Friday, September 30, 2011

Maybe the Bullying Problem IS Systemic

There's an article out there discussing public school bullying for Aspie teens.  It tells the story of three teenagers who were targets of bullies, and their difficulties with coping.  What these teens have in common is not only that they were victims of bullying, but that they were written up or charged with crimes themselves.  It may be the system; one of the kids was unable to explain:

Once Tyler tried to make the bully stop teasing his brother, and the bully took Tyler's fingers and bent them backwards. Another time, Tyler leaned down to get his backpack and the bully kicked him in the face. Their parents have always told them to tell an adult if someone was being mean to them, but this is difficult for them because of their Asperger's. The day the bully kicked Tyler in the face, he went to the only adult on the bus, the bus driver, but was unable to form words. The bus driver told him she was going to write him up for crying.
Conveying the seriousness of the bullying incidents to their parents was also difficult. Tyler and Teagen don't always pick up on inflections and answer questions literally.

There is a culture in the school system which emphasizes self-reliance.  This is far from a bad thing, especially for aspies.  However, when we attempt to explain an incident that occurs, such as Tyler on the bus, we need a certain form of understanding when we approach with a situation.  Plenty of school districts still adhere to inefficient anti-bullying techniques that never meshed with autistics to boot.  Being instructed to tell an adult what happened and to press charges does not always work for us because we could never articulate exactly what the bully was doing and would be more likely to implicate ourselves.  In the case of Ells, the second child, a bus incident where he ended up charged due to his own demonstration appeared to be badly mishandled.

The following day, the principal called both boys into the office together, and Ells found he couldn't fully explain what had happened.
"We hear this every day," said Barbara Cooper, a co-director of Super Kids, a Ridgefield based after-school program for children on the Autism spectrum. "It's awful. It's a language disability. It's better if they're asked to draw something describing what happened."
E.T. said because Ells admitted that at one point he had wrapped a cord around his own neck to show his distress, the school informed his parents they would impose penalties of equal proportions for both boys. E.T. said school officials said Ells wrapping a cord around his own neck constituted an implied threat to the other boy.
New Haven police department youth officer Ricardo Rodriguez said the department had no comment on the incident, which Ells and his father later reported to the police.
Both boys were given a three-day in-school suspension in the same room. The room was supervised by a monitor who sometimes had to exit the room to also supervise the hallways. Ells said the boy continued to bully him, muttering under his breath that he would retaliate.
Christopher Hoffman, spokesman for New Haven Public Schools, said while the district couldn't comment more specifically about this case because of federal student confidentiality laws, the district followed the extensive protocols it has in place for handling bullying charges and aggressively investigated and addressed the bullying allegations as soon as they arose.
"The school and the district have devoted significant time, effort and resources to this case, working with the families and seeking to assure that the student is safe and protected," Hoffman said. "We have been responsive and flexible throughout."
Months later, Ells was charged with disorderly conduct in connection with the bus incident. He is scheduled to appear in New Haven juvenile court on Sept. 22.
After that 2010 bus incident, Ells shut down.

We've been prone to bullying for years, and so are many NTs.  I admit that I was able to handle myself slightly; my naivete led to me getting pranked a few times in school but I never took a beating beyond a few shoves trying to provoke me.  This was in part because I knew people would make fun since I did not understand social conventions the same way my peers did.  However, even learning early wasn't perfect, as I would always want to ask why I didn't understand some term, which would also lead to more jokes.

Teaching children early about their autism can help them fight back against bullies, experts say.
"It's extremely important when people are struggling with things like social communication, anxiety, depression, misunderstanding peoples intentions, that they are understanding what's really going on," Jekel said. "Then they stop blaming themselves and others. They see their life through slightly different lens, and they can really be proud."
Jekel said administrators have found when students tell their peers as early as kindergarten about their condition, they are more likely to be accepted and less likely to be bullied.

Telling the child why he will be bullied and how the lens is different doesn't reach the other side of the spectrum.  An important point not reflected in this article enough is that schools don't often approach the bullies as to why they are who they are, as if these people are lost causes.  Many bullies don't feel support at home or see certain influences in popular culture, and they take it out on those most vulnerable and different, like those on the spectrum.  If teachers or counselors, among others, can support at-risk students who pick on others, then AS students will have a more comfortable experience.

My hope is that when news like this goes public, it makes people aware.  I know I'm preaching the whole anti-bullying message here, but it's because some of us have a harder time knowing how to stand our ground. As much as we talk about finding a way for Aspies to blend in with the school system, a bigger point that can be expounded upon is how bullying is fostered.  If there is a possibility of preventing the cause before it can take effect, then the school will be credited with a major accomplishment.  Who knows how easy this would be, finding out why a kid picks on others...worth an investigation, I muse.

1 comment:

  1. I can't think of any pranks we played on you other than switching the light bulbs on your lamp to lower wattage ones, though you did a good job of rolling with the punches.