:  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/24/us/autistic-boy-bathroom-toilet-desk.html.

[21] Lee Moran, “See It:  Teacher Films Herself, Principal Teasing Autistic Boy Stuck in Chair,” New York Daily News, February 26, 2014:  http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/teacher-films-principal-teasing-autistic-boy-article-1.1702106.

[22] Kayla Dimick, “Lawsuit claims SPS [Southfield Public Schools] teacher humiliated student with autism,” The Southfield Sun March 8, 2017:  https://www.candgnews.com/news/lawsuit-claims-sps-teacher-humiliated-student-autism-99915.

[23] It was later pulled from the Autism Daily News website because of the outcry against it.

[24] Jennifer, “A Response to the Ten Perks Children with Autism Get From Bullying,” on the Autistic Giraffe Party  (now simply known as Giraffe Party) Facebook page, October 14, 2015: https://www.facebook.com/autisticpartygiraffe/posts/429266380617441.

[25] On the high levels of anxiety among autistic children and adolescents overall, see J. Wood, and K. Gadow, “Exploring the Nature and Function of Anxiety in Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 17 (2010), 281-292.

[26] J.T. Dabaggian, “Why Karen Kabaki-Sisto’s 10 ‘Perks’ for bullied autistic kids is bull,” Medium magazine, October 16, 2015:   https://medium.com/@jtdabbagian/why-karen-kabaki-sisto-s-10-perks-for-bullied-autistic-kids-is-bull-7f14d97aabf4.

[27] “There Are No Perks to Being Bullied,” on the Purpleaspie blog, October 16, 2015:  https://purpleaspie.wordpress.com/2015/10/16/there-are-no-perks-to-being-bullied/.  See also Ian Nicholson, “Ten Things THIS Autistic Kid Learned from Being Bullied, on the Digital Hyperlexic blog, October 15, 2015:  https://thedigitalhyperlexic.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/ten-things-this-autistic-kid-learned-from-being-bullied/.

[28] S.M. Neumeier, “Bullying is abuse, and abuse has no perks,” on the Silence Breaking Sound website, October 15, 2015: https://silencebreakingsound.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/bullying-is-abuse-and-abuse-has-no-perks/.

[29] Alex Forshaw, “Bullying:  Resurrecting Buried Trauma,” on the My Autistic Dance blog, October 18, 2015:  https://myautisticdance.blog/2015/10/18/bullying-resurrecting-buried-trauma/.

[30]

[31] SchrodingersMeerkat, in the “Is Suspension Really a Punishment” discussion on the AutismForums website, November 29, 2017:  https://www.autismforums.com/threads/is-suspension-really-a-punishment.22893/#post-455520.

[32] IndieSoul, in the “Aspergers and Social Anxiety Disorder?” on the Wrong Planet website, July 3, 2012:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=202798.

[33] Iknewyouweretrouble, in the “Were You Bullied in School?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, June 27, 2013:  https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=32&t=231102&start=15; see also franknfurter’s contribution to the “What Were You Like in Elementary School?” discussion, again on the Wrong Planet website:  “i also had panic attacks a lot, and was bullied, it was not a time i care to remember, only emotions about elementary/primary school i remember feeling was anxiety” (https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=226220).

[34] IndieSoul, in the “Aspergers and Social Anxiety Disorder?” on the Wrong Planet website, July 3, 2012:   http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=202798; see also Oten’s contribution to the “Were You Bullied in School?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, May 24, 2013:  https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=231102; NerdyKid’s contribution to the “People with Aspergers Don’t Care About Being Bullied” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, January 19, 2011: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=149165; xxautisticfoolxx’s contribution to the “Unable to deal with the cruelty of life” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, March 1, 2018:  https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=360970.

[35] School bullying has been identified as one potential cause of PTSD in the general population:  T. Idsoe, A. Dyregrov, and E. Idsoe, “Bullying and PTSD Symptoms,” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 40 (2012), 901-11; T. Gumpel, “Prolonged Stress, PTSD, and Depression Among School Aggressors and Victims,” Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma 25 (2016), 180-96.  Little research has been done on school bullying and PTSD among autistic individuals; see only C. Kerns, C. Newschaffer, and S. Berkowitz (2015). “Traumatic Childhood Events and Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 45(2015), 3475-3486.  The authors include bullying as one of the potential sources of traumatic stress.

[36] Ameriblush, in the “Remembering years of bullying” discussion on the AutismForums website, December 3, 2017:  https://www.autismforums.com/threads/remembering-years-of-bullying.22944/#post-456806.

[37] Jellybean, in the “Complex PTSD As Result of Severe Bullying” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, July 24, 2009:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=47533&start=45.

[38] This_Amoeba, in the “People Normalizing Bullying You Got As A Child” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, February 4, 2017: https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=336587.

[39] Hanyo, in the “If You Were Bullied at School, Did It . . .” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, July 1, 2013:  https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=234399.

[40] Daedal, in the “People with Aspergers Don’t Care About Being Bullied” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, January 19, 2011:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=149165.  See also J.T. Dabaggian, “Why Karen Kabaki-Sisto’s 10 “Perks” for bullied autistic kids is bull.” Medium magazine, October 16, 2015:  https://medium.com/@jtdabbagian/why-karen-kabaki-sisto-s-10-perks-for-bullied-autistic-kids-is-bull-7f14d97aabf4.

[41] Kirsten, “Bullying . . . The Real Problem . . . An Aspergian Woman’s Perspective,” on the Wrong Planet website, 2017:  http://wrongplanet.net/bullying-the-real-problem-an-aspergian-womans-perspective/.

[42] IHaveAspergers,” in the “Is Suicide Common In People with Aspergers?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, April 20, 2015:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=280538.

[43] hello07, in the “People with Apergers Don’t Care About Being Bullied” discussion on the Wrong Planet website, January 18, 2011:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=149165.

[44] S. Mayes, A. Gorman, J. Hillwig-Garcia, and E. Syed, “Suicide Ideation and Attempts in Children with Autism,” Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7 (2013),109–119, 2013.  A more recent study suggests that bullying multiplies the risk by two:  Rachel Holden, et al., “Investigating Bullying as a Predictor of Suicidality in a Clinical Sample of Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Autism Research 13 (2020), 988-997.

[45] Kateryna Fury, “Why Bullying Isn’t Healthy for ANYONE,” on her Textual Fury blog, October 15, 2015: http://snip.ly/oLlW#https://textualfury.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/why-bullying-isnt-healthy-for-anyone-a-post-intended-for-karen-kabaki-sisto-trigger-warning-for-everyone-else-also-i-cussed-a-bit/.  T

[46] The Tichernor family’s lawyer, quoted in Elizabeth Joseph, “10-year-old Utah autistic student dies by suicide weeks after scathing DOJ report on school district,” CNN News, November 13, 2020:  https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/12/us/isabella-izzy-tichenor-utah-bullying-claims-suicide/index.html.

