Zoom Autism Magazine Issue 3 Spring 2015 - Page 47

Note from Editor: On the road to acceptance, our loved ones on the spectrum will most likely encounter some folks who are anything BUT accepting. The sad statistics show that children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers, but in an effort to help our children, we may be unintentionally causing the child who has been bullied more harm. In this very honest piece below, M. Kelter shares with us his personal story and shows us how our reactions as parents can make an already bad situation even worse. When I was in 5th grade, the bully thing became a problem. There had been minor amounts of it in previous years, but as the social world around me become more complex, I ran into a larger number of negative peer interactions. This, in turn, sparked an increase in the amount of bullying. The awkwardness wasn’t to blame, but it did put me on the radar of those looking for vulnerable classmates to target. After one particularly unpleasant incident (a “fight” in which I was at the receiving end), a teacher finally recommended that I visit the school counselor. She mentioned that there had been a string of these situations and that perhaps I should speak with someone about the issue. I went and, once a week for several months, spoke with the school counselor about bullies, my lack of friends, self-esteem and so on. Overall, I was confused by this turn of events. Sending me to a counselor after a bullying incident left me with the impression that it was my fault, like the bullying was due to problems with me and not the aggressors. The other kids were punished, but that in no way diminished the confusion I felt. They received an obligatory, textbook penalty; I was sent to a counselor. I couldn’t help but feel that I was the one with a problem. 6th grade brought another unpleasant bullying incident, and this one required being picked up early by my parents for a trip to the doctor. On the way there, my dad asked for details about the fight. When I finished describing it, he sighed and said, “That’s it. We’re signing you up for karate.” He followed through on it. A few weeks later, I found myself in a local martial arts studio, wearing a stiff, blindingly white uniform. A dozen or so other kids were roaming around, all uniformed up and ready for action. Let’s teach M. to defend himself. I suppose, in a way, this makes sense. I can see the crude logic at work there. But as I looked around the martial arts studio, my only thought was, “Great, now I’m surrounded by kids who have permission to hit me.” *For the record, I’m not suggesting that martial arts training is a bad thing for kids who face these difficulties. It can certainly boost confidence and incite a variety of health and recreational benefits. The issue here is one of timing. There is a time and place to discuss confidence-building activities. Immediately following a bullying encounter may not be it. Again, the response to a bullying incident left me with the sense that it was my fault, that I should have done something differently. The karate thing in particular felt pretty humiliating. Where I’m from, boys are pressured to express overtly masculine traits at a young age. My awkwardness and introversion never went over very well in my hometown. Finding myself in a karate class, all because I’d been attacked at school, just felt like I had failed some invisible test and let the adults down. This was all happening in the 1980’s. My hope is that it’s a little better today and that schoo ls and parents are responding in more constructive ways to these issues. At that time, the well-meaning but misguided attempts to “help” me took a heavy toll on my self-esteem. After 6th grade, any modicum of confidence I possessed evaporated. I became increasingly withdrawn and less interested in going to the adults for help. Parents and teachers, they seemed to mean well – nice people and all – but I no longer trusted them. I didn’t feel like seeking their advice if the only result was feelings of guilt and failure. The reactions from adults became just one part of the confusing social world that I no longer felt any connection to. Zoom Autism Through Many Lenses 47