News broke this week about a bullying situation involving 13-year Levi Null from Iowa. Levi is on the autism spectrum, and his struggles with bullying escalated recently when classmates began to post videos of the attacks against him online.
To make matters worse, school officials largely reacted with indifference. Teachers in the videos can be seen looking the other way. When asked about the situation by reporters, the principal indicated that very little could be done. And parents of the bullies place blame for the attacks squarely on Levi, stating that his behaviors rightly make him a target.
It’s a harrowing situation that is unfortunately a reality many people on the spectrum live with. Lack of understanding about the autism spectrum- what it looks like, how it impacts a person- often allows violence against autistics to go unchecked.
To learn more about the situation, I communicated with Levi’s mother, Dawn Simmons, via e-mail.
When did you first learn that Levi is on the autism spectrum?
Levi was diagnosed with Aspergers about 4 years ago. He also has ADHD, ODD, anxiety and depression. His ADHD was diagnosed at age 7.
How did your community react once Levi’s situation became a news story? Are they more supportive? Less supportive?
We live in a small town- about 1500 people- and they are split. Some are very behind us. Some are very much not for us. The community is deeply strong in sticking together and it doesn’t like to look bad, so this situation is hard for all of us.
Did you receive any additional feedback from the school once the media took an interest in the story?
We’ve had no communication with the school.
I wonder if part of the problem is that too few people understand autism/Asperger’s. Do you know if the school staff are educated about autism issues?
The principal did sit with the kids in Levi’s class and speak with them about what Aspergers is and why Levi acts the way he does. I do feel the community needs more information on autism and Aspergers.
I’m very curious: what is Levi like? What are his interests?
Levi wants to be an inventor when he grows up. He kind of collects everything and tries to make things with them. He loves to use his hands; we’ve done models and rockets. He is a huge science buff. He’s ever smart with computers and loves games, all different kinds. We have a Xbox, Wii, Nintendo, PlayStation and Super Nintendo. He’s not a huge game player because we do monitor his time but he enjoys the time he gets. He is shy, doesn’t really talk a lot to people he doesn’t know. However, he loves to talk about his dogs, fishing, things he enjoys.
Thanks to Dawn for taking the time to answer these questions. Jess at Diary of a Mom created a Facebook post where people could leave words of encouragement for Levi. It very quickly received hundreds of comments and thousands of likes. I sent Dawn a link to this post. I’ll conclude with her reaction to these comments:
“Levi and I went through some of them and read them. We are deeply moved by all the wonderful people out there who have said amazing things and who have made the wonderful comments to Levi like they have. Thank you for sharing our story.”