[47] Elizabeth Joseph, “10-year-old Utah autistic student dies by suicide weeks after scathing DOJ report on school district,” CNN News, November 13, 2020:  https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/12/us/isabella-izzy-tichenor-utah-bullying-claims-suicide/index.html;  “Justice Department Reaches Settlement to Remedy Severe Racial Harassment of Black and Asian-American Students in Utah School District,” U.S. Department of Justice, Justice News, October 21, 2021:  https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-reaches-settlement-remedy-severe-racial-harassment-black-and-asian.

[48] Austin Facer, “‘It strikes a lot of chords’: Izzy Tichenor’s family’s lawyer speaks on her case, plans to take it to federal court,” on ABC4, Salt Lake City, Utah, December 9, 2021: https://www.abc4.com/news/digital-exclusives/it-strikes-a-lot-of-chords-izzy-tichenors-familys-lawyer-speaks-on-her-case-plans-to-take-it-to-federal-court/.

[49] Elizabeth Joseph, “10-year-old Utah Black and autistic student dies by suicide weeks after scathing DOJ report on school district,” CNN News, November 13, 2020:  https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/12/us/isabella-izzy-tichenor-utah-bullying-claims-suicide/index.html.

[50] Leonard Pitts, “When Should We Teach Kids About Race? Must Be Nice to Have a Choice,”
 The Miami Herald, November 12, 2021 (behind paywall);  reprinted on Newsbreakhttps://www.newsbreak.com/news/2432400515601/when-should-we-teach-kids-about-race-must-be-nice-to-have-a-choice-opinion.

[51] Austin Facer, “‘It strikes a lot of chords’: Izzy Tichenor’s family’s lawyer speaks on her case, plans to take it to federal court,” ABC4 News, Salt Lake City, December 9, 2021:  https://www.abc4.com/news/digital-exclusives/it-strikes-a-lot-of-chords-izzy-tichenors-familys-lawyer-speaks-on-her-case-plans-to-take-it-to-federal-court/.

[52] Lauren Sue, “’I Let Them Work It Out”:  Vile Teacher Allegedly Tells Mom When Black Student Told Her [the teacher] Skin Stinks,” The Daily Kos, November 11, 2021:  https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2021/11/11/2063667/-DOJ-declares-Utah-district-a-safe-haven-for-racists-weeks-before-Black-10-year-old-commits-suicide; Elizabeth Joseph, “10-year-old Utah autistic student dies by suicide weeks after scathing DOJ report on school district,” CNN News, November 13, 2020:  https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/12/us/isabella-izzy-tichenor-utah-bullying-claims-suicide/index.html.

[53] Keith Reed, “Black Fifth Grader’s Suicide Blamed on Bullying,” The Root, November 10, 2021:  https://www.theroot.com/black-fifth-grader-s-suicide-blamed-on-bullying-1848034647.  This part of the article is a quotation from an article in the Salt Lake City Tribune, which I have not been able to reach because of their paywall.

[54] “Overall, the existing educational interventions had very small to small effect sizes on traditional bullying and cyberbullying perpetration”:  Esperanza Ng, et al., “The Effectiveness of Educational Interventions on Traditional Bullying and Cyberbullying Among Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Trauma, Violence & Abuse 23:1 (2022), 132-51.  See also H. Gaffney, et al., “What works in anti-bullying programs? Analysis of effective intervention components,” Journal of School Psychology, 85 (2021), 37– 56.

[55] Los Angeles one.

Revised: Educating Autistic Children, 1950-1975

As I mentioned a few weeks back, I’m pulling material out of my overly long book in order to make it shorter. And then I’m posting that material here. This is an extended version of a post I made in February 2017, but with extra material I added for the book. Hope you find it interesting.

The vast majority of adults recognized as autistic today did not have that label when they were children.  Certainly, most adults with what we today call “level 1 autism”[1] would never have been considered autistic in childhood, first because they did not meet the very strict diagnostic criteria laid out by Leo Kanner in the 1940s, and also because so few people had even heard of autism. They might only have been considered “weird” or “eccentric.”  An exception was Temple Grandin, famous today for her work in animal science and her advocacy on behalf of people with autism.  As a child, she was diagnosed as “brain-damaged”—only much later was she recognized as autistic.[2] 

On the other hand, most adults today described as “level 3” autistics[3] were incorrectly diagnosed in their childhoods.  They were almost always labelled “psychotic” or “intellectually disabled” or both.[4]  Before the 1990s, only a tiny number of children who happened to come to the attention of the small number of researchers interested in the subject, and who met Kanner’s strict criteria, were ever actually labelled “autistic.”  As a result, we will need to distinguish between the ways in which these three groups were educated in the past—those who were “eccentric” but “normal,” those who were considered intellectually disabled/mentally ill, and the tiny number actually diagnosed as “autistic.” 

Before 1975, when the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed, most “eccentrics” attended the same schools as their siblings.  They usually did so without any support services unless they had additional disabilities, or some thoughtful teacher came to their assistance.  A few of them flourished.  Others report a painful struggle at school, being punished for behaviors that were beyond their control and wrestling with learning problems that neither they nor their teachers understood.  Dawn Prince-Hughes (who later earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology) recalls the horrible year in third grade when she both developed severe asthma and encountered a particularly nasty teacher.  This teacher punished her for her unexplained failings in math by refusing to let her engage in the reading and writing assignments at which she excelled.  She also announced Prince’s failing math grades, plus the fact that she was being tested for “mental retardation,” to the entire third-grade class.[5] 

These undiagnosed children almost always endured horrendous bullying from both teachers and classmates.[6]   Insults, real and threatened beatings, tripping, pushing, being shut in lockers, suffering “swirlies” in the toilet and other forms of humiliation were commonplace.[7]  For some, this was simply the way things were: 

It never occurred to me at that time to talk to my parents about the problem of bullying in school and the teachers never told them either.  I accepted it as a fact of life.[8] 

Others were driven to retaliate.  After years in elite private schools for girls, Temple Grandin finally got tired of being called names.  When one of her seventh-grade classmates called out, “Retard!  You’re nothing but a retard!”, Grandin threw a book at her, hitting her in the face.  She was expelled from the school as a result.[9]  A few of these kids became bullies themselves. [10]  Still others, like John Elder Robison, finding it too difficult to cope with the stresses of school, either dropped or failed out.[11] 

But what about the other two groups, the tiny few with an actual autism diagnosis, and the much larger number considered “mentally retarded” or “psychotic”?  Before 1975, these children seldom received much schooling at all.  Most public school systems refused to allow them in their classrooms.[12]   A few parents managed to get a diagnosed child into a school, but the experiment seldom lasted more than a few months before the child was either withdrawn or expelled.[13]  No services existed to help such a child survive, let alone thrive, in the public school environment.  A few well-informed or well-connected families managed place their children in one of a handful of establishments designed specifically for the “severely damaged” or “profoundly disabled.”[14]  These establishments tended to focus on teaching functional living skills (toileting, dressing, speaking).  But sometimes they offered the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic to children who were considered able to manage those subjects.[15]  Judgments about ability were seldom correct, however.  Charles Martel Hale, Jr., for example, who was non-speaking and labelled “severely to profoundly mentally retarded,” attended a supposedly high-quality program in Queens, New York in the early to mid-1970s.  He learned living skills, but not academics.  But when he finally learned to communicate on the typewriter and computer in the 1990s, he explained that he had taught himself to add, subtract and multiply by listening to conversations and television programs.[16]

