Bullying: Then and Now (A Personal Perspective)
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2012-2013 issue of Autism Advocate, a publication of the Autism Society.
By Amy Goodman, Co-Director of Autism NOW
Benny Hill — you might say what does that have to do with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and bullying? Let me explain. First you need to know who Benny Hill was — Alfred Hawthorne Hill, better known by his stage name Benny Hill, was a British actor and comedian. He played silly outrageous characters, one of which talked out loud to himself. Some students thought it was funny to tease you by calling you Benny Hill all the time. They assume because Benny Hill talks out loud to himself that you are just like him— crazy, a lunatic, insane, or mentally deficient. All of which isn’t true at all. This name calling goes on for more than two years.
The bullying has taken its toll… you become an emotionally unstable individual who has no clue who you are, what you believe, or what you want to do in life. Add onto that, that you have trouble making friends and have no idea how to be social. You cry all the time and have melt-downs so bad that no one is able to console you. You are 12 or 13 years old, in middle school with no idea that you have a disability at all. You don’t know why you talk out loud to yourself or why you are unable to control your crying. You are emotionally immature, have no self-confidence, and no self-esteem. As the years go by, in high school in another state, some of the same fears and feelings of not being liked, no self-esteem, knowing something is different but having no idea it is ASD, no self-worth, and being lonely come back to haunt you all over again. This time the teasing is of a different nature. It is more intense, and more of a sexual nature. This time, the issues of adolescence are mixed in. Dating, feelings, emotions, figuring out who you are, and being stuck in a world that no one seems to understand. You are presently there, but emotionally you are a total mess. You have no idea how to handle situations, so you run and hide and try to escape reality. For example, one day someone goes to your locker and draws a very graphic picture of the male reproductive system on it. You come back to find it and are so embarrassed and have no idea what to do about it. You are so afraid of anyone seeing it that you furiously erase it and you feel too scared to tell anyone about it. You know it is sexual harassment, but you can’t prove who did it, and you fear for your safety if you tell, so you choose to be silent, even though you are angry and having raging thoughts and emotions going on inside of you.
Next comes college, where the bullying has become even more sexual in nature. Sexual harassment and stalking are two types of bullying that are more serious than just calling someone names or drawing pictures on their locker. Now the person in question knows what dorm you live in and has your phone number. They call you late at night and don’t identify themselves. They try getting into your dorm to meet you and you know it’s someone from high-school but you are too afraid to talk to them at all. How do bullying, sexual harassment, and stalking affect one as an adult later in life? It will always be with you because it is ingrained in your brain. It will never completely go away even if you have forgiven the individual for what they did to you. You internalize it and it scars you forever. It leaves you feeling like part of your life was taken from you. You may have trouble with maturing at the correct time, and you may be delayed in other emotional aspects. You will always have the fear that someone is watching your every move. You will not be able to live alone for fear of being attacked or that someone is out to get you all the time. You may have irrational fears of strangers and of things that most people find comforting and soothing. It may bring back memories of despair, depression, and possibly thoughts of suicide. It leaves you with unanswered questions such as “Why me?”, “What did I do to deserve this?”, or “What’s wrong with me?” It may leave you with anger, rage, or a very negative outlook on life. You may feel like you are not loved, and that you are living on the edge. You may be at the point of no return. You may feel like you are not capable of surviving in such a big world, where there is nowhere to hide, nowhere to go, and nowhere to get rid of all the negative feelings you have bottled up inside of you. You may also feel like there is no one who understands what you are going through, and so you bottle all your feelings up inside and then you are ready to explode.
Why do you think so many teens with disabilities commit suicide? So they can get rid of the pain and suffering, so they can make it all stop (as the song by Patsy Cline says, stop the world and let me get off please). That is not the answer. The answer lies in what the survivors choose to do with their lives. They either become a bully and treat others the way they were treated or they choose to help others because they do not want them to go through what they went through to see the bright side of life. I’m a survivor and I chose to help others to recognize bullying before it goes too far and turns into something you can’t control any more. I just wish that there was a way to prevent it before it happens in the first place. I wish all young adults would have compassion and mercy and love everyone for who they are and for what they can do to make this a better place to live for everyone. Now is the time to take action and stop bullying! You’ve heard of a drug free school, well I think there should also be the concept of a bully free school, so students can get the education they deserve in an environment conducive to learning. Students need to have positive experiences so they can grow and mature and be the best that they can be. It only makes it harder if you have a disability. I believe that schools should treat everyone equally and we should have a disability free environment too. It’s not about what you can’t do; it’s about what you can do. So, what if you are differently-abled? You still need to be provided opportunities to demonstrate your abilities by being who you are, not what somebody else thinks you should be.
Be proud of who you are and make the most of all the opportunities you are given. Do the right thing and whatever you do, do not give up on yourself. Just remember this, you are a person first and you have every right to be happy and to live life to the fullest. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Do it your way in your own time on your terms. Remember you can be anything you want to be, you may just have to do it a little differently in order to fulfill your dreams. Dream big and let the sky be the limit. Make the disability world proud by being creative and finding a way to succeed in this big scary world.