The consequences of bullying


Apologies in advance if I ramble off the topic on this one. I’m still preparing and packing and stuff. And I’m rambling a bit personally about things connected to this article:

Attack on Autistic Boy, 11, Videotaped

I have to say I’m glad someone is doing something about it. I know I can’t be alone when I say that nobody did a thing when my fellow students did similar sorts of things to me. Well, actually they did do something. Somehow I was usually the one who got in trouble. Sometimes other kids hit me and then started screaming that I hit them, even if I didn’t touch them. I usually got sent to the principal or my teacher for being bullied. The person who was bullying me got sent there a lot less. Quite often I was told (especially by one particular teacher who had a host of clichés he dragged out for evertything) that “It takes two to tango,” a sentence I couldn’t even parse the words of at the time, let alone the meaning. But he meant that somehow if I got attacked then I was responsible. I was always the “problem” when I got bullied.

And that was because I was different. Being different was the problem, and therefore the reason I got targeted, and therefore okay. And the adults thought my difference was the problem just as much as the children did. Not just in school either, I got bullied in the Girl Scouts and then yelled at by the troop leaders for reasons I never even figured out.

And again I can’t be the only person like this, it seems like that was and in many cases remains the norm. Bullying — the abuse itself — isn’t the problem, the person who is different is the problem.

Which is probably also why I was always the one sent to counseling if I was bullied. (I was in counseling from the age of seven. The counselor decided that I was strange because I fell into a duck pond when I was little and got traumatized. That’s the most inventive cause of autism I’ve ever heard. And here’s a picture of the duck pond, just because it’s there.)

me at the duck pond when little

Anyway, back to the article.

In the meantime, the victim’s aunt said she’s worried he will regress.

“This impacted him greatly. He’s lost a lot of his independence. The trust that he’s had is not there,” she said.

This is the one part of the article that worried me. It’s not ‘regression’ a person should worry about in these circumstances. It’s being traumatized and that kind of thing. It’s not generally called regression when non-autistic children are traumatized by relentless bullying. (Although I think that some of what get called ‘autistic traits’ are sometimes traits caused by relentless bullying. See this post for more details.)

But I also know what that is like. When I was very young, I didn’t perceive the world the same way other people do, but I did not have a terror of people. My terror of people emerged as bullying got worse and worse. The thing I most learned from school was to fear people and to think of myself as stupid and worthless. (High academic ability did not impact on that self-image at all, because it wasn’t about academics. It was about the fact that no matter what I did or how hard I tried I could not prevent these things from happening to me, but others were always acting like it was my fault whenever they did happen to me, so I developed pretty rapidly the idea that I was stupid and worthless because I could not prevent daily assault. School smarts didn’t even make a blip on my personal radar, which was actually noted by the woman who tested me. She said I didn’t seem to feel the need to brag about my intellectual skills. That wasn’t because I was particularly mature, it was just that I didn’t know I had them, and on the occasions where I did compare myself to others, I seemed to come up very lacking. So even if I’d been the bragging sort of person, I was too clueless to actually do it.)

My mom actually used to force me to stay home some days because I was so messed up from the bullying (but of course did not want to stay home if I didn’t have to because that broke both the rules and the routine). I used to come home at night and scream and cry, wondering why people seemed to hate me so much. I really couldn’t figure it out, and being lectured about ‘being different’ didn’t help. All it made it seem like was that being different was the cause of other people treating me like crap. I had not done anything to them, mind you. I was just there, and that seemed to be enough.

So from these sort of incidents, I developed a fear of other people, a pretty extreme suppression of emotion and the possibility of connectedness to other people, a hair-trigger fight-flight response to being approached by other people, a large dose of self-hatred and resulting hatred of everyone who resembled me (and of life in general at times), and an ongoing depression that did not lift for almost two decades. And so did a lot of other people I know, in various forms. This is a totally preventable consequence of bullying and other abuse, and the attitudes that too frequently go along with them. One thing it is not, though, is regression, or anything to do with autism, except that as autistic people we’re targeted more.

I’m glad they’re doing something. But there’s a lot of other people this is happening to daily who don’t get anything done at all.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

63 responses »

  1. I also suffered from frequent bullying in my younger days, both at school and at home. I also heard the dreaded “It takes two to tango,” to which I once responded, “We weren’t dancing! He beat me up!” I got in more trouble for that for having a “smart mouth.”

    It really pissed me off that bullying was both taken so lightly and, even when it was addressed, was so misunderstood (“two to tango” indeed).

