Today’s blogpost is something special. I was asked by family fund to write a piece for National Anti-Bullying Week 2019. It runs from 11th-15th November. Bullying can be a particular problem for autistic children, as they can be “easy targets,” standing out as different from their peers. Furthermore, they may have behavioural quirks, sensory issues, or struggle to understand social cues.
Thankfully, as a family, we haven’t had a lot of experience with bullying; my son is at a good special school which deals with incidents very quickly. However, when he was at primary school he did have some problems. It was a mainstream school and he found it hard to fit in. I’d like to share some snapshots from my previous blog to show how difficult school days could be:
“…things came to a head yesterday. He said that the boy had twisted a paperclip open and had been trying to stab him with it. He also said that the boy had picked his nose and tried to wipe it on my son’s top. When my son goes into the corridor to get his coat, the bully blocks his way.”
“Yesterday, My son said that the bullying had started again. The boy had been taunting my son with a bag of Monster Munch (snacks with a very strong flavour and scent). Kids with autism are hypersensitive to smells, and the smell of Monster Munch makes my son feel sick. When the boy realized this, he kept putting the bag near his face and then eventually threw the bag of snacks in my son’s face. Of course, my son did not think to mention any of this to a staff member.
In the playground, my son plays by himself. He is happy in his own world. During break, a kid kicked a football in my son’s face. He said it was an accident, but the child involved was a child who had been previously bullying him.”
Or course, these incidents also affected me as a mum:
“He was pretty miserable about going in today. I had to fight back the tears when I sent him in…felt like I was sending him to his doom. I’m in tears typing this.”
One of the big problems we had was that my son wouldn’t think to report these incidents or tell me about them. Therefore I’m aware that there were probably many other incidents of bullying that I never knew about.
Having an autistic child in the family caused another type of bullying too. One day I went to the school to watch the children singing in a concert. My oldest son was sitting in the middle row with all of the other children enthusiastically singing around him. However, my son wasn’t singing. He was crying. In the audience, I felt helpless. I didn’t know what was the matter. I didn’t know how to help him. After school, I asked him why he’d been upset and couldn’t sing. He explained that just as the concert had started, the boy behind him laughed and whispered in his ear “Your brother is disabled.”
From the stories that I’ve shared, it’s easy to see how bullying can affect each member of the family. Moreover, my examples aren’t even extreme. Imagine how tough it must be for those who experience physical beatings, cruel cyber bullying and death threats.
The theme of Anti-Bullying week 2019 is “Change Starts With Us.” It emphasises how we can all work together to stop bullying. We have a collective responsibility to do something and to speak out. Change starts with us…
I have the privilege of writing the occasional post for the wonderful Family Fund Blog. Each month, the blogging team are given a simple theme. We are free to develop the theme in any way we wish, creating a unique perspective on life with a special-needs child.
This month, the Family Fund Blog theme is relationships. When you have a child with autism, relationships with others can be tricky. For example, parents of an autistic child may find themselves under a great deal of stress on a daily basis. So much of their focus is on their child, that it can leave little room for their relationship with one another.
Likewise, friendships can be difficult to maintain. It can be hard to find the time to meet up with friends, as our schedules can be pretty hectic. It can also be hard to find friends that “get it,” unless they have autistic children of their own. The strength of a friendship can be measured by the ability of someone to stick with you through the good times and the bad.
At this point I want to mention some of the lovely people who help to keep me sane on a day to day basis. First of all I have to mention my husband. We’ve been married over 20 years and although our life is anything but normal, we find a good sense of humour really helps! The ability to laugh at everyday situations definitely makes challenges easier to cope with. We also find it important to try and make time for ourselves, even if it’s the odd evening out as a couple.
I have an amazing network of “autism mum friends” who I adore. It’s so good to have people that understand you and who have had similar experiences with their own children. One friend recently bought me a beautiful bunch of flowers to cheer me up when I was feeling low. Such a simple gesture had a powerful effect on me emotionally. True friends are like diamonds.
I also have very supportive parents and the best mother in law in the world. They have been so kind offering practical help as well as emotional support. I sometimes think they deserve a medal for putting up with my moans and groans!
Autism parents mustn’t isolate themselves. It’s so important to have supportive relationships. So remember to say a big thank you to all of the people in your life who are closest to you. Remember to let them know how much they mean to you and never be afraid to tell them that you love them.
Many thanks to Family Fund Blog for providing the theme for this post.