Because of Nigel’s social, extroverted nature and his desire for kids to like him, he would do anything to have what he thought were friends. I suppose I should consider myself lucky that he wasn’t coerced into doing anything illegal, but after what happened last year, I could see that things could easily get to that point.
As I described in yesterday’s post, the hallway torment resumed, and now it included more kids, even girls. They knew better than to try anything in class, since the teachers were now aware of what had been going on, but it was open season in the hallways. Nigel became so anxious in class just anticipating being harassed after class that he couldn’t focus and would become disruptive and get in trouble. I didn’t know what to do for him, so I thought I’d discuss options with his teachers and the special education coordinator at his upcoming IEP.
It was there that I learned of something else that made my blood boil, something I had been completely in the dark about. Apparently Nigel’s teachers in the classes he had after lunch had been wondering why he would come in the classroom hot, sweaty, and complaining of being tired. It was spring, but not yet hot. He would lay his head on his desk and not be able to get any work done, or refused to do any, claiming that he was “too tired.” Not one teacher had contacted me to discuss this. Finally, after a few weeks, one of the aids witnessed him running laps around the field at lunch. When asked why, he said, “My friends told me to do it. I have to prove to them that I’m strong enough.” These “friends” turned out to be a group of kids who would tell Nigel to run laps or perform various tricks and then laugh at his expense. But what was even worse was that when the adults at the meeting told me about it, they were laughing. They were jovial, as if my son was there for everyone’s amusement. As if it was funny that Nigel wanted to do these things. When they saw my face and realized that I did not find it to be the least bit humorous, they immediately became serious and assured me that they explained to Nigel that he doesn’t have to run laps and do tricks just because the kids told him to. That’s when I lowered my voice and said, “That’s not what is upsetting to me. Those kids need to be told that it’s NOT okay to get the autistic kid to do something and then laugh about it. They’re taking advantage of someone with a disability.” Why do educators only focus on “fixing” the autistic kids? Yes, the autistic kids need to work on inappropriate behavior. But so do a lot of the NT kids. What they were doing to Nigel was highly inappropriate, to say the least.
That’s when I remembered stories about autistic kids who’d had drugs or weapons planted on them by “friends” just to get them in trouble. I talked to Nigel that night, tried to gently explain to him that real friends don’t tell you to do anything. “But I wanted to do it. It’s okay because I’m strong enough.” “I know you’re strong enough. You’re stronger than anyone realizes. But if someone wants to be your friend, it will be because they like you for who you are, not because you can run laps or do tricks.” I saw the realization dawn on his trusting face. “Okay,” he said quietly. I hugged him tight and hoped that things would be better for him in seventh grade.