  2. I went through atrocious bullying throughout secondary school, I had no friends to confide in, no groups to fit in with, the concept of pretending to like a particular fashion in order to try and fit in, for example, didn’t occur to me. I didn’t know to confide in a teacher and the one time a teacher directly asked what was wrong I couldn’t tell them.

  3. Hello, Amanda.

    Just felt the need to say hello.
    I have been reading your blog for the past few months.
    I just don’t get it. I have been trying to understand WHY people do this – read a lot of psychology & at times I feel as if I am about to get it but I don’t.

  4. For some odd reason, I think humans have always needed to establish a “pecking order” of some sort. A hierarchy. “Different” people always go on the bottom, and that goes for “helping hierarchies” too.

    It’s not your being different that was the cause of your bullying. It’s the selfish, greedy, and short-sighted need of the bullies to establish themselves as the “top dogs” of the school world.

    Bullies, through doing what they do to people who are different, are saying “Thank God I’m not you!”

    TYou, of course, have the right to say the same.

  5. For what it’s worth, the part about “regression” might be the author putting words in the aunt’s mouth. Her actual comment says nothing about regression, and journalists often misstate or incorrectly interpret people’s words in that way, and there’s nothing the interviewee can do about it. It’s still wrong, but at least the person close to the boy isn’t the judgemental, ignorant one (if my surmise is correct).

  6. I so completely agree with you Amanda! I have been saying that if they’re not going to punish the bullies, beyond slapping them on the wrist. They should send them to another school.

    I don’t care if they have had a hard home-life, or that they were abused. You know what, that doesn’t give them a right to ruin someone else’s life. I think bullies if they are reported one, should have a long sitting down to. They are exhibiting sociopathic behaviour.

    That if they are proven to be harmful to other innocent students in the school, they should not be allowed to go to that school anymore. Maybe if we make it hard for bullies to find any public school that will allow their harmful cruel behaviour, they will learn they have to play nice.

  7. The problem is I can see a lot of autistic kids ending up punished in such a situation. After all, we’re the ones who fight back, usually at a time when the teacher notices (as opposed to being more sneaky), and thus get in trouble.

    Also I do know of at least one autistic person who bullied people because they did not know any other way to make friends, and if people were scared of them they’d hang around them, or something odd like that. (That person is not a bully today.) That was not sociopathic behavior, more like socially confused behavior.

    I’ve also noticed an odd thing, which is that some bullies change and realize they are doing something wrong, and others seem to stay the same throughout their lives. (Sometimes with a veneer of respectability over them.)

    I sometimes get the sense that some of the parents who are nastier to autistic people were the same ones who beat us up in school. (I’m not talking about just disagreeing here, I’m talking about the sort of person who called my friend a retard, as an adult.)

  8. Also I do know of at least one autistic person who bullied people because they did not know any other way to make friends, and if people were scared of them they’d hang around them, or something odd like that.

    We did some of that. A lot of it in response to apparently randomly shifting social currents, when for some reason one day would become “let’s all pick on [name] day” rather than “let’s pick on [us] day.” While that atmosphere lasted, we could be “the same” as everyone else if we joined them in picking on this other person, and proof that we didn’t have to be the victim all the time, or something like that. There wasn’t anything excusable about it, there wasn’t anything justifiable about it, we know that now and we were even aware of it then. It’s just incredibly hard for some people, and it was for us, to *not* jump at the chance to not be the target for once, even if that reprieve comes at the cost of establishing yourself over someone else by bullying them. I’m not sure if that would qualify more as confused behavior, or as knowing what the right thing was but still doing the wrong thing.

  9. Hi, I was verbally and physically bullied EVERY DAY by what were supposedly “the good kids” until my mom decided to home-school me in 1994. Although I preferred home-schooling to going to public school and continuing to be bullied, I was very socially isolated up until my senior year, when I found some subversive types (stoners, mostly) to “be friends” with… so long as I gave them money, or whatever.

    I am originally from Meriden, Connecticut, the same town where J. Daniel Scruggs is from. The boy who killed himself at age 12 from suicide due to bullying. I went to the same middle school and I bet you the same teachers and administrators were there, not doing a thing, or even joining in the bullying. I had teachers saying I was a “fat slob”, “poor white trash”, etc, and my English teacher in 6th grade even parodied my bodily movements (the clumsiness, and stimming) before the class.

    I try to go out of my way to be mindful that what happened to me was pretty sucktastic, so I watch what I say and do towards others. (And they say autistics don’t have empathy, ha.) Even at times where I’ve had to establish personal boundaries with unstable people, I have tried to go about it in a humane manner.

