Tag Archives: teachers

What to Do If Your Child Is Being Bullied

This is the first post in a new category called Tips from the Trenches. I’ll try making lists like these of various topics on a regular basis to contribute to that category.

1. Communicate with your child. Often kids will not elect to tell parents about bullying, for whatever reason. Nigel said he didn’t want me to worry, so he didn’t tell me until I started noticing his classic stress symptoms: bald spots from pulling out his own hair and badly chapped lips and mouth area. Pick up on any non-verbal cues your child has to indicate stress and then ask them if someone has been bothering them. Sometimes you have to drag it out of them, as I did with Nigel.

2. Remind your child how smart he/she is and how much you love him/her. Bolster his/her self-esteem as much as you can. Assure your child that you’ll do everything you can to get the bullying to stop.

3. Contact your child’s teacher(s). Diplomatically state what is happening and offer any suggestions you may have for stopping it.

4. Within a week check in with your child to see if there are any changes in the situation. Check in with the teacher(s) to see what has been done and report to them what your child has indicated about the situation now.

5. If the situation has not improved within two weeks, contact the dean or principal. It is a good idea to be familiar with them anyway, because they need to know all of their special needs kids, and they like to be aware of how involved you are as a parent.

6. Keep tabs on the situation. Keep checking in with your child. I made the mistake of assuming that things were okay and not asking. We must be vigilant advocates. If we don’t advocate for our children, who will?

7. Be the squeaky wheel. If necessary, have the dean or principal schedule a meeting with the bully’s parents (with the dean or principal in attendance). Do not accept bullying. Unfortunately we can’t all homeschool our children. But what we can do is send a very strong message to the schools that we parents of autistic kids will not tolerate bullying or any form of harassment. Don’t accept “Kids will be kids” or “This is a difficult age group” as excuses for bullying. It’s discrimination against someone with a disability. And it needs to stop.

How It Ended

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.

False Friends

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.   

When the Cat’s Away

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.