Bullying and Autism / Aspergers Syndrome

I grew up in the Dark Ages. I know it’s going to sound like that to younger readers. I was born in 1969 and went to a Montessori preschool in Connecticut. Montessori was a fairly progressive style of school which focused on helping a child develop a love of learning. I remember making clay ashtrays (this was the 70s!) and being happy.

Then it was time for kindergarten.

I was precocious, already reading at a high level, and so my parents had me skip kindergarten and go right into first grade. Even in first grade, I was in the select group of three high-level readers in that class. We were all girls. I’ll call the other two girls K and L. Because we were the advanced children, we often were sent apart to study together.

They bullied me incessantly.

They would chase after me on the playground calling me “Baby Waller”. I would be in absolute tears. And then we’d go back into the class and I’d be with those two girls having to pay attention to reading and writing.

It’s challenging enough being in school as a child. It’s even more challenging if everyone is a full year older than you developmentally and mentally. And then add in the social challenges of being on the spectrum.

Being bullied just adds another hurdle. Especially if the bullies are involved in every single thing you do.

At the time I thought nobody knew I was being bullied (besides the bullies, of course). I didn’t want to bring attention to myself so I never talked about it. But come to find out, as an adult, that my parents and teachers knew. They figured these were just “kid things” and that we’d work it out on our own. So all of that added stress and mental disruption I went through was something that could have been handled by the “adults in the room.”

Nowadays we know far better.

Bullying Is About the Bully

I think it’s fair we finally realize in modern times that no person should be bullied. Every person deserves to be who they are and to be treasured for their strengths.

A bully bullies not because of a fault in the victim, but because a fault in the bully themselves. That is, a bully tends to bully because they themselves feel as if they’re missing something. Maybe they’re dealing with incredible stress at home. Their parents are divorcing. They’re being abused. I’m not excusing the bullying. But I’m saying that some people under stress turn to prayer and positive outlets. Other people turn to alcohol, drugs, and putting others down.

It’s not about you. It’s about them.

Kids have it even “worse” because they haven’t learned any coping mechanisms. Their brains can barely figure out life. And then something chaotic happens to them and they scramble. They just need to get through the day. If they get a tiny lift by seeing that someone else is worse than them, they jump for it.

When we look at it from a child perspective, it sucks. We don’t care why they are bullying us. But from an adult perspective, we realize it was the adults in the room who were at fault. For even putting kids into this situation and allowing it to continue.

Adults Need to Take Charge

In many cases there is little a child can do to directly stop a bully. The bully has an innate need for this to go on and any escalation will just feed into their need. I did try to ask the girls to stop picking on me. They didn’t care. They liked that I was a victim. And the adults at the time thought the best way to handle it was to stay clear of it.

In modern times, adults are much more aware of the issues of bullying. So the top solution is to always go to an adult. Don’t think you should “change” who you are to draw less attention of the bully. A bully is a bully because something is wrong within them. It’s not about you – it’s about them. This is a challenge for adults to fix. Stand up for yourself and find your voice. Get an advocate if you need one.

Being bullied sucks. All of us have been through it at one time or another. Get help. Find a solution. In my case, I switched schools after fifth grade and was no longer involved with those two girls. I visited that town in sixth grade and went to visit K. My mom later asked why I would visit her if she wasn’t always nice to me. But these were the only two girls I interacted with at all in the school. This was all I knew as a “friend” at school. Which goes to show how incredibly confusing a friend situation can be when there are bullies around.

I also want to note that many people on the autism spectrum have social challenges. That means sometimes we can end up being the bullies, without even really meaning to. I’ll address that separately.

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