Editor’s Note: Heather is non-autistic but a fierce advocate and fellow neurodivergent person.
Sophie and Her Bully
Before I begin, this blog may be very triggering for autistics who have been bullied at school. This is, however, an essential share for many parents of autistic children about respecting their child’s privacy, so please share.
The Christmas holidays went far too fast. Usually I find the change unsettling and enjoy the routine of school, but this year is different. I am worried sick. I have been repeatedly bullied by one girl for the last year.
I don’t know why she targets me– I have never done anything wrong to her– she just does. After several complaints to the school, I was finally believed.
My bully was pulled up before the holidays. I have no idea what had been said but was reassured it would stop. This will be my first day back after the holidays.
Maths is first, and I can cope with that, but my bully is in my English class. My stomach is churning even more than usual, but I must go to school. Exams are soon, and my dream is to be a market researcher. I excel at maths.
Maths class went OK, and now I am heading to English. My friend is still on holiday, so I have to sit by myself. I walk in, looking straight at my seat.
Once seated, I glance over to see the girl who bullied me. She is staring at me. A sharp pain hits my eyes, as it usually does with eye contact, and I have to look away. Where is the teacher? I think. Why is she not in yet?
My bully opens the blinds in the classroom, which half blinds me, the sun piercing in, hurting my eyes. She knows what she is doing. My whole body is frozen.
My bully approaches the front of the class. “The Reality of Autism,” she announces with a printout in her hands, “written by Catherine McDonald.” I am in shock. I stick my head firmly on my desk, not looking at anyone. What on Earth has she seen? What the hell has my mother written?
“‘Autism has caused my divorce.'” The first paragraph– what? I thought my dad said their divorce had nothing to do with that. My dad lied. “‘Sophie still isn’t toilet trained, and she is five.’″
This creates a huge uproar of cackling from all the kids in the class. It is deafening, the sound of laughter piercing my eardrums. “‘Her meltdown was so bad today. Why can’t we just have a normal shopping trip? No wonder I drink wine.’ Ha, your mom’s got that drinking problem due to you,” she laughs.
My bully then puts the article down and marches to my desk. “You used to smear shit, didn’t you, all over your room? So you still do that?”
Another child shouts, “What a retard.”
“Your poor mum went through all this crap due to you,” my bully shouts. “You are scum. You should never have been born.” The bully puts the printout on my desk. She had printed the comments, too, people thanking my mum for being brave, being honest, telling it like it is, wondering how she did it all.
There were comments from my aunt and my gran. This is enough. I jump up and run. I push my teacher over, running out of the room. I know exactly where I am going. This is too much.
As I had predicted, the run to the bridge takes eight minutes, twenty-six seconds. I allow myself one hundred twenty seconds to try to solve my predicament. As previously calculated, it takes five-point-twelve seconds for me to jump and for my head to smash on a rock below.
This is my final calculation.
A Child’s Needs
As you will have guessed, this is a fictional character, but unfortunately may well be a real one.
The one place children should feel safe in their own skin is at home.
There seems to be a type of parent who simply fails to see into the future. Fails to understand that their child will grow up, with their own autonomy, that their own privacy needs to be respected.
That the little child who seems so vulnerable and unable to cope with life outside will one day need to. That the child’s life is their own, not an extension of their parent’s life experience.
Critics would say we need awareness. People need to understand the struggles families go through. Parents need to be able to relate to each other.
I get it, I really do. It’s therapeutic to write your issues down. It’s rewarding to get positive feedback. It’s reassuring to read something that is similar to your own life. I honestly understand. That is why private and closed groups on social media are good. You can share, you can learn, and you can get great ideas.
At the moment, though, the internet is still in its infancy. We have no idea where all the articles will go and who will see them. Personal blogs can be deleted, but how do we know people haven’t copied them? Clickbait articles can bring in a good income.
“But I get my child’s permission before I share what I have written.” This is something I read as if it’s justified. Asking your nine-year-old’s permission is not the same as asking a consenting adult.
They have no idea how many people may read what you write about them. They have no understanding of the impact it will have on their future. It is simply not right for them to have that kind of responsibility as a child.
So how can we get our stories out without being one hundred percent honest about who we are? Its not that hard. Use a different name. Call your kid “Squiggle.” Use free stock photos. Just respect their privacy.
Perhaps bigger companies won’t accept this, but what is more important– the need to tell your story or your child’s privacy?
Mental Health and Self-Care
One more thing I would like to say, though, is please keep an eye on your mental health. Yes, writing down things may seem therapeutic, but publishing your articles in magazines, press, etc., is not a long-term solution. Many publishers would be only too happy to accept your articles.
Often, the more negative and depressing the article, the more likely it is to go viral. People love a tragic story. Just remember these articles stay online forever. Think of your own future, too, and the way what you write can be interpreted about you.
The articles that you publish about your family’s life can influence your child’s future. This can be a weapon for bullies, put off a future love interest, dismiss a college application, or ruin a job opportunity.
These people won’t have the knowledge you do about your child, but will have the ability to do a Google search. Don’t ruin your child’s life by prioritising the need to vent about your own.
Let’s look at Sophie’s life again from the fictional vignette at the beginning of this article. If Catherine, her mum, had changed her name, protected her daughter’s name, spoken only in private groups, and maybe sought counseling, perhaps things would be different.
As a bonus, if Catherine had connected with autistic adults, she might have gotten more of an insight into her daughter’s meltdowns, had more patience toward toileting issues and understood her scatolia issue, and learned that her daughter will one day, perhaps, be an independent young woman with her own thoughts and feelings.
Don’t be like Catherine. Respect your kid’s privacy, and don’t give future bullies ammunition.