Most “autistic,” “psychotic” or “mentally retarded” children were (on the advice of doctors and other professionals) swiftly shunted into psychiatric institutions or homes for the “feeble-minded,” and left to fend for themselves.[17]  Tom McKean, who had attended his neighborhood school from kindergarten through third grade, before being transferred to classes for the Learning Disabled, was finally diagnosed as autistic in seventh grade and promptly removed to a psychiatric institution.[18]  Some of the institutions in which these children were confined called themselves “schools,” but few offered much in the way of an education.  They might provide various forms of vocational training, so that residents could help “earn their keep.”  Most, though, were simply warehouses.  There, autistic residents lived in ignorance and squalor, exposed to hunger, cold, and disease, and subject to abuse by older children and adult residents and staff.  Jerry Alter entered the first of a series of psychiatric institutions at the tender age of five.  When they visited, his parents found him with bruises and black eyes, and so heavily medicated that he spent most of his time sleeping; later his sister expressed gratitude that he “only” acquired tuberculosis, and not—like so many other residents—a venereal disease at the state hospital where he was living.[19]  This was the kind of brutal environment in which most obviously autistic children found themselves before 1975.

  • – – – – – – – – – – –

[1] Still commonly called “high functioning” autism, even though functioning labels have little real meaning, as we shall see below.

[2] Temple Grandin and Richard Panek, “The Autistic Brain:  The origins of the diagnosis of autism—and the parental guilt-tripping that went along with it,” Slate Magazine (May, 2013): http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2013/05/temple_grandin_s_the_autistic_brain_an_excerpt_on_the_history_of_the_autism.htm NOTE: I have no idea why this note came out with different formatting, but I don’t seem to be able to change it. Oh well . . .

[3] Commonly called “low functioning,” although, again, these labels are largely meaningless. 

[4] Autism, as defined by Kanner, was considered a form of childhood schizophrenia until the 1970s.

[5] Dawn Prince-Hughes, Songs of the Gorilla Nation:  My Journey through Autism (New York:  Random House, 2004), pp. 41-44.   Given the popular association of autism with special math skills, it is worth noting how many autistic adults, undiagnosed as children, remember struggling with the subject in their childhood.  Liane Holliday Willey reports that she “hated and was terrible in math”:  Pretending to Be Normal:  Living with Aspergers Syndrome (London:  Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1999; expanded ed., 2014), p. 47.  Stephen Shore’s first grade teacher told his parents that he would never be able to do math.  In college, however, he successfully completed calculus and statistics, and earned a degree in accounting, before going on to earn a Ph.D. in Special Education: Beyond the Wall:  Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome (Shawnee Mission, KS:  Autism Asperger Publishing Co., 2002;  2nd ed. 2003), p. 53

[6] Sparrow Rose Jones, “Autistic Pride Day 2015—Letter to Myself as a Child,” on the Unstrange Mind blog:  https://unstrangemind.wordpress.com/2015/06/18/autistic-pride-day-2015-letter-to-myself-as-a-child/ .

[7] There will be more on this topic below.

[8] Stephen Shore, Beyond the Wall:  Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome (Shawnee Mission, KS:  Autism Asperger Publishing Co., 2002;  2nd ed. 2003), p. 56.

[9] Temple Grandin, with Margaret Scariano, Emergence:  Labeled Autistic  (Novato, CA:  Arena Press, 1986; reissued with additional material:  New York:  Grand Central Press, 2005), pg. 68.

[10] Cynthia Kim, Nerdy, Shy and Socially Inappropriate:  A User Guide to an Asperger Life (London and Philadelphia:  Jessica Kingsley, 2015), pp. 12-17.

[11] John Elder Robison, Look Me in the Eye:  My Life with Aspergers (New York:  Broadway Books, 2007), pp. 85-94.

[12] On the exclusion from school of children with an autism diagnosis before 1975, see Anne Donnellan, “An Educational Perspective on Autism: Implications for Curriculum Development and Personnel Development,” in Barbara Wilson and Anneke Thompson, eds., Critical Issues in Educating Autistic Children and Youth (Washington, DC:  United States Department of Education, 1980), p. 53. 

[13] For an example of a diagnosed child who spent a short while in the public schools, see Jules Bemporad, “Adults Recollections of a Formerly Autistic Child,” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 9 (1979), p. 184.  Incidentally, the word “formerly” in the article title does not refer to any form of “recovery” from autism.  Instead, the child whose life is recounted has turned into an adult and Bemporad seems unwilling to describe an adult as “autistic.”

[14] E.g., Rud Turnbull, The Exceptional Life of Jay Turnbull:  Disability and Dignity in America, 1967-2009 (Amherst, MA:  White Poppy Press, 2011), Chapter 2.

[15] The individual interviewed by Jules Bemporad (note 11 above), learned to multiply in such a school—this skill later provided him with great satisfaction. But his school was exceptional.

[16] Charles Martel Hale, Jr., “I Had No Means to Shout” (Bloomington, IN:  1stBooks Library, 1999).

[17] Wendlyn Alter, “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby:  An Interview with Jerry Alter,” Chalice (April-May, 2014), pp. 11-15, describes how her brother Jerry was hospitalized at the age of 5.

[18] Thomas McKean, Soon Will Come the Light:  A View from Inside the Autism Puzzle (Arlington, TX:  Future Horizons, 1994; 2nd ed. 2001), pp. 3-5.

[19] Wendlyn Alter, “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby:  An Interview with Jerry Alter,” Chalice (April-May, 2014), pp. 11-15.

“You Ever Been Charged with a Crime Before?”

According to a recently filed law suit, “L.G.” was handcuffed by a police officer, slammed to the floor, and pinned there for more thanhalf an hour, as he cried and yelled that he was in pain. The officer in question asked him “You ever been charged with a crime before? Well, you’re fixing to be.”

The crime in question? Spitting. Nothing more. Just spitting. In the end there was no arrest, but L.G. was severely traumatized. This event took place in September, 2018, in Statesville, North Carolina.

Oh, and did I mention that L.G. was an autistic 7-year-old? And that he was targeted in his special needs classroom, as two teachers looked on without intervening to help their student?

An Autistic Adult and the Horrors of the American Psychiatric System

My darling, sweet, smart, kind daughter has been imprisoned (her word) in the psychiatric system for three months now.   She has lost weight (and she didn’t weigh much to begin with), energy, her sense of identity, and virtually all hope.  We see little chance of her getting out, because the system—with its constant accumulation of small (and sometimes large) cruelties—appears specifically designed to make an autistic adult crazy.

