A few weeks ago, a 5-year-old suspected Aspie student was voted out of his Kindergarten class by his fellow students. Many autistic bloggers have posted their views on this matter and called out for action. The teacher, who led the vote, has been removed from the class while an investigation is pending.
As an Aspie and a former student who’s been bullied quite a lot, I would say that, for someone who is somehow “different”, bullying is often thought of even by teachers to be something the bullied child brought onto himself. If there is no noticeable difference between the children except for one child, say, not liking the same soccer team as the others, no teacher would tell the child that if he’d just join the other team’s fan club, he’d no longer be bullied. Likewise, a teacher would always stick up for a child being bullied because they had red hair. Not so with students being bullied for being different socially or behaviorally, as Aspies usually are.
I was bullied in sixth grade at the school for the blind and then again (sort of, not too badly) in sventh and eighth grade in public school. In sixth grade, my teacher did discipline my bullies. The reason may be that the things my classmates were saying about me while bullying, had nothing to do with my behavior. They called me “dwarf” for my short stature, for example. My mother told me that if only I wore jeans rather than trainign pants – I hated jeans for sensory reasons -, I would be bullied a lot less, but I was very rarely called names for wearing training pants. The teacher did tell me that I ought to react differently. “Let it roll off your back.” That kind of nonsense that teachers who have no idea what bullying feels like, will always advise their students. But, between this, at least it was made clear to the bullies that bullying was not acceptable.
Not so in high school. The teasing was not noticed in seventh grade, and I was told repeatedly that I ought to be glad that students were still willing (not really, but teachers forced them) to take me from class to class. I was dependent and tried to learn. A very bad thing was that I didn’t get mobility instruction till nearly the end of the school year – okay, I’d had one lesson before the school year started, but you don’t learn to navigate an entire school building in only one lesson. It was not my choice that I didn’t get mobility instruction, and when I had finally gotten the instruction, I made sure not to need any more sighted guides in eighth grade – which meant I got lost on occasion and had subsequent meltdowns, but that was better than having to be dependent on a classmate all the time.
I did not choose to automatically get extra time on tests, either. I was a slow reader (still am) and really did need the extra time on certain tests, to the point where at one time my teacher forced me to take the extra time on a close reading test. I did not choose for the teachers not to send me to the office when I misbehaved. I never asked: “Hey Mr./Mrs. X, I know I misbehaved but I’m such a poor little blind kid, please don’t send me to the office.” It was teacher behavior, and as soon as my tutor found out, he instructed the teachers not to treat me favorably. But before then – and after then, cause teachers still on occasion would give me unjustified special treatment and even if they didn’t, students perceived them to do -, I was picked on for this. Was it my fault? If I said so and relied heavily on wanting to do everything the exact same way that my sighted fellow students did, I was accused of not accepting blindness – by the same adults who communicated to me that I brought the teasing onto myself.
They sure had their reasosn for believing I brought it onto myself. I had (still have, though less so) poor frustration tolerance and my angry comments when some little thing didn’t go my way, annoyed my classmates. I did not have the most empathy in the world – my definition of taking into account another person’s poitn of view consisted of letting classmates make tiny everyday decisions for me. I had bad body odor and didn’t pick up on hygiene rules. And so on and so on. But is this something that will change if you just inform the bullied student that this is the reason they’re bullied? My classmates, two months after being asked (without my presence) to inform my tutor of what they didn’t like about me and my tutor then having communicated it to me, somehow decided I’d improved. I still don’t believe this is quite true (except for perhaps the hygiene, cause I knew that hygiene had something to do with showering and decided to have a daily bath). I didn’t improve just from being told what was wrong with me. Two years later, when my tutor decided that social skills lecturing would be the solution to a very different problem I’d been facing, my teachers and classmates still made largely the same comments about me.
Of course, it is a good thing that I knew what I might work on – if I’d known how to, it would’ve been even better. But social skills classes are not the solution to every emotional problem a student with social cognitive deficits faces. I refuse to participate in anything remotely like social skills training for this reason: I may have a social skills deficit, but there is no need to tell me (I already know) and learning how to chit-chat (which I don’t have a desire for beyond my already quite sophisticated abilities for an Aspie anyway) is not solving most of my problems. And besides, every social situation will be different anyway. I do benefit from Social Stories or something similar, but the lectures my tutor gave in tenth and eleventh grade, have not been particularly beneficial.
Besides, bullying is wrong no matter what. There is no way anyone would choose to be bullied. A child with social cognitive deficits doesn’t have a sticker on their forehead saying: “Please bully me.”
And, of course, the news story is about a Kindergartner, not a middle school student. Kindergartners have even less skill to reflect on their own behavior, even if they were neurotypical – so don’t expect an Aspie 5-year-old to change his behavior when his classmates say that he’s “disgusting” and “annoying”. The child likely won’t learn from it, and it’s no excuse for bullying.