Monday, 20 August 2012

He's not that autistic, is he? Autism and Bullying - ENABLE Campaign.

*Insert eye roll here.

We've been dealing with a bit of ASD related bullying at high school amidst some massive changes.

While his school is fantastic and the point of this post is to in no way criticise their efforts, it is to explore that well known fact that teenagers by and large are a horrid breed. Full of hormones, Red Bull and hair products, survival of the fittest is key at high school. But what if you are not one of the fittest? What if you are the parent of a child who is not one of the fittest? I spent a long, long time fighting for the resources that A has had access to during his life and while I might be, at times, his strongest critic (how else will he learn to adapt to mainstream society?), I am also his biggest champion. I'm struggling a bit this week with trying to be his champion and at the same time helping him to stand on his own two feet in any small way I can.

The school are great regarding dealing with individual episodes of bullying in the mainstream and are quick to stamp this out. This, in my opinion is fine if they have just fallen out or said something about someone's mother but what about an incidence where disability is involved and the reason for the bullying? The last time an episode of bullying happened, at the root cause of the bullying lay the fact that A has what is termed as a hidden disability. Physically he looks fine, he's a bit skinny and his hair is always a mess but in a crowd of peers there are no physical signs that he is disabled. However, children who spend more than half an hour in his company twig that something is very different about him. Without knowing that he is autistic, this difference becomes a negative thing. If he is different to them, he becomes labelled as a freak, a weirdo, an outcast. His social skills are impaired by a disability and it is not his fault! So many times have I heard the phrases, "well...he's not really THAT autistic, is he?" "He doesn't look autistic!" and my favourite "If you didn't know him, you wouldn't know that he is autistic!" (Yeah...what?!)

Recognising this I charged into the school, guns blazing and arms flailing and demanded autism awareness assemblies, hidden disability workshops. There was a lot of fist banging on tables and demands made. I was going to educate every last spotty youth in this school about autism! Without the entire school body recognising that the school is diverse and contains various kids with various disabilities, bullying was bound to happen, I said. Nevertheless, they calmed me down and assured me that for a number of years their approach was working. I did indeed calm down and went away satisfied that the episode had been dealt with. The school that he attends has what is called an inclusion policy. This means that there is a number of disabled children and children with additional support needs within the school and that specialist provision is there for them within a mainstream school. From third year and above, young adults work in support programmes with kids with special needs, my son included.. This can be either as paired reading or in social programmes. All of this should breed an atmosphere of inclusiveness.

Well, it is happening again. The lack of awareness within the lower school is matched by their lack of empathy. He's being bullied again and it even happened in front of me at a school social event I was attending. I went ballistic! But again the school tells me that it is not their approach to single out children as having special needs. They will deal with this on a one to one basis. This is going to continue unless the school takes action and makes more of an effort to raise awareness within the pupil body. I'm demanding the same action be taken after this individual episode has been dealt with but the school are reluctant to embrace my approach.

While I don't want to single kids out I really wish that just some of the pupil body in the lower school would, just once, consider that if a person acts in a way within an inclusion school that is perceived not to be of the norm, that there're might actually be a reason behind this. Waiting until third, forth or fifth year for kids to develop empathy when it dawns on the children that there are special needs kids within the pupil body is not enough. Would it be enough for you?

Open your mind, not your mouth.
ENABLE Scotland challenges you to make bullies think before they speak and to challenge other people's understanding of learning disabilities.
Bullies sometimes don’t realise the effect their actions can have on people with learning disabilities. The things they do and say can make people feel alone, depressed and isolated from their friends.

You can make a difference by standing up to bullies. Sign our charter and make a promise to challenge those who bully people with a learning disability.
For more information about our Anti-Bullying Campaign, please click here.
Be part of something great – Open your mind, not your mouth.


  1. Reading this made me feel both angry and sad.. And my teacher husband was not impressed either. I hope you can get them to take action. Thinking of both you and A.

  2. Thanks Lucy! I fell like I have done nothing except shout at people since he returned a week ago. Very, very frustrated with them right now. I asked the Parent Council to circulate the ENABLE campaign and they refused saying that it did not apply to a significant portion of the school body. Today I was forwarded a petition from the Council on behalf another member, the one currently circulating relating to keeping school playing fields. I reminded the Council today that seeing as the Local Authority sold our grounds to build student flats, we don't actually have a playing field but we do have a higher proportion of disabled children than our comparative schools.


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