On Autism and Bullying: a plea to parents of Neurotypical Children

On autism and bullying children autism all past midnight parenting blog improving engagement
Today I tookk the day off blogging and took Wee Girl and Little Man on a trip to Battersea Park Children’s Zoo, a small zoo located in… yep, you guessed it, Battersea Park. They have a selection of smaller animals and a fairly large play area, with plenty of room to run around.

The children were happy and amenable, and we had a perfectly nice day, except for one encounter that left me feeling uncomfortable. Wee Girl was on one of the a fort-like structure. She was sitting down, apparently happily occupied, so I paid my attention to Little Man, who had only just woken up and deserved a bit of attention.

Gradually I became aware that actually all was not well. A group of children were sitting beneath the fort where Wee Girl were sitting, and I’m pretty sure they were talking about her and not in a nice way. Maybe she was mouthing some of the woodchips; I suspect they may have been throwing them, not AT her, but in her direction. I don’t know exactly what went on, and Wee Girl was oblivious (at least I hope she was oblivious, but as I have already learned just because it doesn’t look like she’s aware of something doesn’t mean that she isn’t paying attention), but the whole situation left a dark shadow over an otherwise lovely day.

I was bullied at school. Never physically, but the kind of low-level nastiness that gradually grinds away at your self-worth until there’s nothing left but a stub. When I first fell pregnant, I wanted a boy. Why? Because I never wanted my child to go through what I went through, and I felt that life would be somehow easier for a boy (okay, okay, but I wasn’t in a great place at the time). When we learned the gender my heart sank just a little, not out of disappointment, but out of fear. And then Wee Girl was born and she was beautiful and perfect and I knew that my fears of her being bullied because of the way she looked were groundless.

Well, men make plans and God laughs, because bullying of children and adults with autism is a huge problem.

Early this year, the Wirral Autistic Society conducted a survey into ‘mate crime’, where people with autism are bullied or manipulated by people they think of as friends. It was a fairly small survey, limited to the Merseyside area, with only 141 respondents, but still the results are pretty chilling.

80% of respondents over the age of 16 felt they had been bullied or been taken advantage of by someone they had thought was a friend, and 85% often feel lonely and left out. This number is just 11% in the general population.

Of the 108 who specifically said they had been the target of bullying behaviour, with about 70-74% being the target of name calling or being picked on (68% for those aged 5-11).

The full survey is here, and I urge you to read it. Even if you are the parent of a Neurotypical child. ESPECIALLY if you are the parent of a Neurotypical child. The quotes from the respondents are particularly worth reading. They’re heartbreaking, really.

Meanwhile, in the especially shitty news corner, the parents of a teenage girl with autism have removed her from Jarrow School in Tyne and Wear, after an anonymous note made claims that, among other children, she had been the target of bullying from a teacher. An investigation has been launched and it may well turn out to be lies, but this strikes fear into the heart of every parent of a child with communication difficulties, because what if.

The relatively recent revelations about institutionalised abuse have knocked my trusting, calm, safe little world head over heels, and on top of that, this nasty little story is kicking it repeatedly in the backside with a hobnailed boot.

The letter reeks of malice to me, although I don’t blame the parents for removing their daughter from school for one millisecond. But if the letter is a pack of lies, what sort of person would send such a vicious spiteful note, deliberately undermining the parents’ trust in the school and disrupting the poor girl’s education? Whether the letter is true or not, she remains the victim of bullying. There is no good end to this story.

I trust the school where we are sending Wee Girl. But what will happen in the next five years, the next ten? Who will her friends be and will she be able to trust them? All I want is for Wee Girl to be happy. If I could, I would wrap her up warm and safe and cosy in a blanket and keep her safe from the world. But I can’t do that, and even if I could, that’s not what parents are meant to do. All I can do is equip her with the tools to cope as best I can and send her out into the world, hoping with all my heart that she doesn’t get hurt.

So if you are a parent of a Neurotypical child, please remember this. Not all bullying is obvious. Some is subtle, quiet slip-under-the-radar stuff, and even the person it’s happening to might not even know that it’s happening. It’s talking about a child who isn’t responding appropriately because he is unable to engage with his peers. It’s laughing at a child who is mouthing something, or making strange noises, or flapping their hands, or spinning around. It’s ostracising them because they are different, because they are ‘weird’.

Teach your children that this isn’t acceptable; please don’t just assume they’ll know automatically, or that they’re sweet and kind and would never behave that way. Don’t kid yourself; kids can be shits. Even the good ones. Part of it is because of lack of understanding and part of it is the influence of their peers, but it’s all horrible and it needs to stop.

Any society

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About allpastmidnight

Hi, I'm Alison, I am a mid-thirties mum to two children, Little Man and Wee Girl. Wee Girl is pre-verbal and has autism, while Little Man is the sort of happy chatty little guy who gets into everything and sings at the top of his lungs — until the moment he makes eye contact with a stranger and he goes silent. I am cynical, sweary, and a bit disorganised, and I blog about parenting, ASD, food and just about anything else I can think of. Feel free to follow me on any of my social media. I can also be contacted by email at allpastmidnight [at] outlook [dot] com.
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32 Responses to On Autism and Bullying: a plea to parents of Neurotypical Children

  1. sourgirlohio says:

    This is so incredibly important. A lot can happen when no one is watching, which is why it’s so important to teach our children integrity – doing the right thing when no one IS watching. And teach them to respect other children, regardless of whether or not they look different or exhibit different behaviors.