Leaving aside the constant loud noises, the lack of privacy, the fluorescent lights burning into her brain, and the dreadful food, there are an endless number of other problems that increase her anxiety and depression.

For example, she hasnt seen the light of day for three solid months, and that alone was driving her insane, since being outside has always helped relieve her stress. Well, yesterday her cold and uncaring psychiatrist finally announced that she would be allowed outside on their little patio.  Sadly, however, she is still on one-to-one supervision, and must be accompanied by a tech everywhere.  And the techs simply dont feel like going out, so—despite being promised the “privilege” of a tiny bit of fresh air—she remains stuck inside.

She is anxious all the time, and one of the few ways she has of relieving that anxiety is pacing the halls  but the staff dont feel like walking with her.  They would rather sit and talk to their boyfriends or girlfriends, or play games on their phones  so they tell her to sit down and dont move, until she becomes so overwhelmed that she scratches her skin (again).

Another patient has been extorting possessions from her for weeks—threatening to hurt my daughter if she doesnt hand over her toiletries, art supplies, and the extra food we have brought in to keep her weight from dropping so fast.  The staff are perfectly well aware that she is being threatened (after all, someone has to be within ten feet of her at all times), but they just look the other way.  The social worker on the unit tells her that she has to be more assertive, but its hard to be assertive if you have no hope.

Today was the biggest blow, though.  My daughter has had a private room for all these months for reasons that are not clear to us.  Today, with no warning at all (so helpful for someone on the spectrum—*sarcasm*), she was moved to a room with another woman who has already made life miserable for two other patients.  (For one thing, she likes to sleep in the daytime and stay up all night with the lights on.)

But the move was not the worst of it.  The staff decided that it had to happen IMMEDIATELY, so they wouldn’t allow my daughter to carefully take down all the decorations she has taped to her walls over the months to make herself feel better.  Instead, within a matter of minutes, the staff had ripped down all the photos of her dog, the pictures of flowers she has colored in, the cards from her friends, and the collage we made her of “people who love me.”  Within five minutes the collage was shredded, the pictures and cards were torn, and one of her last layers of security was gone.

I’m done being circumspect about this.  I’m going to start naming the names of the institutions and individuals who are torturing my child and me.  The place where all this is happening is Andrew McFarland State “Mental Health” Center in Springfield, Illinois.  (The quotation marks are because whatever else is going on in this place, it’s certainly not mental health).  Supposedly this is the best of the state hospitals in Illinois, but not if you are autistic. And the psychiatrist in charge, who is quite skilled at prescribing medications (credit where it’s due), but who is otherwise rigid, cold, and unfeeling, is one Dr. Eberhardt, whom I very much hope burns in hell for all eternity.

 

 

 

The Unending Nightmare

Trigger warning: discussion of suicide, psychiatric abuse

It’s been five weeks now, and beloved daughter is still locked in a nightmarish “mental health” ward, with a sadistic psychiatrist who refuses to believe that she’s autistic (she was first diagnosed at age 3 and multiple times thereafter) and who punishes her for acting autistic (“you’re just looking for attention”).

Seven months ago she was raped while asleep in her own bed in her own apartment. So the asshole psychiatrist, who knows about this, assigns male techs to watch her shower and use the toilet, and sometimes to “observe” her overnight. On those occasions she forces herself to stay awake all night because she’s afraid of what will happen if she sleeps.

Her only comfort in the ward is a little stuffed dog toy—so they punish her by taking it away from her if she’s not “compliant” enough.

The idiot psychiatrist seems unable to grasp the fact that she is suffering the aftereffects of multiple traumas, and has decided that she must have borderline personality disorder—despite the fact that she doesn’t come close to meeting the DSM-V diagnostic criteria.  So they have started hounding her to admit that she’s “manipulative.”

She wasn’t in very bad shape when she went into this place—she had made a kind of half-hearted suicide attempt.  But now she is in a really terrible state of mind, and I’m afraid she really will kill herself from the trauma of this hospitalization.

We WILL sue the hospital.  Any suggestions about individuals or organizations that would like to join in?

 

 

 

The Morality of Fighting Back Against Bullies

Some autistic adults openly admit that they were aggressive as children, and even describe the behaviors they used to engage in at school—kicking, biting, punching, etc.—in their postings on social media.[1]  However, these adults view their past behavior very differently than the (normally neurotypical) researchers who study aggression in autistic schoolchildren.  Researchers have identified a number of risk factors for aggressive behavior:  sensory sensitivities, hyperactivity, irritability and sleep deprivation, poor communication, mood issues, etc.[2]  In most cases, however, autistic adults writing about their own childhood behaviors ignore such factors, and instead identify situational cues for aggression.  They generally remember acting aggressively either when they were taken by surprise (being touched or approached without warning),[3] or—much more frequently—when they were being bullied.

Within the general school population, bullying often causes or contributes to “externalizing behaviors” (negative actions directed towards others) as well as internalizing problems.[4]  Since school bullying has a disproportionate effect on autistic children, it is hardly surprising that externalizing reactions are fairly common within this group.  However, because their victimization so often goes unnoticed, it is difficult to determine whether autistic kids are any more likely than neurotypical kids to respond aggressively when bullied.  What is striking is how often the morality of aggression is debated within the autistic community. Bullying is one of the most frequent topics of discussion for autistic adults on social media, and often these discussions turn into debates over whether fighting back against bullies is morally justifiable.[5]

 

On the one hand, there are those who consider fighting for any reason morally wrong, and who report having refused to fight back against bullies as children:

My sense of morality has always been strong. Even as a 6 year-old, I found it hard to misbehave like the other kids in the classroom because I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be “bad” on purpose. I also never hit back kids who hit me since it never occurred to me to hurt anyone. The fact that people hurt each other for pleasure has always been a concept I never understood.[6]

I’m a pacifist. I know this is a very extreme view, but no matter how much someone hurt me I would not view it as being right to fight back, (at least not physically). I have been hit and not hit back.[7]

 

In keeping with this viewpoint, some autistic adults recall being aggressive when they were young, and then emphasize how they have matured since then:

I have anger issues though they have improved over the years. When I was in primary school, not only I got angry easily, I was also very violent. I punched someone in the stomach (I still think she REALLY deserved that), I pushed three of my classmates, kicked two and I attacked a 5th grader in 2nd grade. Fortunately I’m not violent anymore. I sometimes become angrier than I’ve ever been in preschool but I’ve never resolved to violence these past few years.[8]

The implication of posts like this is that fighting back is wrong and should be avoided.  Unfortunately, though, if bullying continues after children grow and learn to control themselves, the anger that is no longer turned against others may be turned inward.

