It was seventh grade that really kicked our collective butts. The proverbial straw that broke my camel’s back. It started off with Nigel getting punched in the face on the third day of school and only got worse from there.
It was during lunch when three boys verbally ganged up on him, riling him up, probably trying to make him lash out so that he would get in trouble. He was getting very agitated, verbally defending himself, and stepped in really close to the lead boy to try to make his point. Apparently Nigel “touched” the other boy on the arm. That made it okay for the boy to sock Nigel’s cheekbone, because Nigel had “touched” him. The other boy was exempt from reproof. The school’s dean called to tell me what had happened, adding in a condescending voice that he explained to Nigel that he shouldn’t “touch” anyone. He might as well have said that Nigel asked for it. I was livid. Let’s blame the autistic kid! Yeah! He started it! I wanted to wring all of their necks, especially the dean’s.
During the second week I noticed that Nigel was having problems at the bus stop, just two houses over from our house. The bus would pick them up just before I left for work in the morning, and often I would be walking out to my car and hear what was going on. Usually it was an argument: Nigel wanted to talk about Leonardo da Vinci and some girl would tell him to shut up because she didn’t want to hear about it. I didn’t intervene in those situations; I thought it best that Nigel learn that he can’t expect everyone to be interested in what he’s interested in. But one morning as I walked out to the car, I heard laughter. I heard Nigel’s angry tone. I looked and saw seven kids (one from his Boy Scout troop!) standing in a semi-circle with their arms crossed, laughing at Nigel. That was unacceptable to me. As I walked over there, one of the kids started walking behind Nigel, mimicking prancing movements, to the other kids’ laughter. I told them how disrespectful and wrong it is to laugh at someone who has autism and communicates differently. I told them I was disappointed in them, especially the Scout. I wondered how many times this had happened before.
From that day on I drove Nigel to school in the mornings. He didn’t want me to (“Mom, I want to be just like everybody else”), but I could not subject him to that treatment. The bus company, when they’d heard of what happened, called me to suggest that they send a sped (special education) bus to pick him up in the mornings. I almost guffawed at that! Did they actually think that picking Nigel up in a sped bus, in front of his peers, would help his situation? That would make everything worse! I told them No, thank you. On top of the bus stop issue, the hallway jeers still occurred on a regular basis, and during lunch Nigel was “accidentally” hit in the forehead by a rock.
It was at that point that I seriously began to consider homeschooling my son, as I have written before. When I had discovered some options to make that happen, it was late October, and I wouldn’t be able to make the change until January, so I planned on pulling Nigel out of the middle school at Christmas break. He didn’t make it that far. By the end of November, he had been suspended for being disrespectful to a teacher after having a girl verbally bully him in the hallway before class. When he walked in, he was so agitated that he couldn’t sit down, so the teacher ordered him to, and he just couldn’t take any more. “You need to sit down!” he said, and was suspended for it. The suspension was just a day, but it angered me that an autistic student was being targeted for behavior that was out of his control, after he’d been verbally assaulted by another student, who went unreprimanded because no one had witnessed it.
The first week of December I got a call from another dean at the school. Nigel had made an inappropriate, sexually explicit comment to a girl. I almost had a panic attack. This was one of the things I had feared. I’d read stories about parents being taken to court over things their autistic children had said or done, and I begged the dean to explain to the girl’s parents, who were understandably upset, that Nigel is autistic and did not understand what he was saying. I knew before I even talked to Nigel what had happened. A group of boys had encouraged him to do it. They were all standing around laughing, talking about “Wouldn’t it be funny if you walked up to a girl and said such-and-such,” and got Nigel to think it was funny. Nigel, at 13, has the emotional maturity of a nine year old, if that, and probably didn’t even understand it to be a sexual comment. I tried explaining this to the dean, but they still suspended Nigel again. I told him that Nigel wouldn’t be back.
And that was the end of the bullying.