    EVERYBODY NEEDS TO BE NICER TO EACH OTHER. And unfortunately, it’s the “good kids” who do the bullying, who were 6 on 1 in the locker room in 7th grade, and “no tolerance” policies don’t exactly work because then the one who’s being bullied, who might push away a kid in defense, gets in trouble too.

    There really is no easy solution to this, but if a kid is being bullied, they need to be taken seriously, because it happens, and can result in suicide, if not murder. When people feel they have no way out, that they’re trapped, they get desperate. And no that doesn’t mean every bullied autistic is a potential serial killer, because most of us are too intimidated into doing anything like that, and wouldn’t see the logic in it in the first place. But suicide happens a lot more among bullied kids than people realize.

  10. I experienced a lot of bullying in the one school that I went to in my jr high years. All the teachers knew that it was happening yet I was the one who was supposed to stop them.
    What I concluded after many years of trying to figure out what was going on was this:
    Schools and other places responsible for socializing children and youth dont want to deal with those who are different. Like the above poster who mentioned that adults who are nasty to their autistic children were likely bullies in their youth. Schools want to make sure that everyone stays in line so they “assign” the bullies to do the dirty work. The bully gets the pat on the back of ” good job boy you really showed everyone what happens if you dont conform”
    I remember asking someone years later who had gone to the same school ” Why didnt you do anything?” Her response was ” We saw what they were doing to you and didnt want the same thing to happen to us”. Want to bet that those same kids who are now adults won’t speak up when they see abuse happening ??? I went back to that same school for an anniversary and the same stuff is happening.Several students were chosen to say how great the school was and one boy said to the effect of “making the younger kids do what he wanted or something that effect. ” And they LAUGHED ! Unfortunately his family left before it was completely over or I would have given them a tongue lashing they would never forget . But that told me real clearly that society doesnt want anyone who questions the cultural rules or who can’t follow them. The main idea is for everyone to fit the mold and if you can’t tough .

  11. …also, for what it’s worth, the being told that bullying resulted from a problem on our end and wasn’t the other person’s responsibility continued into college for us. We worked on the school newspaper staff at our first college, and one of the student editors got this perverse kick out of provoking us until we broke down and cried. It got to be so that we were breaking down crying, screaming at him, and/or running out of the office almost every single staff meeting. The faculty supervisor watched all this go on, and apparently didn’t have a problem with it, up until we started having obvious and visible reactions to the bullying, at which point it became a problem of our “emotional instability.” At one point after he’d been taunting us and messing with our head for a while, we finally snapped and grabbed a stack of papers off the nearest desk and threw it at him. We got dragged out for a lecture which ended in our being forced to make an appointment with the school counselor to talk about our “emotional issues.” And the student editor who’d been doing all of it to us got off without any kind of reprimand, even for the sexist harassment. Even the official meeting that was scheduled with the department head to talk about it (after someone had looked at our disk, without permission, and found the letter we were *already* writing to the department head to complain about how we had been treated, and sent it to her not with its original intent but as “evidence” of our being a “problem student”) ended up being mostly about our “issues” and involved no real admission of wrongdoing from anyone else.

  12. Kristi I truley empathize with your story. My dad when he went to school, also was bullied by a teacher for being overweight. Unfortunetly back then, it was unheard of a parent to disrespect a teacher by contradicting their teaching pratices. I have said, I expect students to be bullies, but that there are teachers are bullies is unacceptable.

    It is no surprise to me, in an environment where a student can’t complain to a teacher, someone they should be able to trust, that they would plan something like Columbine. You have a student in a place, where they have no place to turn for help. They eventually start thinking in a them vs me format.

    I ended up feeling that way towards the end of high school, and acted like a bully just to keep the other students from leaving me alone.
    There is a way to tell if someone is a sadistic bully, or a bully based on previous student abuse. Most likely someone who is defending themselves by pretending to be a bully, won’t say cruel things to others.

    If someone is harrassed by a person at work they can quit. If someone is harrassed by someone in society you can call the police on them. In public schools the law does not apply. When teachers don’t uphold the rules, they invite Anarchy. As well as bullied students who feel the only way to be safe, is to harm those who have hurt them.

    If you haven’t seen the video for Jeremy by Pearl Jam, look it up on YouTube. It’s about this subject. In the censored version of the video at the end, they show Jeremy throwing a bomb towards his teacher. However, in the uncensored version Jeremy kill himself in front of the classroom, and they show all the students in the class who made fun of him with his blood on them.

