Bullying Awareness Week

This week is Bullying Awareness Week.  This week is dedicated to raising awareness about the problem of bullying.

A few things to think about this week:

  1. Bullying is a widespread problem and can affect anyone regardless of race, class, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or ability status.
  2. Bullying is a common problem for autistic children. Estimates of the amount of autistic and Asperger children who are bullied run anywhere from 40% to as high as 90%. (See this story in the Boston Herald and this citation by the National Autistic Society UK.)
  3. Bullying does not only affect children. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, around 35% of workers have experienced bullying firsthand.

I’d also like to mention some of my writings about bullying: “Workplace Bullying and the Autistic Employee” and “Why Me?“, two parts of a to-be-completed series I authored about autism and workplace bullying.

I’ve also had my own experiences with bullying, mostly encountered as a child and teenager. One of my earliest memories of being bullied is from third grade. I attended a school in the district that had more special education offerings than the rest of the schools, and I needed speech therapy due to a bad ear infection which made me mispronounce the diphthong “th” as the letter “d”, amongst other things. Oddly enough, that’s not why I was the target of bullying, and to this day, I can only guess why the kids in question chose to pick  on me. At that age, with less than average experience being around other kids (due to our frequent moves) and no other siblings, I lacked social experience with other kids. That, plus the social foibles and difficulty reading other kids that Aspie children are prone to, were likely a recipe for disaster. I was singled out as the “weirdo” and was constantly asked if I was retarded. I never knew how to answer my tormentors — I simply froze in fright and said nothing. After one disastrous incident where I was teased and provoked until I bit the kid who bullied me, I chose to play alone for the rest of the school year with the exception of one boy, Lance, who I still felt comfortable around (and looking back in time’s mirror, I half wonder if he was also an Aspie too — but that’s a whole ‘nother post).

That summer, we moved to another city, and I encountered bullying again in the schools I attended. This happened again when we moved across the country and I attended yet another new school for fifth and six grade. But the worst of it I encountered during junior high and high school. As I look back, I consider it a bit of a miracle that I not only survived, but that I do not carry more scars than I do now.

After my parents separated, my mother and I moved to Middletown, Ohio, where I attended the last half of sixth grade, junior high, and high school. It is small town with a large steel mill, a small population (I believe in the 40,000 range when I last lived there), and a rather cliquish atmosphere at the time — everyone had known each other since their youth. To make matters worse, I was a multiracial kid in a town which was rather segregated socially in terms of race — white and blacks usually did not socialize together, and the other multiracial kids simply identified as black; but I’d been used to growing up in neighborhoods where whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and First Peoples lived side by side. And I had undiagnosed Asperger’s and displayed many on the laundry list of Aspie traits: social difficulties, inability to read people, narrow interests, and higher than average vocabulary.

It wasn’t long before I was the target of bullies. It mostly began in seventh grade and persisted until my senior year of high school. In my case, it was a few individuals who persisted in making my school life a living hell throughout those five or six years of my life. The black bullies made fun of me for “acting white” or “talking white” because of my vocabulary. The white bullies made fun of me because of my hair (or lack of interest in styling it), my narrow interests, and even my patterns of speech. I was shoved into water fountains and lockers; provoked to cursing one of them out in front of a teacher (which landed me into in-school detention); played tricks on; and excluded. I sought solace in my books, my writing, and my inner fantasy life and tried my best to hold on until I graduated and left.

As an adult, I have tried my best to heal from both the bullying at school and the bullying/abuse I experienced at home. Sometimes, thinking about these memories is like pulling shrapnel out of my skin — it hurts, and I can see the visible wounds that each piece leaves behind. Writing about this pain is one way I try to reckon with it. I am slowly healing, but it has only been recently that I have been able to begin *truly* conquering my suspicion and fear. My goals are to be less paranoid about what people think and say about me and less likely to wonder if tricks or plots are being executed behind my back; these fears generally fall into the “disconnection and rejection” domain of early maladaptive schemas that I discussed in this post (part of a continuing series on stress and anxiety), which include beliefs that the world and most, if not all, people are generally untrustworthy, cruel, and will only purposely hurt or reject.  Unfortunately, the kind of bullying that autistic and Asperger children encounter commonly help form and/or reinforce these kinds of negative core beliefs and the distrust, fear, and paranoia that accompany them.

