Category Archives: Bullying

Because of Bullies

That’s part of Nigel’s statement when he tells people that he’s being homeschooled. “I’m doing homeschool because of bully problems.”

When he was seven, I witnessed a neighbor boy call Nigel a “retard,” as I have written about previously. It’s possible that there may have been some of that going on at school as well, but to the best of my knowledge, and from what I was able to extract from him at the time, most of the bullying started in fourth grade. I don’t remember how it came up, but we were sitting around the dinner table, that hallowed place of family meetings, and he mentioned something about a kid spitting on his jacket. He didn’t want to tell me about it, he said, because he didn’t want me to worry. But I was able to drag out of him that two kids in his class had been cornering him at lunch and spitting on him. And Mama Bear was pissed.

I called his teacher and told her about it, and she assured me that she would have an aid watch them at lunch. Six weeks later, I noticed that Nigel had been pulling out his hair, so I asked him if the kids were still bothering him. He said yes. I immediately contacted the teacher, this time mentioning that I would call the boys’ parents if this wasn’t resolved quickly. The teacher told me that she would personally make sure it wouldn’t happen again. About two months went by, with me blithely assuming that surely now everything would be okay. Then I noticed another one of Nigel’s old stress indicators: severely chapped lips and mouth. He confirmed that he was still being bullied.

At that point I was so angry I was ready to take the school to court. This is discrimination against someone with a disability. My blood was boiling. I asked the teacher to set up a meeting with the principal and both of those boys’ parents. This ends now, I said. The teacher convinced me that she should have a meeting with the boys’ parents first, since they had not yet been notified, and after I calmed down, I conceded. I must have finally gotten my point across, because two weeks later when I asked Nigel if the boys were still bullying him, he said no. He said that the boys had apologized to him and that they were now “friends.”

Well, I guess a state of forced “friends” is better than ritual bullying. It just burned me to know that I had to throw my “Mama Bear” weight around to have them take me seriously. I shouldn’t have had to resort to threatening with litigation. Aside from the bullying issue, both of my kids did really well at that elementary school, and most of the teachers really cared about them. But I would have done whatever was necessary to get that situation resolved. I think they realized that, and that’s why, as far as I know, there were no more bullying issues the remainder of the time (one year) that Nigel attended that school.

Unfortunately, middle school was much worse.

Bravery

Every few years I undergo a relatively drastic hairstyle change. Sometimes it is circumstantial: I am experiencing major changes in some other area of my life, and my hairstyle change is symbolic of that. At other times it’s because my hair is down to my lower back, and it’s just too much work at that length! Off with it!

Last week my hair was reaching beyond the middle of my back, the sun was out, and I had it cut. I think this time it was as much because it was too long as it was a metaphor for the changes going on in my life. I came to the realization a few months ago that Nigel can no longer be mainstreamed, as he was (with an extensive support system) for four years. I radically altered my life, my schedule, my finances, and my ideas so that I could wrap my mind around the concept of homeschooling him, and found ways to make it happen. (I plan to write about that subject in detail for a future post.) And now I am doing it. I drastically cut back on my hours in the office at my job, I found some work I can do from home, and I am now my son’s teacher.

It was a huge change, and I am still reeling from it, even though it is positive. It is scary financially, since I am a single parent. And it comes with so many other adjustments that must be made: emotional, physical, social. So when I’m at the hair salon, and the other patrons and stylists who witness my middle-of-the-back hair being cut into a chin-length shattered bob comment on how brave I am to do that, I say It’s only hair.

Getting my hair cut short doesn’t make me brave. Being a single parent? Sometimes brave. Raising a child with autism? Usually. Homeschooling my autistic son while being a single parent? Reducing my work hours from 30 hours a week to 6, thus reducing my income?

And then I think of Nigel, trying to navigate middle school without any support system in place (how could I have let the IEP ‘team’ convince me that he would be fine with that?!) and dealing with the constant harassment and bullying he experienced, just trying to get through his day, pulling out his hair because of the eternal state of anxiety he was in, and I know. He is the brave one. He was brave to make that first leap to try to learn to talk by repeating lines from videos, trying to fit the lines within the context of the real situation. He was brave to learn how to filter all the mechanical sounds that were agonizing to him. He was brave to want to take the regular school bus, because he wanted “to be like everybody else.” That’s all he wanted, and they treated him so terribly. Yet he went back, every day, and he always tried so hard. Finally, he reached his limit, and he begged me to homeschool him. That was brave too.

Maybe the little things like getting my hair cut short are brave. But when you live with autism, it puts a different perspective on things. And it makes you define bravery in a whole new way.