I used to [be aggressive] definatly, when I was young (up until the age of 7) I used to bite people when they annoyed me.  Now I am way more likely to hurt myself than anyone else.  I still get angry a lot but it is more just frustration at myself. [9]

Growing maturity and self-control may have prevented violence against others, but they have also led to depression and self-harm (“I am way more likely to hurt myself than anyone else”).

 

On the other hand, there are autistic adults who consider hitting back an appropriate response to bullying.  They may remember choosing violence as the only option available to them, after their schools failed to stop other children from bullying them:

I think part of the reason I hit other kids was because I felt they weren’t respecting me. Sometimes they would ignore what I was trying to say, and I got mad and wanted their attention, so I hit them. It also might’ve been because I wanted to get even with the kids who picked on me, and hurting them seemed like the only way to do that; whenever I told an adult, they usually said something like “I’ll keep an eye on him.” and wouldn’t actually do anything. Sometimes they would take action, but it was rare for that to happen.[10]

They may recall with pleasure that the bullying stopped after they retaliated: “I’ve hit bullies out of anger.  Oddly enough, getting the crap beaten out of them made them not want to bully me anymore.  Shocking![11]  They may defend and even extol violence as the only practical solution to the problems faced in school:

In elementary school, I was bullied pretty horrifically by a couple people at whichever school I was attending, from pretty creative insulting/verbal abuse, to outright attempts at fighting me. I just reacted as violently as I felt was appropriate, and sometimes I got in a lot of trouble. When I look back on it, I think I did the right thing, because by the time high school rolled around, I didn’t really catch any flack from anyone, except for one guy who called me a “fag” but is now a gay porn star. Irony at it’s best. I say, this is how you deal with bullies: beat the ever-loving **** out of them. If they get the better of you, spit blood in their eyes, and while they can’t see, go for the nose. That works as a metaphor for life, as well.[12]

 

Assuming that autistic adults correctly remember their childhood reactions, it would seem, then, that many did not automatically react violently to bullying.  Many simply “took” the abuse, either out of a keen sense of morality or perhaps because they were unable to react fast enough.  Others chose to fight back.  The saddest cases, however, are those who remained non-violent until the cumulative impact of the abuse completely overwhelmed them, and they “snapped.”  This last group will be the subject of the next post.

 

 

[1] Other autistic adults report that they refused to act aggressively in school—see the statements cited below.

[2] “Aggression Against Self and Others.”

[3] See earlier post on “Reactive Aggression.”

[4] For a recent summary of research on this issue, see A. Reijntjes, et al., “Prospective Linkages between Peer Victimization and Externalizing Problems in Childhood:  A Meta-Analysis,” Aggressive Behavior 37 (2011), 215-22.

[5] See, among many possible examples, the following discussions on the Wrong Planet website:

“Why Not Fight Back?” http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=6907&start=15

“Why Are So Many With AS So Passive And Unwilling To Fight Back?”  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=53145

“When And How Should I Fight Back?”  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=344927.

[6] nirrti_rachelle, in the “Autism and Morality” discussion: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=260199.

[7] sarahstilletos, in the “Why Are So Many With AS So Passive And Unwilling To Fight Back?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=53145.

[8] Mushroom, in the “Anybody Here Have Serious Anger Issues?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=33451.

[9] Grim, in the “Anybody Here Have Serious Anger Issues?” discussion: https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=33451.

[10] coalminer, in the “the Did You Struggle in Elementary School More Than in Later Years?” discussion on WrongPlanet:  https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=357368.

[11] pat2rome, in the “Bullying Survey:  Most Teens Have Hit Someone Out of An[ger]” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=141399&p=3156818

[12] JCPHN, in the “Bullying” discussion on the AspiesCentral website:  https://www.autismforums.com/threads/bullying.5414/page-4.

The Impact of Bullying: Internalizing Disorders

Trigger warning:  bullying, anxiety, depression, PTSD, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts

Many autistic adults have written about the long horrors of their school days.  They remember (unfortunately, they sometimes can’t STOP remembering) being poked and prodded, scratched and kicked, punched, doused with noxious liquids, and pushed down stairs.  They remember being choked unconscious, set on fire, waterboarded, stabbed with knives.  They remember being the one not invited to the birthday party, not picked for the sports team, not wanted as partner for a class project.  They remember sitting alone on the bus, sitting alone at lunch, standing alone on the playground.  More than anything, they remember the mockery and humiliation, the insults and cruel imitations, the echoes of savage laughter.  And this is why there was such a visceral reaction when speech pathologist Karen Kabaki-Sisto published a piece called “10 Perks Kids with Autism Get From Bullying” on the Autism Daily News, in October, 2015.[1]  Kabaki-Sisto presumably meant well (something along the line of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”), but her piece was jarringly tone deaf to actual autistic experience.  Most autistic adults (and many neurotypicals, including myself) who read “10 Perks” were outraged that anyone would suggest that their traumatic experiences and those of their children had any “positive” side at all.

The Impact of Bullying Internalized

Bullying causes such severe distress in schoolchildren that it may cause or exacerbate psychological disorders, especially what psychologists call “internalizing” disorders (ones that are not easily seen by others because emotional distress is directed inwards).  These include loneliness, anxiety, poor self-image, depression, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.  Prolonged bullying (the type most autistic kids endure) erodes trust in other people, leaving the victims feeling alone and helpless.  By-standers fail to help, friends drop away, school staff refuse to believe reports of bullying, or give useless advice.  Responding to Kabaki-Sisto, Jennifer reports that her bullying experiences left her with

A complete inability to trust others: This is due to never knowing who is actually your friend or who is setting you up to be the butt of a joke and/or using you for their own personal gain. You also realize your peers don’t give a damn about you enough to stand up for you, when they see you being harassed, made fun of, and physically abused by others.[2]

Kabaki-Sisto had suggested that bullying might lead to increased independence for autistic children, but Purpleaspie did not view that as a positive thing:

In a twisted way bullying did increase my independence, as it taught me that I couldn’t rely on anyone to help me, certainly not the school principal or vice-principal or any of the teachers or counsellors, so I had to depend only on myself.[3]

Lack of trust often leads to increased social withdrawal: “to avoid exposing yourself to betrayal in the first place, or because you lose the confidence and self-esteem you might have had before.”[4]  Kabaki-Sisto had suggested that being bullied might lead to new friendships, but this is not what autistic adults remember:

A bullied child will feel isolated from his or her peers, not drawn to new peers. When social interactions – already a situation that makes those with autism nervous – becomes associated with all of the negatives of bullying, a child with autism is more likely to withdraw within himself or herself and not try to make new friends.[5]

Social withdrawal, however, only worsens the situation, as it removes even the tiny amount of social support that might be have been there before, making bullying even easier.

