Ten Things THIS Autistic Kid Learned from Being Bullied
[TW: Bullying, Abuse, Gaslighting,]
Dear readers, I begin by presenting you with ten things I learned as an autistic kid from being bullied, in response an article written by Karen Kabaki-Sisto for Autism Daily Newscast.
1). Pretend to be “normal” — fit in at all fucking costs. Do anything less than that and you become target practice for the bullies — and perhaps the adults. If you become practised at feigning normalcy, you will trick yourself into believing that you are, indeed, “normal”. Only your subconscious mind will know the truth, and it will nag at you every time you deviate from your own construct of what is “normal”.
2). Do NOT trust ANYONE. Adults will not stand up for you (contrary to what Kabaki-Sisto might believe) — in fact, they may tell you the bullying is for your own good and will build character. And if a classmate is nice to you, it’s probably a trick to hurt you or make a fool out of you. Do not be surprised if you hear them mocking you behind you back when they think you’re out of earshot. Continue to believe this as an adult — you’ll protect yourself, never mind it’ll be difficult to form stable relationships as an adult. Your paranoia is right.
3). If you fight back, you will be penalised. Expect to be disciplined by school officials for fighting against your bullies. Visits to the principal’s office, detention, suspension, or expulsion may be in your future if you even dare to stand up for yourself. Expect the same from institutions as an adult — do not trust them to listen to you.
4). Learn well the art of isolation, withdrawal in disgust, and invisibility. It helps to be able to vanish from your peers’ social landscape. (I don’t think that’s quite the idea you had in mind, Ms. Kabaki-Sisto. But it’s one possible side effect of bullying.) If you flip through your old yearbooks as an adult and see barely any photos or mentions of you, you’ll know you’ve succeeded. If you find people who care about you and to whom you matter as a person, consider yourself very fortunate — but still, only trust them so far. Maybe you’ll be able to break out of your tendencies to isolate yourself. Maybe.
5). Talking will get you into trouble. Either the bullies will use your speech against you to taunt you — be it your words, your prosody, your eloquence (or lack of it), your vocabulary — or the adults will critique it endlessly and suggest you change to “fit it”. Ascertain the environment and people around you very thoroughly before you speak. Continue to do this as an adult.
6). You will not cross your 18th birthday without a wicked case of PTSD. Expect to spend either your own money out of pocket or pay towards your insurance deductible to try to undo all of the damage — that was supposedly YOUR fault, by the way. (I await your answer to that, Ms. Kabaki-Sisto.) Speaking of which…
7). It’s YOUR fault you’re being bullied. You’re too “weird”, you don’t “fit in” on purpose, you make people uncomfortable with your style of communication and mannerisms, you don’t fit the norms for the gender you were assigned at birth, you flap your hands, you stim, you speak too eloquently for someone of your ethnicity/race. The adults and bullies will pick any reason at random, or throw several at you. It doesn’t matter. It’s still your fault, and you could have prevented it.
8). Emotional inhibition is a very useful skill. Because the world — and people in it — are very dangerous and untrustworthy, you must be very careful about your reactions — the looks on your face, your words, your body language, even your immediate emotional reactions. Any and all of these will be used against you. So the more unreadable you are, the better. Continue to do this as an adult, no matter how much those who love and care about you try to provide a safe space for you to comfortably express your feelings. (This is another “useful skill” ABA teaches, Ms. Kabaki-Sisto.) CAUTION: you still may fail at emotional inhibition, no matter how hard you try.
9). Avoid touching and being touched. No one will want to touch you unless they aim to hurt you, anyway. Because you’re autistic — or “different”, if you’re not yet identified/diagnosed — others will be taught that it is okay to hurt you, no matter how much it does hurt you or what you say. Better to go years without skin to skin contact (if your sensory situation allows for touching) than to be shoved into a locker, punched, slapped, groped, etc. This is also useful, for if you restrain yourself from striking back or even touching anyone, that’s one less thing you can be accused of — maybe. Continue to believe this as adult, no matter how your situation has changed.
10.) Your words are unreliable. Perhaps you’ve imagined the whole bloody affair. Or even if you’re sure you didn’t, your words will not be believed. Your bully/tormentor will be seen as the victim, or perhaps it will just be dismissed as a case of “boys being boys” if your bully is male, or “a little spat amongst girls” if they’re female. (How is any of this a perk, Ms. Kabaki-Sisto?) You may be criticised for not standing up for yourself and fighting back (never mind you have some idea of the potential consequences if you do). Your side of the story might be dismissed as a silly complaint, or you may be outright accused of lying. But no matter what, your words will not be believed. You’re not a reliable narrator. Eventually, you will do them all a favour and start gaslighting yourself, leaving their hands clean of the affair while you suffer. You will be uncertain as an adult of your own perceptions and words — but sorry kid, this is life. Get used to it.
You might already know about the horrendous article recently by Karen Kabaki-Sisto posted by Autism Daily Newscast if you’re reading this. Yeah — the one titled “10 Perks Kids With Autism Get From Bullying”. (If you haven’t read it, Autistic Academic has a link to a PDF of the article here — I don’t particularly feel like driving up their site traffic.) And while the author tries to portray bullying as an opportunity to help autistic children learn to deal with bullies and defend themselves and to fix institutional problems in schools that either do not effectively deal with or encourage bullying, I can’t really see bullying as an opportunity. I’m sure my list above made that rather clear.
Autistic children who are bullied often receive no help from adults or from the school systems in which it’s happening. Those children eventually become adults. I graduated high school in 1994; I’m nearly 40, and I’m still dealing with emotional trauma of not only being bullied by classmates but receiving no help and support from my family.
I REPEAT: those bullied autistic children eventually become adults.
Right now, autistic children are suffering from the same kinds of trauma that I and other autistic adults suffered when we were children ourselves. Framing bullying as an opportunity does little to help those children, no matter how many good intentions the adults around them have (sorry, Ms. Kabaki-Sisto). We are the children of the revolution (Marc Boland saw us coming), and we have seen adults and school systems fail us when we needed them the most. And judging from all the propaganda from Autism $peaks and its sad and lost apostles* — plenty of whom portray autism as a tragedy and promote ABA to make us autistics all “normal” — asking our younger counterparts to place faith in institutions without a show of trustworthiness on their part is problematic at best, especially when ideologies that seek to cure us and make us “normal” pervade the landscapes of those institutions.
The items on my list above are all negative core beliefs I adopted before I was 18 years old. They are a direct result of my being bullied and also my family of origin either doing NOTHING to help me or siding WITH the bullies. Right after I typed out my own list, I read Neurodivergent K’s list, which she shared on Facebook; in some spots I feel they are hauntingly similar and illustrate the both sides of the classic fight-or-flight response. Also, the Autistic Academic testified in her post (which I’ve linked to below) how childhood bullying scarred and damaged her, writing in counterpoints to the original points of ADN’s article. Finally, I’ve chatted with many more autistic adults who like me still bear the scars of childhood bullying. There are many more of us existing than most people know, and successive generations are suffering in the same ways we did. (Consider that, Ms. Kabaki-Sisto.)
I repeat: we are the children of the revolution.
- “Ten Things Autistic Kids Pick Up Faster, Better, and with Less Trauma If They Aren’t Bullied into Learning Them” (Autistic Academic, October 15, 2015)
- “Ten Perks Kids with Autism Get from Bullying: The Honest Edition.” (Musings of a Wandering Autistic, October 14, 2015)
*Borrowed from R.E.M.’s “Living Well Is the Best Revenge.”