    • Thank you, it’s so easy to overlook things or not realise, and when a person has autism they may not be able to communicate that it’s happening, or be able to pick up on the cues that it is happening.

  2. Amber says:

    Oh Alison, this brought tears to my eyes. I can only imagine how hard it must be to have a child who might need more love and understanding from her peers, and to witness the opposite happen. That realisation that you can’t protect them from everything is awful, isn’t it.

    I will teach my children to be kind to everybody, I promise. They might not get it first time… but I won’t give up until they understand.

  3. Great post. I was bullied at school and ended up in a fight. You’re right, we need to teach children what’s right and wrong. How to behave and what’s acceptable and what’s not. Thanks for linking up to the #BinkyLinky

  4. This is such a great post! I am so fortunate that my ASD child never got bullied but I am also really grateful for the few friends he has that look out for him. A few of them have siblings with ASD and I strongly believe that’s why they look out for Adam. It’s so disheartening to see this bullying occur. Bullying is dangerous these days, even for A-typical kids. It’s not like when we were in school. With the internet making everything readily available, it has gotten so much worse so to think that a child with any kind of disability is at risk of bullying is scary. I love that you are addressing parents of neurotical kids. I think the biggest problem is parents not acknowledging that their kid could do something like that. Love this! Visiting from #effitfriday

    • Thank you. Your son sounds very lucky to have such good friends (it’s quality, not quantity that matters when it comes to friendship). As a parent, I think it’s incredibly easy to think that your child would never do something like that.It’s completely understandable, but it’s also very dangerous. It’s astonishing though how much things have changed over the last 5-10 years. My daughter isn’t 5 yet — I wonder what the world will look like when she’s 15. Hopefully a lot of progress will have been made.

      • I hope by the time your daughter is a teenager the awareness will be a lot more open and there won’t be bullying.

      • I’m feeling very hopeful about this, actually. I do think awareness is rising and that autism advocates are becoming more vocal, which can only be a good thing. I also think the rise in diagnosis means that NT children are more likely to encounter children with autism at school and if the overall atmosphere of the school and their parents is one of tolerance, then that’s what they’ll learn, although there will always be blips and people without conscience.

      • I believe that too! The awareness is out there and it’s getting stronger.

  5. Stressed Mum says:

    I understand your fears, I was bullied at school and my daughter has experienced bullying this past year, we have used it as a learning process and that she always treats others nicely etc, as she wouldn’t like someone else to feel how she did. I hate bullying of any kind and it is a huge worry of mine

  6. mummyfever says:

    urg this makes me so sad and frustrated – children are bullied, teased and taunted for so many reasons and it’s just awful. it really stays with you. I do worry about this with my own children. i could see this starting with my daughter a couple of years back and I had a very frank discussion about it with her. She assured me she would handle it and bless her she did. She simple removed herself from this girl and carried on being her. The girl in question has since come back with her tail between her legs as she realised she had no friends left. It won’t be the last time but until something drastically changes it is one bully at a time #bigfatlinky

    • Well done to your daughter. What these sort of bullies don’t understand is that, aside from being very unpleasant and damaging to the people they target, it can also destroy any chances of friendship for themselves. I think your daughter handled it perfectly; it sounds like she’s got a smart head on her shoulders.

  7. Nige Higgins says:

    So important to teach our children right from wrong and respecting each other great post thanks for linking to the Binkylinky

  8. poothead says:

    I don’t understand bullying. My son has ADHD/ODD and they think he may be on the Autism spectrum somewhere. He was bullied up until he had leukemia. He has some good friends now and I am so thankful he does. Thank your for sharing and for linking up with #Alittlebitofeverything! Have a great night!

  9. lizannelloyd says:

    I used to teach and it can often be difficult to spot bullying. Conversations with parents and children and articles like this are so important.

    • That’s the thing, often it’s so subtle you don’t even realise it’s going on. It’s vital for parents to actually talk to their kids, and be specific. It’s not enough to say ‘Don’t bully,’ because chances are the kid won’t even think of himself or herself as a bully or realise that the behaviour is bullying.

  10. Really moving, thank you so much for sharing. #bigfatlinky

  11. acornishmum says:

    I have had conversations with my own children before to explain to them that everyone is unique, and they should never make anyone feel bad or say unkind things, as imagine how they’d feel if it was them. I’ve also explained to them how hurtful and damaging words can be, and I am proud to say that I am always told how kind they are.
    I really hope your daughter doesn’t have to face any more of this sort of thing. Thank you for linking up to #PicknMix

    Stevie x

  12. What an important message! And so clearly written. Thanks for linking #bigfatlinky

  13. This made my eyes water. I was bullied at school, and one of the things I was damn sure my children knew was that being nasty and bullying is not acceptable, its nice to be nice. Such an important message to get across to people, and I agree, kids can be little shits! Thanks for writing about this! #bigfatlinky

  14. I always talk to my boys about being kind to others and they are aware that everyone is unique. My eldest has been upset by other boys not being very kind to him and I know how horrible it can feel as a parent and a child on the receiving end. Thanks for linking to #PickNMix

    • Thank you. This is exactly what I mean; every parent needs to be talking about this with their children. I’m sorry to hear your eldest has been picked on; no one deserves that.

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