Comments are always my favorite part of each post. The discussions taking place in each comment section have added so much to these topics; thanks for all of the great insights and observations you guys have been offering.. For an example of this, you can check out this post about autism spectrum disorder and depression.
Today I wanted to take some questions from the bullying intervention post and offer my responses here. This Q and A is edited for length; visit the original post for the full discussion. And thanks again for the comments, please feel free to leave additonal questions or thoughts below.
Question from Megan: I’ve worked with clients who have talked about being bullied when they were younger and the counter-productive ways the situation was handled by adults, particularly in middle and high school…The memories and emotions from bullying are lasting. How do you wish the adults in your life would have responded when you were bullied? What are ways you think adults can respond to bullying that are helpful and keep the dignity of the bullied person intact? It is really important to get this right.
A: I think it was pretty clear to those around me that I was struggling socially…but there was no diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder at that time and, where I’m from, difference is considered to be a bad thing. So people just ignored it, looked the other way. However, when a bullying incident would happen, there was basically no longer a way to ignore the problem and THAT is when people chose to respond. So they saved up all of their “solutions” for the period immediately following a bullying incident…and this was the worst possible time to do that, because it left me with the impression that it was my fault for being bullied.
So, one thing I wish they had done: been more careful with their timing. If they wanted to help, they should have done so in a more constructive, cautious way…and not just wait for the time when I was most vulnerable to suggest, “Yeah, let’s fix this kid here.”
I don’t know that the adults in my life at that time would have been capable of understanding this. The solutions they tried back then, to put it mildly, sucked. What I really needed was to understand why my interactions with kids were so difficult. I needed to better understand my own strengths. I needed to better understand why other kids reacted the way they did. Basically I just needed information, so that I could process my reality, not feel so disconnected and confused.
It goes back to the point in this post: after a bullying event, I don’t think it helped to talk about me. I think they should have explained why bullying happens in a general way…discussed that kids can be mean for this or that reason; but focusing on my social difficulties was the wrong way to go because, again, it created the impression that it was my fault. That’s just not the time for it. So, the short answer to the question of how adults should respond: timing, timing, timing. And information.
Question from Amanda: I am taking a class on ASD and while searching for topics about ethics in autism education I was routed to your blog…One of my assignments requires me to discuss ethical issues in education for children with ASD. From your perspective were there situations during your elementary or high school years where you felt a teacher or any school professional acted unethically toward you or in a way that today would be considered in violation of the IDEA Act?
A: I would say that the reaction by school workers to my sensory issues would probably, today, be in violation of IDEA (a federal law that oversees services and interventions for children with disabilities). I have a painful aversion to lights, yet was often put into situations where I had no eye protection and was not given the option of skipping out. My guess is that this is generally an area where schools (and communities) need a lot more education: sensory issues can be invisible to others, easy to ignore…yet they can create a huge amount of pain and discomfort for those with sensitivities. And obviously this pain can lead to behavioral problems…problems that people perceive as “bad behavior”, when in fact it’s a reaction to the sensory overload.
When I was a kid, people were expected to just “deal with it” or “toughen up”, etc. I think it’s better now in a lot of ways, yet many people are probably not identifying sensory issues and providing the necessary supports. IDEA…I’m not well educated about this act, but my understanding is that it specifies that sensory issues have to be taken into account when interacting with students. I’m guessing this section is violated pretty regularly. If I’m incorrect in this reading of IDEA, please let me know.
Follow up question by Amanda: Through my readings I understand that individuals on the spectrum can have a range of sensory issues that can be quite disabling, even causing great pain in some circumstances. I also appreciate that you say that these issues can be “invisible”. I hadn’t thought of this before but you are so right because only the individual experiences the discomfort and those around have no way of feeling what you may be feeling. I am curious as to whether or not you were ever able to discuss your sensory issues with your teachers. I know that sometimes as children there are environmental stimuli that can cause us great discomfort and cause us to react in certain ways. But as children we may not be adept at putting into words exactly what it is that is causing us to react, act out, scream, cry, etc. As you got older, did you ever directly express the discomfort light caused you and ask for an accommodation?
A: You make a great point: many children cannot put words to their internal experiences. As for myself, I never articulated to others what I was feeling. In part because I did not have the vocabulary or understanding of why I was having these reactions. I did at times try to explain that a setting was too bright, but I just didn’t have the ability to put words around my subjective impressions. I also kept a lot to myself out of a fear of feeling judged. Other kids didn’t seem to have the same sensory problems. When I mentioned any discomfort, the reaction was usually not helpful…so I just felt pressured to conceal a lot of what was happening.
However, I want to emphasize: when a child is experiencing so much sensory discomfort that their reaction is to scream or lash out: they ARE communicating. They are saying, “This hurts, this is painful”…they are just using behaviors to communicate instead of words. Which goes back to the point that school workers and communities need way more education about sensory issues. They need to be able to correctly identify the communication that is being expressed. Too often, kids are being judged and punished for behaviors that are actually an expression of sensory overload. It’s not their fault and adults overseeing their care, both in homes and schools, are the ones responsible for protecting those little hearts.
Question: We are hurting because our Aspie child was just expelled from a Christian school in our area. The rejection stings…We are feeling rejected and alone, gun shy. In your opinion do any of the social skills groups led by psychologists actually help?
A: When it comes to psychologists and social groups: my opinion is that they have the potential to help. However, the one thing I would emphasize: no one therapy or approach will work for all people. I believe very strongly that, for any approach to be effective, there has to be a psychologist (or mental health professional) who is willing to get to know the individuals they are helping. They have to understand that persons particular mind and personality. So, a social group could work on the condition that it’s led by someone who is willing to connect with the people they are helping. I think it’s always worth trying things like this…monitoring the situation…and leaving if it’s not going the right way. But if you can find the right person, it can be an enormous help.
Click here for a previous Q and A about body language, and here for one about receiving an Aspergers diagnosis. And check out my initial foray into social media with the Invisible Strings Twitter and Facebook experiment.