I was going to just blog about bullying, but then I realised that I would inevitably touch on a couple of other areas so this is a three part blog post.
While anyone can be on the receiving end of bullying behaviour, studies show that autistic students are 63% more likely to be bullied than their neurotypical peers. So given that I’m currently awaiting an autism assessment it won’t come as a surprise if I tell you that I have been bullied in the past. I was bullied a little when I was at secondary school and (when I actually stop and think about it) even university, but the worst bullying was at primary school.
Luckily my bully wasn’t in my class, unluckily she used to make a point of coming to find me at breaks and lunchtime to tell me how much my continuing existence offended her. I cannot fathom why a girl I knew nothing about beyond her name, and presumably her knowledge of me was also similarly minimal (what can I say, being “popular” has never been a problem I have experienced), would become so obsessed with telling me she hated my guts. Presumably, my autistic traits made her uncomfortable and she couldn’t help but act on it – rather like Impulse but less likely to lead to a romantic relationship.
Eventually we moved to different secondary schools and I never saw her again so she never had a chance to continue bullying me.
The funny thing is my bully was the prettiest girl in school, in fact while thinking about all this I decided to look her up on Facebook (and no, I don’t feel in the slightest bit stalkerish for doing so, the girl spent the entire last of primary fixated on me). She still goes by her maiden name and lives locally to our old school so she was easy to find. She has a daughter now that is a little younger than we were when she bullied me. Her daughter is the spitting image of her, an adorable-looking blonde Shirley Temple lookalike. And in the posts that are visible on Facebook she doesn’t come across as an internet troll, just a normal, everyday person sharing kind messages with her friends.
Anyway, who knows what was happening in her life at that time, maybe she was having an awful time at home and just wanted to lash out at someone convenient. And what with my obvious lonerish tendencies I was an obvious target.
Telling the truth
Of course, while I have no idea what I did to offend my pretty primary school bully, autistic people are really good at making themselves targets accidentally.
My daughter had her initial screening assessment for autism this week (you won’t be surprised to learn that she passed #SoProud). Of course one of the problems that she discussed with the psychologist was making friends. But she mentioned that she hadn’t helped herself. Autistic people love the truth, like *really* love the truth, as in would rather beat themselves about the head than tell a lie. And my daughter would tell the teachers at her primary school all the naughty things her classmates had done. She was behaving in a manner that Tony Attwood likens to Italian drivers. This is not how you make friends with neurotypical people. She now knows that this will get you labelled a snitch and a tattle-tale and then people won’t like you and bully you.
Birds of a feather
I don’t want to make out that my life has been one long bullython. I survived school relatively unscathed by bullying. Even in primary school I was mostly left alone. The other girls wouldn’t invite me to their parties and hangouts, but they didn’t actively pick on me. But I wasn’t friendless. My best friend was a boy called Andrew. I don’t want to diagnose him, but he has always had a brain the size of a planet and even when I first met him, when I had just turned 7 and he was still 6, he was a stereotypical “little professor”. We both have some fairly obvious autistic traits. We were so chummy, our classmates used to joke that we would marry each other (let’s just say I’m not his “type” and leave it there shall we). So we were probably protected from being picked on too much by the other children as we clearly had at least one friend in each other.
My daughter has a large friendship group so for a while when I first realised I was probably autistic I didn’t believe that she could be too. But it turns out her friendship group is very neurodivergent. Her friendship group includes multiple friends who are diagnosed with autism, ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia.
I can find no evidence that anyone has done a study on this but from my personal experience – it looks like many of my friends and acquaintances are not particularly neurotypical – we’re friends because we think in a similar way and have similar (special) interests.