Linnette Cruz 9-III
We hear about autism, we talk about it, and see it around us, but never actually know what it is and the effect that it has on people. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to the behavioral and development issues affecting a person’s social and communication skills. There are many things that people do not understand about autism until it has touched their lives in some way, shape, or form. This causes many misconceptions that lead to judgment towards people on the spectrum, as well as their parents. In extreme cases, it can also lead to emotional abuse and bullying. Today, bullying is an epidemic causing a great concern for parents and caregivers for autistic children.
Bullying and Autism
It is not uncommon to hear stories about kids with or without disabilities, or conditions, being bullied for being different. As a matter of fact, children on the autism spectrum are bullied more frequently than kids with other disabilities. According to the Network of Autism Training and Technical Assistance Programs (NATTAP), 63% of student bullying is directed towards autistic kids. To make matters worse, for children on the autism spectrum, this form of harassment can sometimes be hard to identify and comprehend. Those with autism have difficulty recognizing bullying patterns, as well as social cues. For example, children and adults with ASD have impaired language skills and difficulty reading. As a standard consequence of their condition, they become liable to bullying because they may not realize that it isn’t normal to not read fluently, and may interpret bullying as just fun and games.
However, not all are oblivious. A study led by Paul Sterzing of Washington University in St. Louis shows that about 46% of autistic children in middle and high school told their parents they were victimized at school within the previous year, compared with just over 10% of children in the general population (Maia Szalavitz, 2012).
Autism from a Mother’s Perspective
Now those are just the facts and statistics, It is also important to view this topic from a mother’s perspective. To understand what it is like to parent an autistic child, I sat down with Bielka Cruz to understand the hardships and intricate details of this endeavor. Bielka Cruz is the mother of Billy, a thirteen-year-old boy who was diagnosed with ASD when he was merely 18 months old.
It’s not a walk in the park. Parents of autistic children must meet their child’s every need, in addition to other family matters. If the parent feels stressed or unable to cope, their child’s own mental health can be at risk as well. To start off, I asked Ms. Cruz how she felt when the doctors told her that Billy had autism. The first-time mother, although overwhelmed by the news, was not surprised. Once she noticed that he had developed a speech impediment, she was aware of the possibilities. She mourned the original fantasies of what she thought her child would grow up to be: a disorder-free kid. Nevertheless, she still keeps fighting and advocating for him and other children with autism. She says she wholeheartedly “accepts the diagnosis” but still has those days where she feels anxious and troubled for her child’s future.
So, the question is: what are the behaviors and difficulties that differentiate a person with ASD from his or her non-autistic peers? Some children on the spectrum can be overly sensitive to environmental stimuli; like noise, light, clothing or temperature. Billy, for example, doesn’t tolerate many fabrics, tags, and prefers for his shoelaces to be double knotted and tucked in. Additionally, noises such as an ambulance or police siren bother Billy a great deal. His mother told me that at times he can be sleeping and if he hears such noises he would get up and scream, “I hear ambulance siren!”
People with autism may have rigid thinking, restricted interests, and impaired speech and behavior, but these traits are exactly what makes them unique and, in a way, creative. Autistic people tend to excel in many tasks that require processing large amounts of information, picking out details from objects or scenes, as well as detecting changes in an environment. This makes them great in areas such as mathematics, technology, and pretty much anywhere where systemic methods are required. These kids see things from a completely different perspective than non-autistic people.
Autism and Bullying from a Mother’s Perspective
I took the liberty to ask Bielka what she thinks makes autistic children an easy target for bullies. In response, she said, “Children aren’t very well informed on sensitive topics, such as the different levels and diversity on the autism spectrum. Many kids see people on the spectrum as ‘weird’ and ‘odd’, not like your typical kid, teenager, or adult.” She continued by saying, “They are different and don’t fit the norm of society’s expectations. Hence, they are ridiculed, called the ‘R’ word (retarded), and are not accepted by many.”
Autism affects children everywhere, and people don’t usually understand the weight that these parents and their children carry over their shoulders. It’s a demanding journey, but like the old phrase says “difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations”. Despite their differences, we should learn to accept and respect people on the autism spectrum. These autistic kids rarely judge others, so there is no reason for them to be susceptible to bullying themselves. Nevertheless, it is admirable how these parents love and raise their children with such passion and determination. They’re warriors, and we must all learn from them.