Even before fifth grade had ended, when we had Nigel’s IEP meeting prior to the start of middle school, I had serious doubts. He would go from having had a full-time educational assistant in one classroom to navigating six classes without an assistant. How could he possibly have any hope of success?
I actually had very few concerns about Nigel being able to make it to his classes – he loved schedules and could easily follow maps. Getting used to a locker would be no problem – he loved mechanical stuff like that. What I worried about was how all the kids who didn’t know him would respond to him. I worried about how there would be no assistant to model positive interaction with peers, and to intervene when things went negative.
Nigel was never late to class, which astounds me considering what he had to endure, day after day. With no educational assistant around, the bullies had a field day. The worst of it was in math class, which was difficult enough for him without having kids make faces at him and hiss his name, which they discovered produced the response they obviously wanted. The hissing was hard on Nigel’s ears, distracting, and demoralizing. The faces enraged him, and he could not control his reactions. Of course, the kids only did this when the teacher’s back was turned, so there was no evidence against them. Only against Nigel, who was trying to get them to stop. But they would continue their attack as he walked to his next class, walking close behind him, hissing in his ear, calling him a “freak,” and I don’t know what else, since that’s all Nigel would tell me. Some of the boys were also in his Language Arts class, and they tormented him there, too. How much fun they must have had riling up the autistic kid, making him lash out so that he would then get in trouble.
Again, as in elementary school, I contacted the teacher (this time two). They said that they were unaware that it was going on, so they would have to bring in an aid or student teacher to watch the kids who were doing it and catch them. Wasn’t Nigel’s word enough? Wasn’t my word as a parent enough? Nigel’s rights as a student and a person were being violated, but it wouldn’t be “fair” to confront his attackers without an adult witness? I tried to suppress my anger and just work with the flawed system that protects the wrong kids.
Within days the aid had witnessed the bullying behavior while the teacher’s back was turned. That teacher notified the math teacher, and the bullies were lectured and told to write letters of apology to Nigel. And the hallway attacks abated, for a time. But they resumed within a few weeks, along with other issues.