I offer this poem, “High School Jungle“, as an impression of my experience of having been bullied. I sincerely hope that during this week and beyond, awareness can continue to be raised about the problem of bullying. Too many hearts have been broken and too many lives have been lost to bullying, and it needs to stop.

-Nicole

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5 thoughts on “Bullying Awareness Week

  1. Hello,

    As the person who originally conceived of the annual Bullying Awareness Week nearly ten years ago, I am thrilled that the you have chosen to get behind this national, grassroots initiative. I would invite your readers to visit http://www.bullyingawarenessweek.org to learn how they can get involved, November 13th to the 19th, 2011.

    Sincerely,

    Bill Belsey

    President,
    Bullying.org
    e-mail: help@bullying.org

    Please follow us on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Bullying_org

    http://www.bullying.org
    “Where You Are NOT Alone!”
    The world’s most-visited Website about bullying

    http://www.cyberbullying.ca
    “Always On? Always Aware!”
    The world’s first Website about cyberbullying

    http://www.bullyingcourse.com
    “Learn to BE the change!”
    Online courses and Webinars about bullying and cyberbullying

    http://www.bullyingawarenessweek.org
    “Prevention through education and awareness”
    The official Website for the annual National Bullying Awareness Week

    • Hello Bill: Thank you for stopping by and for providing these links. As you may be aware, bullying is an issue of concern within the autistic community, considering that so many of us have been the victims of either school or workplace bullying, which is why I chose to highlight this particular week of awareness.

      Thank you, and see you again next year.

      -Nicole

  2. Nicole, I’m sorry you went through that bullying experience in school. I went through some in 5th and 6th grade.
    I think getting people more aware of bullying is effective in helping us raise our children and truly teaching us what it means to be a confident human being. Addressing the problem will raise understanding about what human traits in both the the bully and the bullied cause it, and how we can change the environment to not only prevent it, but create a more empowered, confident human society.

    • Wow, Ara…thank you for sharing. I thought I was the only one they picked on. 🙂 But then again, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and suffer from monotropism when you’re going through that kind of experience.

      You raise an interesting point about raising understanding about the causes of bullying and how to address the problem. The Workplace Bullying Institute has presented some findings in regards to who is typically victimized and who typically bullies in a workplace environment (see the links in the post above to my two prior blog posts)…and some research has already revealed why it happens in a school environment. I do believe that self-esteem and self-confidence (or perhaps the lack of) are keys to understanding the bullying issue, as the WBI and others have already pointed out.

      Now, what’s interesting here is the bullies. If some of them come from family systems where this sort of behavior is encouraged, it might be difficult to convince the parents that it’s a problem which needs attention…because the parents may display bully behavior themselves. And when those kids grow up to become adults…then you have the workplace bullies. And so forth and so on. Bullying, in that aspect, is a problem which ties in other issues, such as family dysfunction.

      Again, thank you for sharing. I’ll keep investigating, and support efforts to end bullying. I don’t wish what I or you went through on anyone else.

      -Nicole

  3. […] As some readers already know, I was bullied in high school as well as junior high and grade school. You can imagine that what I was able to read of the poem online, as well as Ms. Frederick’s story, would reminded me of how I was bullied. It also reminded me that there are too many of us survivors of bullying across the country, across the world, with scars still unhealed and some still gaping open. Many of those survivors are adult autistics who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, trust issues, and many other kinds of problems lingering into adulthood because of childhood or teen bullying. And with estimates of autistic and Asperger children who are bullied running as high as 90%, we will certainly see more autistic adults bearing the trauma of childhood bullying. […]

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