Lack of trust can result in intense anxiety.[6]  When Kabaki-Sisto suggested that bullying might make autistic children more aware of the people around them, one autistic adult described the kind of awareness that might result:

. . . she will grow to be afraid of everyone around her. She will be constantly afraid the next person walking down the street will take umbrage with her behavior. She will be afraid of doing anything that isn’t “normal,” and will question her own behaviors and thoughts to the point of near nervous breakdown.[7]

School rapidly becomes a place of terror for children who are bullied.  School refusal is a common outcome:  Alex Forshaw is not alone in having bolted when being told it was time to go to school.[8]  Others, as we have already seen, may act up in school on purpose, to get suspended and thus avoid being there.  Even those who can bring themselves to go to school suffer from debilitating fear.  In ninth and tenth grade, my own autistic daughter used to vomit every single morning before going off to face the bullies.  By the second part of tenth grade, she could only go at all if she took along a tiny stuffed animal, hidden in her pocket, to “be her friend” at school, and her arms were raw from anxiety-induced scratching.[9]  IndieSoul used to “shake and sweat from anxiety in school and hide in the bathrooms during recess.”[10]  Another victim reports fainting “just out of fear.”[11]  Anxiety is already high in most autistic individuals, but years of bullying in childhood ups the ante, laying the foundations for anxiety disorders continuing into adulthood. IndieSoul continues: “I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be completely rid of the anxiety.”[12]

Social anxiety and panic disorders linked to bullying during childhood are very common among autistic adults, but particularly severe or long-lasting bullying may also result in post-traumatic stress disorder.[13]  To my knowledge, no researcher has examined how many autistic adults suffer from PTSD as a result of school bullying, but many individuals report having been professionally diagnosed with the disorder, and some describe their symptoms online.  Flashbacks, or moments when remembered trauma seems to be happening in the present, are common: “Lately I’ve been having flashbacks of the days when I got bullied in school. They range from the typical teasing, to having things thrown at me, gossiped about, falsely accused of vandalism, being called mentally challenged, ‘roasted’ by the entire classroom when I had done nothing wrong or didn’t say anything at all, and eventually ignore by adults when I complained and after that, beaten up.”[14]  PTSD produces many other symptoms beyond flashbacks.  Jellybean reports: “I suffer from panic attacks, palpitations, hallucinations, nightmares, physical sickness (rare) and have an overactive responce to potential dangers, even if the ‘danger’ doesn’t really exist. It is absolutely horrific to suffer like this.[15]  Individuals suffering from such debilitating symptoms find it difficult, if not impossible to achieve a decent quality of life.

The most dangerous lesson autistic (and other) children learn from bullying, however, is that they deserve it.  This is what the bullies tell them, this is what parents and school staff may inadvertently reinforce, this is what they eventually internalize—that they are somehow less than other people, unworthy of decent treatment, inherently flawed and deserving of punishment.  “The assistant principal at my old school told me it was my fault I was being bullied and that I should change what ever it was I was being bullied about.”[16]  “. . . when I was made fun of pushed around etc in school I always thought I deserved it because I ‘asked’ for it, not being normal etc.”[17]  By high school, Kirsten reports, “my self-esteem had been damaged to the point that I couldn’t even conceive of the notion of self-love. In the back of my mind, I thought I was slow, stupid, ugly, a loser, and any other unwanted adjective I could think of.”[18]

Children who have absorbed these lessons often develop clinical depression: “I got bullied at school and was depressed all of middle school/high school.”[19]  “I got a major clinical depression because of bullying.  I’m on meds now.”[20]  Depression itself is severely debilitating, hindering both social and academic achievement, but it also often leads to thoughts of suicide—one study has found that suicidal ideation is 28 times more common among autistic than among neurotypical children. The problem appears to be not autism itself, but the experience of being bullied:  the same study found that children with autism spectrum conditions who have been bullied are approximately three times more likely to think about or actually attempt suicide than children with autism who have not been bullied.[21]  A fourteen-year-old with autism who had already made two suicide attempts reported that the bullying “made me feel sad, depressed. It made me feel like people don’t care anymore because when I got bullied I felt like well if they cared about me they would have done something.”[22]  Bullies, and especially cyberbullies often encourage suicide with messages such as “you should just go kill yourself” and “everyone would be happier if you were dead,”[23] but some autistic children simply find their lives in school unbearable and look to death as a relief. “I would have killed myself if my parents didn’t take me out of public school.  The bullying was that bad.[24] Not only suicidal thoughts, but also suicide attempts and successful suicides are more common among autistic than neurotypical children.[25]If I had not been bullied at school I would have had a refuge.  Not having that?  I tried to kill myself a few times and failed.  I didn’t get found or helped, I just didn’t do it right.  I am glad of that but telling me that I am stronger because of this [as Kabaki-Sisto did] is an insult to my intelligence, common sense, and every autist on the planet.”[26]

Ultimately, after years of bullying, autistic children—like other bullied children—may simply lose their sense of self.  However happy, engaged, and enthusiastic they may have been as young children, their experiences at school have turned them into angry, fearful, depressed and bitter adults.  As the author of one response to “10 Perks” asks

Am I a better person for [the bullying]?  How would I know . . . the girl you are talking about died thirty years ago and again and again yet she never gets to rest.[27]

 

 

 

[1] It was later pulled from the Autism Daily News website because of the outcry against it.

[2] Jennifer, “A Response to the Ten Perks Children with Autism Get From Bullying,” on the Autistic Giraffe Party Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/autisticpartygiraffe/posts/429266380617441.

[3] “There Are No Perks to Being Bullied,” on the Purpleaspie blog:  https://purpleaspie.wordpress.com/2015/10/16/there-are-no-perks-to-being-bullied/.  See also Ian Nicholson, “Ten Things THIS Autistic Kid Learned from Being Bullied,” on the Digital Hyperlexic blog:  https://thedigitalhyperlexic.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/ten-things-this-autistic-kid-learned-from-being-bullied/.

[4] S.M. Neumeier, “Bullying is abuse, and abuse has no perks,” on the Silence Breaking Sound website: https://silencebreakingsound.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/bullying-is-abuse-and-abuse-has-no-perks/.

[5] TechyDad, “Perks From Being Bullied?  I Don’t Think So!” on the TechyDad blog:  http://www.techydad.com/2015/10/perks-from-being-bullied-i-dont-think-so/.

[6] On the high levels of anxiety among autistic children and adolescents overall, see J. Wood, and K. Gadow, “Exploring the Nature and Function of Anxiety in Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 17 (2010), 281-292.

[7] J.T. Dabaggian, “Why Karen Kabaki-Sisto’s 10 “Perks” for bullied autistic kids is bull.” Medium magazine, 10/16/15:   https://medium.com/@jtdabbagian/why-karen-kabaki-sisto-s-10-perks-for-bullied-autistic-kids-is-bull-7f14d97aabf4.

[8] Alex Forshaw, “Bullying:  Resurrecting Buried Trauma,” on the My Autistic Dance blog:  https://myautisticdance.blog/2015/10/18/bullying-resurrecting-buried-trauma/.

[9] We home-schooled her for her junior and senior years, because we just couldn’t watch her suffering anymore.

