My first intention was to write a post about bullying and children with disabilities. Then the thought occurred to me that I should address it generally. Our society still fosters bullying of the ID or DD. If we don't teach neuro-typical children to respect the disabled, and discourage bullying this behavior will go on into adulthood.
I am a 52 year old man, yet I still deal with being bullied on a regular basis. Even at Health and Human Services I was bullied by a woman that was supposed to be a "social worker." One essential prerequisite to bullying is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power. Behaviors used to assert such domination can include verbal harassment or threat, physical assault or coercion, and such acts may be directed repeatedly towards particular targets.
I guess it's asking or expecting too much that in America we educate children and adults about bullying. On a daily basis I read stories about the disabled being bullied (adults and children) and even committing suicide because of relentless abuse.
In my life the bullying started in a bout 5th grade...it continued throughout my entire "education" until I finished schooling. Even in the Archie F. Hay Village School (it used to have the moniker "for the 'emotionally disturbed' " :( ) that was for children with developmental and intellectual disabilities I underwent regular relentless bullying, even from the "teacher's aid."
We were seen as "less then," "not right," "broken bastards," (yes I was actually called that by a teacher's aid. In such "schools" discipline often involved restraints, or being locked in solitary for long periods of time, my 90 lb body being pinned down by several very large adults sitting on my chest and legs.
In adult life, I have met quite a few people that treat my disability like a joke. They will even tell me "you just don't want to be 'normal' " (my father bullied me with this all throughout my childhood.) While there are laws regarding equal treatment of the disabled, in my many attempts at work, I was ridiculed, joked about, scorned, blamed, not given accommodations (mostly because I had no advocate to help me secure them.)
Our society creates these arbitrary benchmarks that if you don't measure up, you're considered abnormal, not worth the effort, and easily targeted for bullying and scorn.
One very important thing that I want parents of ACCers and ASDers to be aware of, is that while you child may be being bullied, they may not have the capacity to tell you so. I had some language deficit at an early age, but later actually was hyperverbal with a high verbal IQ. Nevertheless, I was not able to use language to relate my internal experience to my parents (Theory of Mind), and in my case my father was my biggest bully, and I know telling him would have made the problem worse.
As many ACC and ASD children are unable to, and/or unwilling to tell their parents or caregivers about being bullied, it is very important that you keep alert and aware for the signs. Here is an exhaustive list of things to be aware of:
- Unexplained physical marks, cuts, bruises and scrapes
- Unexplained loss of toys, school supplies, clothing, lunches, or money
- Clothes, toys, books, electronic items are damaged or missing or child reports mysteriously “losing” possessions
- Doesn’t want to go to school or other activities with peers
- Afraid of riding the school bus
- Afraid to be left alone: wants you there at dismissal, suddenly clingy
- Suddenly sullen, withdrawn, evasive; remarks about feeling lonely
- Marked change in typical behavior or personality
- Appears sad, moody, angry, anxious or depressed and that mood lasts with no known cause
- Physical complaints; headaches, stomachaches, frequent visits the school nurse’s office
- Difficulty sleeping, nightmares, cries self to sleep, bed wetting
- Change in eating habits
- Begins bullying siblings or younger kids. (Bullied children can sometimes flip their role and become the bully.)
- Waits to get home to use the bathroom. (School and park bathrooms, because they are often not adult-supervised, can be hot spots for bullying).
- Suddenly has fewer friends or doesn’t want to be with the “regular group”
- Ravenous when he comes home. (Bullies can use extortion stealing a victim’s lunch money or lunch.)
- Sudden and significant drop in grades. (Bullying can cause a child to have difficulty focusing and concentrating.)
- Blames self for problems; feels “not good enough”
- Talks about feeling helpless or about suicide; runs away.
You have to voice your concerns to your child and ask direct questions.
“You’re always hungry: have you been eating your lunch?”
“Your CDs are missing? Did someone take them?”
“Your jacket is ripped. Did someone do that to you?”
Watch your child’s reactions. Often what a child doesn't say may be more telling. Tune into your child’s body language. Silence is often powerful.
There is also a great Resource at Stop Bullying(dot)Gov if you suspect your child is being bullied. It offers strategies if your child may be the one bullying as well. (It's not unheard of for an ACC child to bully another.)
Even in my secondary school years ("high school") I was relentlessly bullied, beaten, spit on, had my hair put on fire, was locked in a locker, thrown out of a window, and absolutely nothing was done by the school on my behalf. I do remember that I was even blamed for being bullied. I never said a word of this to my parents, there are many reasons a child may not want to share this with their parents or caregiver. Today there are many allegations of bullying and outright abuse in group homes for DD population, but the world largely remains silent.
The resource I've given at Stop Bullying(dot)Gov is a good start, and there is many more resources out there as well. I hope we can begin to teach all children that different is not bad, not broken, that differences make up the world's beauty that we live in. We should not have to measure up to societal standards or benchmarks to be included in society.