“I’m going down, I’m yelling timber!!”
Declan and Catelyn would take turns, singing the song, standing at the base of my bed. Their arms at their sides, standing as still as a tree.
As soon as the word “timber!” left their lips they would fall forward on my bed, trying to land without using their hands.
So, when Declan went to play in a bounce house recently, why wouldn’t he play the same game!?
Dressed as Spiderman he entered the bounce house, sang the lyrics and then fell forward. He bounced around, bumping into people as if he were in a mosh pit. He was smiling, singing, bouncing – he was having a blast.
No one else was enjoying his game.
The other kids stopped bouncing. They started making comments about his costume. They huddled in small groups. They whispered and pointed. The saw me, and started putting their heads closer together. Declan bounced into their groups, still smiling. Until one girl finally said,
“I wish this kid would just leave.”
About a week earlier, Declan was out in his full Spiderman gear. He ran into another group of boys his same age. Declan ran in circles, smiling, shooting webs while the other boys were standing around watching. One of them spoke up just as I walked in from behind,
“Spiderman is STUPID!”
“Spiderman is AWESOME!” yelled Declan, shooting air webs to the left and the right.
“Spiderman is DUMB!”
The boys noticed me then, huddled for a quick whisper and left.
Declan continued to throw his air webs, and I joined in his superhero playtime as Spidergirl. No beat was missed. Smiles and webs all around.
Autism and BULLYING
Declan is five, and I have seen him picked on by kids three times now. The other time I saw kids pick on him was at playground. Declan saw a group of boys playing “Star Wars” and wanted to join in the fun. One boy noticed Declan was still in a diaper, and the game changed from Star Wars to calling Declan “Diaper Baby!!”
In all three instances one thing really stood out to me:
Declan wasn’t phased at all.
When the kids called him Diaper Baby, he just kept smiling and looked at the sky. At the bounce house he didn’t see annoyed faces, pointed fingers or hear whispers. When he was playing Spiderman, he WAS Spiderman.
I noticed them all.
My research indicates Declan is going to have a very hard road ahead when it comes to bullying. One statistic I read stated there was a 100% chance he would be bullied. Ouch!
Why are children on the autism spectrum at such a high risk of being bullied?
Here is what I found
- They are loners – their mannerisms may look different, they may talk or act different making them a target
- They have poor social skills – they are awkward in social situations
- They are preoccupied with their own interests
My research confirmed another obvious thing I noticed. The kids were aware of “mean talk” and would stop when they saw me. They would whisper mean words around adults. If four and five-year olds did this, can you imagine how hard older kids will make bullying to detect?
Declan doesn’t notice the mean talk, yet. Maybe he never will. Right now, it is a plus. He is happy being Declan. He will always see me reinforcing happiness to make him feel good and comfortable being himself.
Catelyn was bullied last year and did not have the ability to tell me what was happening or how she felt about it. She spent a lot of time alone and I watched her get depressed.
Once we identified the kids were being bullied, the same plan was put in place.
The Buddy Plan
I don’t leave Declan alone in the community for safety reasons. Now, I know that I need to keep an eye out for bully’s.
As he grows, he will need to have a buddy – a loved one, a friend, a teacher, an aide – someone looking out and listening for his behalf.
Catelyn meets with a buddy at school once a week. Her buddy is a teacher who checks in with Cate and talks with Cate about her week. Her buddy is listening, watching and noticing any change of behavior in Catelyn that may indicate something is going on.
Sad to say, bullying will not go away. Children with autism make easy targets for bullies. And because a lot of times kids with autism WANT friends, they will put up with the bully relationship and do things to get their bully to like them.
Finding ways to help protect these kids from bullies, participate in happy healthy social relationships and to keep a positive self-image is important to their growth and development. So I advocate for buddies, not bullies.