Greetings Earthlings 🙂
Bullying- neurotypical and neurodiverse alike, we’ve all been there at some point, but did you know that autistic people are bullied nearly five times as often as their neurotypical peers?
Studies have estimated that as many as 46% of people with autism have been bullied at some point in their life versus 10% of the general population.
Our issues with social awkwardness and interpretation, hypersensitivity, literal thinking, poor motor skills and trusting nature can make autists quite vulnerable to bullies. Sometimes we aren’t even aware that we are being targeting and so the bullying goes unreported.
Navigating school as an un-diagnosed teenager was particularly challenging. My literal thinking meant that I was often unaware that I was being made fun of, simple things said in attempts to fit in were turned into taunts, my expressions of individualism were ridiculed- and I just couldn’t understand why.
When I finally started to realize what was going on, it was devastating. I felt like such a fool that I shoved my emotions down and tried to pretend that I was fine.
Buuuuuttttt there’s only so long you can continue to ignore a full septic tank for before chaos erupts…
Once your peers have seen you have a meltdown, some people will do anything to trigger another one.
So I trudged along quietly everyday blaming myself for the teasing I endured:
“Why was I so naiive?
Why did I say that?
Why did I lose it?
Why can’t I be normal?”
I sat back and allowed the storm clouds to gather overhead every time I reached the school doors.
It wasn’t until I burned out and hit breaking point that I realized I had to find a better way through, began to talk and learned, not just to cope, but to thrive 🙂
So what advice would I give to someone on the spectrum who find themselves in the midst of a bullying situation?
Well, as the bullying game has intensified with the spread of social media since my schooldays (rural Ireland had quite limited access to high speed internet in the noughties), this is a tough one to advise, but here are some of my top tips:
- Ignore the bullies– An obvious one that’s easier said than done, I know (I pretended to ignore for years- it can take quite a bit of practice to truly let words glide off your back), but when you react or meltdown- that’s what fuels them. My reactions made bullies push my buttons all the harder. If you feel a meltdown coming on, take a moment to go somewhere quiet, get some fresh air and take a deep breath. Bathroom stalls were a personal favourite of mine to give me some time to regroup (unless someone had been smoking in there… this added further sensory fuel to the fire! 😛 )
- Find an outlet for your emotions- We autists experience and process our emotions in very different ways. If you shove things down, the end result will not be pleasant. So run, dance, go on a four hour killing spree on your PlayStation (something that I wouldn’t know anything about… 😛 )- do whatever works for you to deal with your frustrations. I know it’s hard, but finding an outlet will help to quell the dragon inside.
- Try to think before you act/speak– Again this is quite challenging when you don’t have a filter or struggle with impulsivity, but sometimes what may seem like the most simple of sentiments to you can be twisted and misconstrued by bullies. An innocent comment I once passed about the family dog led to years of jeering and implied bestiality…! I still put my foot in it every now and again, but I’ve gradually learned to pause more to assess if my comments will sink or float.
- Be careful what you post on social media- The online world can be a dangerous, unregulated one. We live so much of our lives online we forget that our peers are always watching. As with your thoughts, take a moment to think through your posts. Something as simple as a picture or throwaway comment could land you in bother both on and offline (a simple lack of an appropriate emoji once caused a rift with a friend). Remember- it’s also perfectly ok to abstain or take some time away from social media. It may seem like social suicide, but we all need time away from our screens- people disable their accounts every day for lots of reasons so don’t worry about what they’ll think at school. Your sanity is far more important 🙂
- Talk to someone– If you’re being targeted, tell a teacher, confide in a friend or talk to your parents so something can be done. But bear in mind, they can’t always intervene. Teasing is a natural part of life as much as it may hurt (something that the autistic mind really struggles to comprehend), and not everything can be prevented. What may seem a devastating comment to your mind may mean nothing to an outsider. Intervention aside, by simply talking to someone about how you’re feeling, this will make the load so much easier to bear. Don’t let the quicksand claim you- ask for help!
At the end of it all, just remember what my Biology teacher once taught me- “Whoever said that your school days are the best days of your life lied- college days are the best days of your life!”
So don’t get disheartened Earthlings! It may be hard to see it through the swirling fog in the crystal ball, but life does get so much better (…once you get past the bills, taxes and work-day traffic jams! 😛 😉 ).