Greetings all. I was browsing several Aspergers and education-related blogs this morning when I came across one advocating against bullying. What struck me as particularly amazing about this blog is that the author had posted the Taylor Swift song "Mean" as essentially the anthem of the anti-bullying movement. I had never heard the song before, but now that I have I have to say it inspired me to write this entry. Bullying is, sadly, one of the worst of the things we Aspies have faced in our lives, and I'm sure many of you out there have your own stories of childhood cruelty to share. I'm no different, and though I was fortunate to find an end to much of it in high school, the fact remains that these experiences touched me deeply to the core and have shaped me, for good or ill, into the person I am today. Since this is such an important topic, not only to Aspies but to many kids, parents and educators out there, I'd like to share my own experiences and what they taught me.
To begin, I have to make something very clear; if I don't show many outward signs of being an Aspie now, then I can't say the same thing for myself at age 13. Simply put, middle school was single-handedly the worst period in my life and remains so to this day. I had gone to a small local school for most of my education to that point, so going to middle school and being essentially thrown into the same ocean as kids from several other small schools was bound to cause hardships. I certainly wasn't the only one to experience such difficulties; I remember one of my dear childhood friends being referred to in a derogatory was as "fishlips," and teased profusely for this. I can't, however, speak for the torment endured by some of my friends, but I can speak of my own. As you can probably guess, I wasn't the jock or the popular kid; I was the nerd, the smart, socially awkward kid who got picked on because he didn't quite fit the mold. My interests at this time were, as they are now, science fiction and video games, though childhood immaturity combined with my Aspie tendency to get very into these things apparently painted a big ol' bull's eye on my back. Needless to say, several of the other kids jumped on this and began to torment me.
The bullying took many forms, but here are some of the moments that stand out in my mind. The first was a simple one, but you can imagine how emotionally painful it must have been at that age. I would be walking down the hall minding my own business and in many ways absorbed into my own little intellectual world, minding my own business when one of my bullies would come along and purposely knock the books i was carrying out of my hands. The books would land everywhere and somewhere between that and the ensuing laughter, a little bit of my sense of self-worth would join them there on the floor, ready to be trampled on. Another time, we had an assignment in English class; we were to write our own epic ballad poetry. Now, you can imagine as a budding writer and lover of storytelling, I would have loved this assignment, but there was only one problem. We had to present our ballads to the class. Well, being the stubborn kid I was, I decided to ignore my social anxiety and write a ballad of a sci fi story I'd been considering writing at the time. When the time came to present, I got up, heart pounding with anxiety as I read my work, but the reaction from the class wasn't as inspiring as I'd hoped. Instead of applauding my creativity as a young writer, one of my classmates looked up at me with a look of mischief in his eyes, and thinking himself clever, proclaimed "Go back to Deep Space Nine!"
The whole class laughed, and yet more of my self worth fell to the floor in pieces as I sunk back into my chair, embarassed and ashamed.
One other time, our school was having a movie afternoon in the gym for the grade 7 and 8 students. I knew that the usual bullies were waiting in the gym to make my life a living hell all afternoon and I felt quite alone at this point. At one point in class, our teacher explained that those who misbehaved or had not finished work would not be allowed to go to the movie and would instead have to sit in detention. Well, we Aspies are alot of things, but stupid is definitely not one of them. My 13 year old brain immediately latched on to this and quietly went up to speak with the teacher, where I begged her to give me a detention. Granted, I would miss the movie, but at that point I didn't care. Spending a few hours being "punished" in a place of peace and solitude sounded infinitely preferable to me than spending that same time being tormented by those who bullied me. My teacher, if I recall correctly, granted me some respite but eventually sent me along to the gym to watch the movie.
The effect of all this oppression and misery at the hands of my classmates is that my young 13/14 year old self was taken mentally and emotionally to the darkest place I can safely say I've been in my entire life. Even in the darkest of the darkness, however, there was always a speck of light in my life. The kindness of my friends, the love of my family, and the constant hope that things would get better; these are the things that sustained me and pulled me back from this place and helped me through those years. Things did eventually get better.
I feel it important to mention all of this because it is important to know the effect bullying has on a child's psyche, whether they're Aspie, Autie, or NT. I consider myself lucky that I had support from friends and family, but I can safely say that others have not been so fortunate. My experiences with both Aspergers and bullying have forced me to overcome a great deal of hardship and trial in my life, and my decision to pursue teaching in general and special education in particular is a way for me to try to make life even a little bit better for the children who are being bullied by others in school. Ask any of my friends; I'm a happy, compassionate person who insists on being optimistic and seeing the best in others and fighting to make the world a better place.
I know it sounds cliche, but if I could go back in time and tell my 13/14 year old self only one thing about the future it would be that it gets better. I know I can't go back in time (until some enterprising scientist invents a time machine that is!), but my first-hand experience being bullied has made me a more sensitive future educator since I know the damage bullying does to a psyche. It is now my life goal to help other children endure and survive. Just because bullying and adversity made me the strong, happy activist I am today, doesn't mean I wish it on anyone. Aspie, Autie, NT, it doesn't matter; bullying affects us all and we need to come together to stand against it!
Yours in diversity,