All of the highlighted things happened to my son in the Lee's Summit School District. He eventually dropped out because it was affecting him emotionally, psychologically, and physically. I know, from talking to other parents, that this is continuing today.
My Aspergers Child: The Silent Bullying of Asperger's Boys and Girls
The Silent Bullying of Asperger's Boys and Girls
Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, disability harassment is against the law in all schools, school districts, and colleges and universities that receive public funds. “Special needs” kids who are bullied or harassed have legal rights to grievance procedures and due process on the local level. They can also file complaints with the Office of Civil Rights.
Nevertheless, in spite of all these laws and policies, the National Education Association estimates that every 7 minutes of every school day, a youngster is a victim of bullying, and 85% of the time there is no intervention by other children or grown-ups. Your youngster's school may have anti-bullying policies that do not help much on a practical level.
Kids in special education are the most frequent victims of bullies. Kids with Aspergers (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are inevitably victims of bullying. One expert puts the percentage at 100%. The reason is that AS and HFA kids fit the profile of a typical victim (i.e., a "loner" who appears different from other kids). Like hungry wolves that attack a limping sheep that can't keep up with the herd, the boy or girl with clumsy body language and poor social skills appears vulnerable and ripe for bullying. What's worse is the youngster often suffers in silence and does not tell his mother or father about the torment.
Luke Jackson, a thirteen-year-old boy with AS explained it like this: “Aspergers kids don't realize which things they are supposed to go home and tell. ‘What have you done at school today?’ wouldn't automatically bring about the answer, ‘I have been bullied’ unless that subject was specifically brought up.
If your AS or HFA youngster appears under extreme stress, if he is missing school because of headaches and stomachaches, if he has physical injuries and torn clothing, he may be a victim of bullying. If your youngster is stealing money from you, he may be using it to pay off a bully.
Once you determine that your youngster is a victim of bullying, you have to be careful not to make the situation worse. Writing in his book “Freaks, Geeks and Aspergers,” Luke describes what happened after his mom spoke up to his tormentors: “The bullies left me alone for sometime after that. But no amount of threatening by my brother, by the educators, fear of expulsion, pleasant reasoning, absolutely nothing made any difference and they never left me alone. In the end they were physically pushing me around and punching me and it was about the worst time of my entire life.”
Luke endured not only physical beatings, but also name-calling, teasing, tripping so his lunch tray fell all over, having his books destroyed and chairs pulled out from underneath him. He ended up changing schools.
One major problem that Luke's mother and other moms and dads of AS and HFA kids face is that a school may have an anti-bullying policy, yet the staff looks the other way when it happens. Some school administrators are simply more tolerant of bullying than others. Some schools, including Columbine, tolerate a "pecking order" in which athletes and popular children have special privileges and develop a sense of entitlement that leads to a "bullying atmosphere." In such a school, if moms and dads report bullying, the principal may advise them to enroll their youngster in karate or otherwise teach him to stand up for himself. The underlying attitude is that it is the victim's fault. One principal told a mother of an Aspergers boy, "Your son is a little different and it bothers other kids, so he brings this on himself because of who he is." Also in such a school, educators and coaches may bully the “different” youngster too.
Another problem in approaching educators and school administrators is that an AS or HFA youngster does not have the social savvy to tell his side of the story effectively. Bullies typically lack empathy and real feeling, but many are good at crying on cue and playing the victim. Often the Aspergers student gets expelled, and the bully receives no punishment unless the Aspergers student has an effective witness.
In a survey by York University, only 23% of children agreed with this statement: “educators usually - or almost always - intervene when bullies attack.” However, 71% of the educators in the survey agreed. Part of the problem is that educators do not witness most bullying, because it usually happens off campus (which also means the school may not be legally liable for it). AS and HFA kids are most vulnerable when they walk alone to and from school. The other most likely times bullying occurs is during unstructured times (e.g., lunch hour, recess, passing between classes). Bullying peaks in junior high school.
There are things you can do to protect your youngster. It is a good idea to demand an anti-bullying clause in your youngster's Individual Education Plan (IEP). This is a proactive way of having solutions in place and holding the administration to its word in the event your youngster is bullied anytime throughout the year. If your school does not have an anti-bullying program, try to work through the PTO to get one in place. Some schools have a “bullying coordinator” (usually a volunteer) who monitors the lunchroom, restrooms, corridors and playgrounds, and makes sure there is consistent intervention.
If your youngster is a victim of bullying, don't approach the mom or dad of the bully – or the bully himself. According to the research, parents of bullies are often abusive people themselves. Talk to your youngster's teacher and principal in private. Ask for an adult aide to accompany your youngster at all times, if necessary. If the bullying does not stop, you can involve the police or file grievances through your local Office of Civil Rights. If your youngster is in danger, you can home-school him until the situation is under control or transfer him to a private school. If you have to file a lawsuit against the school and the mom and dad of the bully, find a lawyer whose expertise is in special education law.
P.S. Warning to parents: According to statistics, it is very likely that YOUR child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism HAS BEEN or IS BEING bullied. Why don’t you know about it? Because your child won’t tell you! Why won't he tell you? Because he thinks it's a normal, everyday activity that some peers engage in. So, you need to investigate this now – BEFORE your child has been tormented for weeks or months or years! If after your investigation, you discover there has been no bullying against your child, then thank God for it.