Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Autism and bullying

I've made reference to Jaymes being teased or bullied by "typical" children his age and older, in the past, and I thought it might be interesting to go deeper into the issue of bullying. A few blog entires ago, I had written about an experience at the playground. Jaymes was on the swings and was approached by a child around his age, maybe older. The child tried to engage Jaymes, and when Jaymes failed to respond as the kid wanted him to, he launched into some pretty vicious teasing and bullying. He got in Jaymes' face, called him some names, and stomped off. That was a more serious incident, from our experience. There have been plenty of times Jaymes is screaming, or Jaymes is spinning or making funny faces, or drinking water from something he shouldn't be (a puddle on the table, a puddle on the ground at the zoo, the horse's water tank out back. and once -gag- the toilet) and the kids around him go into a chorus of "eeeewwwww! Eeeeeeeew! you're so gross!" Of course none of these things bother Jaymes any, he doesn't understand they are making fun of him, nor do their words mean much. He doesn't know what "retard" or "gay" mean, because he doesn't need to right now. That's a beautiful thing about language. if you don't understand tone, and you don't understand the words, that old "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me" applies.

It seems to me that kids like Jaymes, or like Jaymes friend K (who I -believe- has Down's Syndrome, and looks much different) would naturally be easy prey to bullies. Lord knows Jaymes is not lacking in oddities that could be teased about. His behaviors also make him a risk for abuse. Of course we love our Jaymes, and nayone who laid a hand on him would be wishing they had not once I found out, but it is something I have often worried about.

When Jaymes was 2, he was at a daycare center, as I worked full time. My work hours were varying, so they never really knew when I'd be there to get the little guy. I'd just randomly appear and get him and head home. One day I walked into the room at snack time, just in time to see Jaymes try to grab someone's cookies. To my horror, his "teacher" (whose back was turned so she could not see me there in the doorway) slapped Jaymes across the face so hard he flipped on his back, snapping "NO JAYMES! GET AWAY!"

Needless to say, she lost her job and Jaymes left daycare. How many times might this have happened? He didn't even cry, just picked himself up and ate his own cookie. The other kids in his "class" were talking, Jaymes could not. He had no language at that point, no way to tell me if someone hurt him. I look back now and wish that I had called the police, pressed charges, or something. Interestingly, she came to work at Toys R Us with me a year later, and was sweet as pie to my face, wanting to snuggle Jaymes when I brought him into the store (over my dead body, you blonde witch) and later telling my co-workers I used to be a prostitute and brought my "johns" into the daycare. Obviously they didn't believe her, and she got herself fired. Haven't seen her since, and I'm not sad either. We never did daycare again.

Even in the schools, Autistic children are easy targets. For example, this chilling story of a teacher in Florida who humiliated and insulted a 5 year old autistic boy, then had his classmates vote him out of the class. Even more horrific, this article about a teacher physically abusing his Autistic students. We are lucky, despite Jaymes' school situation not being 100% great, I trust both teachers, and know that he is safe from anything like this. How scary is it, though, to think that a teacher, who you should be able to trust completely, could get away with these things?

Out in public, our kids are subject to bullying of a different sort. Take, for example, this (previous blog entry of mine) story of a girl and her family, who were thrown out of a Smitty's Resturant because her autism was apparently disturbing another customer. You all remember Michael Savages idiotic comments about Autism as well, right? We know how it feels to get the funny looks in stores and other public places. Plenty of times I've given old ladies the death glare because they're busily making nasty comments about my son lying on the ground at the cash register, or crying, or head banging on the cart.

Autistic adults seem to get the very worst of it though. The stories I have read are shockingly violent, and honestly make me worry about Jaymes' future. I'm not going to link to these, they really disturb me...

Anyway. For the higher functioning kids, I found this worksheet to teach them how to recognize bullying, and how to respond. I hope it is of some use to some of you.

On a positive note, I have been finding that there is a lot more good in this world than bad. at the library, the librarians all know us, they know Jaymes, and they are super tolerant. We don't get dirty looks if he talks, because they know what a good job he is doing, just talking and not screaming and running around. At CiCi's pizza here in Kernersville, even if jaymes has a tantrum in the middle of the place, I don't get nasty looks or told to leave. I get wonderful people helping me pick him up and get him back to the table, and giving him balloons and talking to him. They'll even get our pizza for us and bring it to the table if he is having a really hard time. At Walmart, every now and then we get someone who sees Jaymes having a rough time of it and gets it. They smile at me, and I know that they understand, he's not being a brat, he's overwhelmed. It's that little bit of support you just need sometimes, and it makes my day every time.

There are mean little bullies. We've met some. But for every bully, there are 10 kids who want to play with Jaymes. They don't care if he talks, they just want him with them. They carry him around, give him his blanket when he drops it, or let him chase them. Just today, on Jaymes' field trip, a kid ran up to him just to say "hey Jaymes!" and wandered off. He didn't expect a reply, the smile Jaymes gave him was enough. The sweet neighbor girl who I give riding lessons will hold Jaymes hand, never fails to say "Hi Jaymes!" in an enthusiastic voice when he gets off the bus.

We could focus constantly on the bad... Label our world a horrible place because everyone is out to get our kids. Teachers abuse Autistic kids. Parents do. Other kids. other adults. Strangers. Businesses. We so easily lose sight of the many, many more people who treat our kids with love, friendship, kindess, and dignity.

The world is a place that can be both beautiful and horrible. Which, is entirely up to you.


kristi said...

Oh my God. This is devastating to read.

Yesterday when I went into my son's daycare, to pick him up...and another child said, "Big, fat, Tony, your Mom is here."

I told the child, "I don't think so! You don't call him that!"

The teacher was in the restroom.

Amber DBTD said...

I'm sorry you had to hear that.. Kids can really be cruel... I would mention it to the teacher for sure, perhaps she could give a lesson on tolerance and kindness.

Just please remember, for every person who treats your little guy poorly, ten more will be his friend.