[10] IndieSoul, in the “Aspergers and Social Anxiety Disorder,” on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=202798.

[11] Iknewyouweretrouble, in the “Were You Bullied in School?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website:  https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=32&t=231102&start=15; see also franknfurter’s contribution to the “What Were You Like in Elementary School?” discussion:  “i also had panic attacks a lot, and was bullied, it was not a time i care to remember, only emotions about elementary/primary school i remember feeling was anxiety” (https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=226220).

[12] IndieSoul, in the “Aspergers and Social Anxiety Disorder,” on the Wrong Planet website:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=202798; see also Oten’s contribution to the “Were You Bullied in School?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website:  https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=231102; NerdyKid’s contribution to the “People with Aspergers Don’t Care About Being Bullied” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=149165; Feminist Aspie, “10 Downsides Kids With Autism Get From Bullying (because apparently it isn’t obvious),” on the Feminist Aspie blog:  https://feministaspie.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/10-downsides-kids-with-autism-get-from-bullying-because-apparently-it-isnt-obvious/.  See also NerdyKid’s contribution to the “People with Aspergers Don’t Care About Being Bullied” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=149165.

[13] School bullying has been identified as one potential cause of PTSD in the general population:  T. Idsoe, A. Dyregrov, and E. Idsoe, “Bullying and PTSD Symptoms,” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 40 (2012), 901-11; T. Gumpel, “Prolonged Stress, PTSD, and Depression Among School Aggressors and Victims,” Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma 25 (2016), 180-96.  Little research has been done on school bullying and PTSD among autistic individuals; see only C. Kerns, C. Newschaffer, and S. Berkowitz (2015). “Traumatic Childhood Events and Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 45(2015), 3475-3486.  The authors include bullying as one of the potential sources of traumatic stress.

[14] Ameriblush, in the “Remembering years of bullying” discussion on the Aspies Central website:

https://www.autismforums.com/threads/remembering-years-of-bullying.22944/#post-456806.

[15] Jellybean, in the “Complex PTSD As Result of Severe Bullying” discussion on the Wrong Planet website:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=47533&start=45.

[16] This_Amoeba, in the “People Normalizing Bullying You Got As A Child” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=336587.

[17] Daedal, in the “People with Aspergers Don’t Care About Being Bullied” discussion on the Wrong Planet website:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=149165.  See also J.T. Dabaggian, “Why Karen Kabaki-Sisto’s 10 “Perks” for bullied autistic kids is bull.” Medium magazine, 10/16/15: https://medium.com/@jtdabbagian/why-karen-kabaki-sisto-s-10-perks-for-bullied-autistic-kids-is-bull-7f14d97aabf4.

[18] Kirsten, “Bullying . . . The Real Problem . . . An Aspergian Woman’s Perspective”:  http://wrongplanet.net/bullying-the-real-problem-an-aspergian-womans-perspective/.

[19] IHaveAspergers,” in the “Is Suicide Common In People with Aspergers?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=280538.

[20] hello07, in the “People with Apergers Don’t Care About Being Bullied” discussion on the Wrong Planet website:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=149165.

[21] S. Mayes, A. Gorman, J. Hillwig-Garcia, and E. Syed, “Suicide Ideation and Attempts in Children with Autism,” Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7 (2013),109–119, 2013.

[22] Cyberbullying Research Center, “Helping Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder When Bullied or Cyberbullied”:  https://cyberbullying.org/helping-kids-autism-spectrum-disorder-bullied-cyberbullied.

[23] Autistic students are often targeted with such messages: see the “Why Are People Telling Me to Kill Myself?” and “I Was Jus Bullied, Called a Retard & Told To Go Kill Myself” discussions on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=341134, and http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=299688.

[24] PunkyKat, in the “People With Aspergers Don’t Care About Being Bullied” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=149165 .

[25] O. Shtayermann, “Peer Victimization in Adolescents and Young Adults Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome:  A Link to Depressive Symptomatology, Anxiety Symptomatology, and Suicidal Ideation,” Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing 30 (2007), 87-197; Benjamin Zablotsky, Catherine Bradshaw, Connie Anderson, and Paul Law, “The Association between Bullying and the Psychological Functioning of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 34 (2013), 1-8; S. Mayes, A. Gorman, J. Hillwig-Garcia, and E. Syed, “Suicide Ideation and Attempts in Children with Autism,” Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7 (2013),109–119, 2013; Danielle Ung, et al., “The Relationship between Peer Victimization and the Psychological Characteristics of Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 32 (2016), 70-79.  See also the personal accounts of Hello07, in the “People With Aspergers Don’t Care About Being Bullied” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=149165; IHaveAspergers, in the “Is Suicide Common In People With Aspergers?” discussion on the same website:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=280538.

[26] Kateryna Fury, “Why Bullying Isn’t Healthy for ANYONE,” on the Textual Fury blog: http://snip.ly/oLlW#https://textualfury.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/why-bullying-isnt-healthy-for-anyone-a-post-intended-for-karen-kabaki-sisto-trigger-warning-for-everyone-else-also-i-cussed-a-bit/.

[27] “On the ‘perks’ of bullying . . . ,” on the Antigenic Self blog: http://theantigenicself.tumblr.com/post/131203829795/on-the-perks-of-bullying.

Bullying In Schools

Trigger warning:  descriptions of bullying

 

I feel like the public school system failed me.”[1]

 

If you are a school bully looking for an easy target, you will soon discover that the nearest kid with autism fits your needs perfectly. Being generally naïve about social customs and interactions, children with autism are easily manipulated or tricked into dangerous situations.  Because of their unusual behaviors (and sometimes by personal preference), they tend to be socially isolated, leaving them with no protective support network of peers.  Teachers and other authority figures may mistrust or even dislike them, and so often fail to back them up when they report being bullied (see below).[2]

Scholars who have researched this subject all agree that students with autism spectrum conditions are disproportionately affected by bullying.  Depending on their definitions of bullying, the samples of children they study, and their methodology, their estimates of how many autistic kids have experienced bullying within a single year range from a low of 57% to a high of 94%.[3]  Some have concluded that children with autism are four times more likely to be targeted than neurotypical kids, and that 40% of autistic kids are bullied daily, compared with only 15% of neurotypical kids. Children with autism are also more likely to be targeted than other children with special needs (except perhaps for those with ADHD—another “unpopular” group at school) or obese children (also common targets for bullies).[4]  Having been bullied, some children with autism then go on to become bullies themselves, but only at about the same rate as neurotypical kids who have been bullied.  However, if they have both autism and ADHD, the likelihood of their becoming bullies in response to bullying increases. [5] 

Most U.S. schools now have anti-bullying programs, but few of these programs are effective.  (One exception is a program, developed in Finland but now being adopted in the United States, that targets by-standers[6].)  Overall, autistic students who have been bullied report receiving little support from their schools.  It is possible that busy teachers genuinely don’t see the cruelty perpetrated in their classrooms.  However, victims—to whom the situation is painfully obvious—often find it hard to imagine that their teachers don’t see what’s happening, so they conclude that the teachers simply don’t care: “They did absolutely nothing. Ignoring it was their best policy.”[7]  This perceived (and sometimes real) indifference adds an additional layer to the trauma the victims of bullying are already suffering.

