When I Was Bullied as an Autistic Teen
Thirty-four years ago, I found myself in the most terrifying environment I could ever imagine: secondary school. Too old for junior school any more and sent to a different senior school than my friends, I was completely alone for the first time in my life. I was having to learn to make new friends, navigate an enormous (to me) set of buildings to get from one lesson to another, and generally settle into my new environment.
Except I was unable to integrate. My peers settled and assimilated with ease, in part because many of them had come from the same schools they’d been at together from the age of 5. I was the shy, quiet outsider nobody knew, and kids notice things. I wasn’t like them somehow, and they could feel my “otherness.”
I know I’m autistic now — I’ve known for years — but nobody really knew about the difference in the brain wiring back then. And so the bullying began — the bullying that haunts me to this day.
It was probably gentle, friendly teasing at first, but my brain didn’t recognize that. I was just a child with no life experience, and I lived in a home that didn’t know laughter, humor or even love. I was “fostered” by my grandmother after my parents divorced. She’d been widowed at a young age, and her second husband was verbally abusive and controlling.
I didn’t recognize friendly banter when I heard it, and would think I was being targeted. It never occurred to me that some of these other kids spoke to me the way they did because they actually liked me. I have had many apologies over the years because they became adults who found out about autism, and realized why I’d always taken them the wrong way in school. But why do they need to apologize for not knowing what I didn’t know myself?
I was tripped, spat on and called all sorts of vile names. Somebody even pushed me down the stairs once. I would frequently self harm, and I began faking period pain, migraine or even just hiding in the toilets to avoid the most evil bully of them all.
Autistic children and adults alike are routinely ostracized, disliked and bullied; some people even fear us. This cannot be allowed to continue. I don’t want any autistic child to be the frightened, bullied teenager I became. Perhaps it’s too late for me, but I would like to think that autistic children in mainstream schools would have a mentor to go to. As for the workplace, I would hope that a boss is understanding. Autism isn’t a bad thing, it’s a different state of being — and the more people we can get that message to, the better.
This story originally appeared on Accidental Space Girl.
Getty image by Dragana991.