Bullies Often Target Children With Autism
I thought that I would address an issue that has been happening for a long time: bullying. Now, bullying has been a long-existing problem that society has not found a concrete solution to. It has recently been discovered that bullies often target those suffering from autism.
The Interactive Autism Network released a survey that identified that nearly two-thirds of children with autism-like disorders have been bullied at some point. It also found that these children are three times as likely as typical children to have been bullied in the past month.
There was another survey that was released to the parents of over 1,100 children with autism showing that bullies pick on kids like Abby Mahoney, a 13 year old with asperger's syndrome.
Abby sees herself as "cool, different" and "a big geek." She is a huge fan of Star Wars; she even says that she's "memorized nearly everything about Star Wars there is to know." At one point, she would go to school dressed as Princess Leia. Arriving at school, she would sometimes get so hyper the she "literally bounced off the classroom walls."
Since this would happen on occasion, she became an easy target for one boy. Abby says:
Every time I'd walk by, he'd call: "Police, police, take her back to the insane asylum. The other kids would run in and say, 'We're the police.' And then they'd chase me.
Abby would respond by fighting them off with an imaginary lightsaber, which only made matters worse.
For a while, Abby did not tell her teachers about what was happening, but when she did, the situation only worsened. She finally stood up to those who were tormenting her, however, she claimed that that did not go well either:
I seem to remember telling the boys, 'You're mean to me,' or something like that. They ran after me, and that ringleader, he threw a chessboard at my head.
The chessboard missed, but Abby's mother, Patricia Mahoney, realized that something should be done.
Abby's problems at school started way before the bullying occurred. Abby had desperately wanted friends, but her unusual behaviors and interests made it difficult. Once Abby got older, her differences were more easily seen. When the bullying started, Abby did not understand why. Mahoney explains that "She wouldn't consider them off-limits to try to interact with because she just wanted friends." Mahoney would wonder, "Why are you going to hang out with kids who have been so cruel to you?" After a while, she pulled Abby out of school and quit her job in order to home school Abby for the next two years.
Mahoney said that the homeschooling was great because Abby was so bright and interested in learning, however, she knew that Abby needed to learn how to interact with other children.
Abby now attends a school for kids with autism. She has made friends and has decided to be the lead in the school production of Annie.
Joel Luna Menjivar is an eighth grader with autism at Malverne middle school. Since Joel has autism, he has been given a hard time at school. Joel's mother, Ana, claims that Joel has been kicked, taunted, chased and harassed. Ana has voiced her concern to school administrators, but no apparent action has taken.
The bullying of Joel has persisted throughout his time in middle school, but the problem has recently amplified.
Ana recalls two specific incidents that have left physical injury or trauma, both taking place in the Howard T. Herber Middle School cafeteria. In one case, Joel was struck in the face with a glass bottle by another student. In the other, a student attempted to pull Joel's pants down.
He did not take it off … because Joel run away. but I don’t know where is the one-to-one [aide], where is the security, where is everybody, where is the teachers? For 20 or 25 minutes he [was] very scared.
Joel is capable at communicating at a reasonably high level despite his autism. He is, however, a special needs student who has difficulty with socializing. Ana says that Joel is very gifted in math and is also taking honors courses.
Results of the Study
Connie Anderson, community scientific liaison with the Interactive Autism Network at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, says that the survey conducted by the Interactive Autism Network has discovered many stories like Abby's. The results of the study show why kids like Abby are bullied. Anderson says:
The aloof children were less likely to be bullied than the children who desperately wanted to interact. Bullying can undo all our efforts. I think that's the most devastating thing about it. Children on the spectrum can be anxious anyway. This can just put them over the top and undo all the good that everyone's trying to do.
Anderson believes that if every school had stricter policies on bullying and how to prevent it, children with autism would have less problems. Until that happens, Anderson suggests that parents should find out if their child has an individualized education program (IEP), which can have measures to prevent bullying.