Even when bullying is formally reported to the school authorities, the victim’s testimony may not be believed.  (My own family had to deal with this problem several times.)  If there are two different accounts of what happened, the school will often refuse to take a side: “I swear on my grave I never lied about anything. But when it came to authority, I’d report a kid, the principal or vice principal would do nothing. They would tell me how they talked to the other kid and listened to my story and didn’t know who was lying.[8][9] “[The teachers’] favorite mantra was always ‘it’s their word against yours.’”[10]  However, since those who bully generally have a stronger support network than their autistic victims, they may actually find it easier to get their accounts corroborated.  This is especially the case with the “popular” kids, whom adults may perceive as “good people,” who “would never engage in bullying.”  And so, in far too many cases, the school actually accepts what the bullies have to say: “when I told a co-ordinator that 2 girls in my class were bullying me, her ‘solution’ was to call the girls up to her office and ask them in front of me if they were bullying me. Of course they told lies and the situation got worse after that . . .[11]  “ . . . .  when I reported it to the teachers, ‘sorry we have to go with majority on this’.[12] In cases like these, the situation either fails to improve or more commonly gets worse.  Sometimes the person who has been bullied gets punished (most often for retaliating, but sometimes even for reporting) and the bully gets off scot free.[13]  In Arkansas, for example, a student who reported being bullied to his teacher was called a “tattle-tale,” and forced to sit in the “time-out” chair.[14]  At this point, a victim will simply stops looking to the school for support: “I got tired of teachers never doing anything about the bullying so I quit telling my teachers about the bullying.”[15]

To make matters worse, the adults in charge of schools are sometimes bullies themselves.  Leaving aside the sometimes abusive use of physical restraint and seclusion, and other institutional forms of control and discipline (which will be the subject of a later post), individual teachers, aides, coaches, and school administrators sometimes victimize their students in appalling ways.  In Georgia, one teacher resigned, after a school determined she had repeatedly  sprayed Lysol into her student’s face.[16]  In Texas, a group of teachers gave a student awards for being “Most Gullible” and a “Drama King” at the end-of-year awards ceremony.[17]  In Michigan, a teacher recorded and distributed a video of herself and the school principal taunting a child who had gotten stuck in a chair.[18]  I come from a family of public school teachers, and I am very sympathetic to the difficulties teachers today face in the classroom, but there is no excuse for this kind of behavior.  Never.  Any.  Excuse.

 

 

 

[1] IdahoRose, in the “How Did Your Teacher’s Deal with Bullies?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=146798.

[2] On the reasons behind bullying autistics, see Rebekah Heinrichs, Perfect Targets:  Asperger Syndrome and Bullying (Shawnee Mission, KS:  Autism Asperger Publishing, 2003), as well as the articles cited below.

[3] M. C. Cappadocia, et al., “Bullying Experiences Among Children and Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 42 (2012), 267 and 271; Neil Humphrey and Judith Hebron, “Bullying of Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Conditions:  A ‘State of the Field’ Review,” International Journal of Inclusive Education 19 (2015), 849.

[4] For comparison with neurotypical children and children with other special needs, see Jessica Schroeder, et al., “Shedding Light on a Pervasive Problem:  A Review of Research on Bullying Experiences Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 44 (2014), 1522-26; Neil Humphrey and Judith Hebron, “Bullying of Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Conditions:  A ‘State of the Field’ Review,” International Journal of Inclusive Education 19 (2015), 849.  For comparison with obese children, see Ryan Adams, Somer Bishop, and Julie Taylor, “Negative Peer Experiences in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” International Review of Research in Developmental Disabilities 52 (2017), 75-107.

[5] Jessica Schroeder, et al., “Shedding Light on a Pervasive Problem:  A Review of Research on Bullying Experiences Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 44 (2014), 1522.  Cynthia Kim offers an autobiographical account of how she went from victim to bully:  Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate:  A User Guide to an Asperger Life (London:  Jessica Kingsley, 2015), p. 14-15.

[6] A. Karna, M. Voeten, et al., “A Large-Scale Evaluation of the KiVa Antibullying Program, Grades 4-6,” Child Development 82 (2011), 311-30.

[7] LeeAnderson, in the “How Did Your Teacher’s Deal with Bullies?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=146798.

[8] Pandora_Box, in the “How Did Your Teacher’s Deal with Bullies?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=146798.

[9] Pandora_Box, in the “How Did Your Teacher’s Deal with Bullies?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=146798.

[10] Verdandi, in the “How Did Your Teacher’s Deal with Bullies?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website:

http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=146798.

[11] CreativeInfluenza, in the “How Did Your Teacher’s Deal with Bullies?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=146798.

[12] Pandora_Box, in the “How Did Your Teacher’s Deal with Bullies?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=146798.

[13] Some examples of the negative consequences of reporting:  MightyMorphin, in the “If You Were Bullied At School . . . “ discussion on the Wrong Planet website:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=204456&start=45;

JoeDaBro, in the “My School Hates Autism” discussion on the Wrong Planet website:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=231793; Sparrow Rose Jones, No You Don’t: Essays from an Unstrange Mind (Self-published, 2013), p. 94.

[14] “Parents of Child with Autism File Bullying Lawsuit Against Omaha, Ark. School District,”  KY3 TV, December 12, 2017:  http://www.ky3.com/content/news/Parents-of-child-with-autism-file-bullying-lawsuit-against-Omaha-AR-School-District–463754753.html.

[15] ladyelaine, in the “Why School Sucked” discussion on the Wrong Planet website:  https://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=357585&start=45.

[16] Carl Willis, “Mother Says Son Was Sprayed with Lysol by Teacher,” WSBTV, November 14, 2017: http://www.whio.com/news/national/mother-says-son-with-autism-was-sprayed-with-lysol-teacher/MoQdOQjYHI7i4NA35prrLJ/.

[17] Kristie Smith, “Educators Should Never Set Students Up to Be Bullied,” Dallas News, June, 2014:  https://www.dallasnews.com/news/special-needs/2014/06/09/educators-should-never-set-students-up-to-be-bullied.

[18] Lee Moran, “See It:  Teacher Films Herself, Principal Teasing Autistic Boy Stuck in Chair,” New York Daily News, February 26, 2014:  http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/teacher-films-principal-teasing-autistic-boy-article-1.1702106.

[19] Tharja, in the “Bullied By Teachers???” discussion on the Wrong Planet website:  http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=98154&start=75

[20] thechadmaster, in the “How Did Your Teacher’s Deal with Bullies?” discussion on the Wrong Planet website: http://wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=146798.