There is an article doing the rounds of the internet at the moment which talks about Autistic people ‘benefiting’ from bullying. I have not managed to read this piece of misinformation as it would probably have resulted in me throwing the computer out the window in anger. From others’ responses it seems to have been – as the title suggests – an unhelpful and invalidating look at something which most of us know innately – bullying is a bad thing for everyone and especially for Autistic people – Editorial note: I spoke with a friend who advised that the article actually wasn;t too bad, just apparently inappropriately titled so I apologise to its authors, although ti gave me the impetus to write this post
This is the first blog I have written about bullying. That seems a bit odd, even from my own perspective, for discrimination, bullying and abuse have been a significant part of my history. In fact to some degree I still experience discrimination and bullying from certain quarters.
There is a TV programme which Australian people probably know called Summer Heights High. It is a comedy set in a high school and one of the characters – Jonah – is a bully. It is an interesting programme. I didn’t find it very funny. In fact I found it quite disturbing, but the scenes about bullying told me a lot about perceptions of the experience by some neurotypical people. There is a young student who Jonah bullies because he has red hair. It is not a one-way street in that the younger boy evidently does some things to wind Jonah up and see his reaction. I think this is what a lot of people think about bullying among young people. That is, that the victim often ‘winds up’ the bully to try and get them into trouble. The first time I saw this program I was amazed. When I was a young school student experiencing bullying, I did not do anything intentionally to ‘wind up’ the bullies. It was completely one-directional attention. I just wanted to go to classes and pass exams and read books but all the time I was singled out for negative attention, teasing and even at times physical violence, There was no sense of my doing anything to invite the attention of bullies other than the fact that I seemed different and odd.
Bullying, as I’m sure you know, frequently leads to post-taraumatic stress, self loathing and a low self esteem. The worst thing about the low self-esteem is that this can lead to lowered defences against abusive and bullying behaviour, thus leading to a vicious cycle of self loathing and continued abuse.
This is a Jeanette Purkis blog so I will need to include some points from my own experience or people might doubt its authenticity (joke). Before I went to school, I was a confident, intelligent and inquisitive person. I thought I was pretty OK in terms of my value in the world. It did not occur to me to think anything negative about myself. Primary school was mostly OK and I loved art and music and writing. When I went to high school, my world changed very quickly, Within days I was the least popular child in the school. People form other year levels singled me out for teasing and violence. Within weeks I started to view myself as different. I could see that there was a popular group or ‘normal’ students and that I was not one of these. I didn’t understand why I was hated. It was bizarre. I spent years trying to be accepted with very little success. BY the time I reached adulthood I had lost all my self-confidence and personal power. I found it almost impossible to assert my rights and spent at least five years being victimised by creepy men. This of of course exacerbated my lack of confidence and inability to set boundaries and say no. It took me twenty years to start liking myself again. Even now I struggle with saying ‘no’ and being assertive but I am slowly improving.
Some thoughts about bullying
- Bullying is never OK. Never.
- Bullying is never the fault of the victim. Autistic people do not intentionally contribute to bullying. Even if there is some dynamic going with non-Autistic people between the victim and bully, the bullying relationship needs to stop There is no benefit of it to anyone.
- Bullies – male ones at least – are overrepresented in the ranks of the unemployed, education drop-outs and the prison population. Often they are victims of invalidating backgrounds themselves. This does not excuse the bullying but it does go some way towards understanding that solutions to bullying need to be holistic and often need to be at a social as well as an individual level,
- Bullying behaviour – like all behaviour – is a response to material reasons or circumstances. Address the reasons and you can address the behaviour. Solutions often need to happen in consultation with the parties involved.
- Autistic people can be bullies too.
- Building your – or your child’s – self esteem is a great way to tackle bullying. If you value and like yourself, you are less likely to care about what the person bullying you thinks of you. In my experience, bullies tend to give up if they can’t see their behaviour having a negative impact on you.
- Some kids will not volunteer formation about being bullied. Parents may need to ask specific questions about what is going on at school or in social media.
- Bullying can happen in all manner of situations, from school to work, social media, in relationships and within clubs.
- Of you are being bullied, it can be hard to know where to access help. As a first step, tell someone you trust such as a family member or your partner.
- Often bullying is an intractable, wicked problem. Sometimes the only way to address the issue is to remove yourself from it. Change schools, leave the job etc. This doesn’t mean the bully has won, it means you are looking after yourself.
- Bullying is Never OK. Never