The Mighty Logo

Recovering From PTSD After Being Bullied as Someone on the Autism Spectrum

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you want to have a conversation with people who “get it,” join The Mighty’s Chat Space group.

A lot of people say they hate adulting. That they wish they could be a kid, coloring with their crayons in a fort made out of pillows and blankets. I’d take all of that, but without the “be a kid” part.

Elementary school was the only time I really enjoyed. Kids didn’t really know how to be “mean” yet. Sure, they could pick on me, but it wasn’t actually bad until middle school.

• What is PTSD?

By then, I had been diagnosed with ADHD. (Understandably so at the time; I couldn’t focus on anything.) The bullying went from a couple of name-calling incidents to more physical tactics. I had gum in my hair, a “paper wasp” (not the insect kind) hit my eye, chemicals sprayed in my face and more. Still, I pushed through.

After that, things get a little blurry in my mind. It’s weird, because I have this near-photographic memory, and I can remember being in diapers. But ask me what happened in high school, and I have maybe three or four major incidents in my head. Most of them are the “nicer” moments of bullying — if one could ever consider bullying to be “nice.”

The rest of my high school life was so traumatic that I literally can’t remember it. Even when I try to, it’s like a black screen in my mind. But if I visit the actual high school building again, I immediately have flashbacks that are so vivid I panic. And all I know was that every time I had asked for help, the teachers and staff would say I needed to calm down and that I was “fine.” Nobody seemed to listen to me. So I just quit trying to put into words how desperately I needed support.

It was in 10th grade that I was finally diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. I didn’t know what this meant at the time. I was still the same person, so I shrugged it off. But then others began treating me differently. They were more kind, more patient and more understanding. So I figured I’d look into the diagnosis more, and I began to understand myself, too. I decided to try sharing my experiences again. Maybe now people would listen.

And they absolutely did! I had a blog, I started a Twitter account, I shared my experiences with anyone who would listen. I didn’t want another child to go through the same traumatic experiences in school that I had. I eventually turned my blog into a book (“I Have Asperger’s“) and dubbed myself an autism advocate. I ended up transferring to a different high school where I finally graduated.

I have officially been diagnosed with PTSD from my school experiences. Most people don’t understand this. They say “Doesn’t that require you to experience violence?” or “Isn’t that something only veterans deal with?” But my PTSD is caused by “prolonged emotional trauma.” I experienced feeling stressed out and traumatized in school for so many years that I developed PTSD.

Today, I sat at home watching “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” I’ve been a fan of the show for several years (Mariska Hargitay is my hero!) but never fully understood it until now.

I’ve realized I’m no longer a victim. Sure, I’ll always be on the autism spectrum. I will always face challenges. But I’m not a victim of bullies. I’m not a victim of the teachers and staff who didn’t understand (and honestly, it wasn’t their fault).

I’m a survivor.

I’ve survived school. I’ve even survived college. I’ve survived the bullies and the meltdowns and the stressors. I’ve survived being undiagnosed as someone on the autism spectrum.

Life may be challenging sometimes. But I’m going to survive.

Getty image by LSOPhoto.

Originally published: May 11, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home