    There is no reason or excuse, that makes it ok to be legally required to send your child to a place where they will most likely be abused. We have to say, it’s a school, not a dictatorship. If a student doesn’t conform, certainly having the children who do conform bully them, will not want to make them be like those who they have been abused by. It’s not reasonable to say it’s as simple as dressing like the other students, if for example the students are thin females and you are talking to a plus-size female. You are asking them to be thin as well as dress like other people. A school is not in the position to assume things about one’s health, although clearly the Obesity Crises people would like to see that happen.

    School has never been less about learning than it is now. If it was conformity wouldn’t be an issue. You cannot learn, if you are being bullied. Therfore the service the schools should be providing, are not being provided. I hope people think about that, next time a teacher whines about not being paid enough, for all the hard work they do.

  13. Ann: That’s a very good point, about a silent social contract between the school officials and the bullies. It explains a lot of how the various schools dealt with us being bullied. I also, sadly, suspect that the same contract can be found in any other institution.

  14. Hi, Amanda,

    I am so sorry about the abuse you suffered in school, just for being different. It breaks my heart to know how the victims of bullying suffer. I cannot understand why what is considered physical assault in the adult word is simply a discipline problem in school. What do they think bullies will do when they become adults?

    While I understand that not all people agree with homeschooling, I have homeschooled my children since 1995. I was afraid of my daughter with autism getting bullied for being different, too. I can say that my daughter with autism, now 18yo, is able to handle small group and large groups and she is not afraid of people. She is still the kind, gentle person she has always been.

  15. Until a few years ago when I read news reports of girls being bullied by other girls in Britain, I did not occur to me that gitls can be bullies, let alone middle-class girls.

    There was, maybe there still is, an attitude that being bullied is somehow good for boys. Toughens them up. Makes a man out of them.

    It is inexcusable and stupid to use the expression “It takes two to tango” in relation to bullying.

    Bullies at the top of a school pecking order attract a gang of followers, who would not be bullies by themselves but join in the bullying to make themselves accepted in the gang.

    I wasn’t bullied in the co-educational schools I attended up to age nine, but I was in single-sex secondary schools, by one boy in particular. But I didn’t tell anyone. It would have been against the unspoken code of honour. The teachers were also bullies. Besides ‘official’ corporal punishment, I remember one teacher who once hit a boy several times over the head during a Latin lesson.

    Regarding faliing in ponds, when I was a child, I fell into the pond in the back garden of friends of my parents. I remember I was underwater and it felt like I was falling asleep, until I was pulled out. It didn’t traumatise me.

  16. Tammy: I would want to unschool (like homeschooling only not in any official school-like format, sort of) my kids if I do ever have any.

    Philip: Yep, girls can definitely be bullies. They sometimes go about it a little different than boys, but not always.

    And as for teachers… yeah. My friend James told me he’d never seen bullying like what he saw directed at me (and he got some directed at him because of his association with me) in part because some of it was either condoned by teachers or even joined in on by teachers. (And the stuff he saw was a lot milder than the stuff I got in grade school.)

    When I was in school, they were always trying to be “fair” and “see both sides,” which always seemed to amount to seeing me as as much at fault as the bully. What got really interesting was when the bully was not allowed within a certain distance of me, but I’d get in trouble too if we were seen near each other, so said bully somehow figured out wherever I wanted to go and stood there.

    I don’t actually remember whether falling in was traumatizing or not. I know it was blamed for my later terror of putting my head underwater, but I think that was probably a sensory thing. I remember falling in (and the texture of the wall of the pond, since it was an artificial pond), I just don’t remember my feelings at the time (at the age that happened at, my guess is that my feelings were usually the same sort of feeling I had most of the time, which would not have generated large amounts of fear at an incident like that).

    What did traumatize me was when I was older and rode my bicycle straight into a small wooden fence in front of a waterfall near the same pond (stopping with my head). I wouldn’t go near that spot for years and am still uneasy on bridges and near waterfalls and bodies of water in general. By the age that that happened at, I was aware enough in a certain way (and connected enough to my body) to link things up and be traumatized in a way I don’t think could happen prior to that age.

  17. Excellent post. I was bullied for at least 10 of my compulsory 13 years in school, all in one hideous school system which sounds very much like the one Kristi describes. (Before I moved into that system, things were fine other than overload problems; the bullying also completely stopped when I changed schools the last two years to avoid killing myself.) This system definitely relied heavily on other kids enforcing social norms for the administration. It was brutal. I didn’t even know what games they were playing, or to what expectations I was actually supposed to be conforming–nor did I have any clue as to how “obviously” inferior I was. I was just playing by an almost completely different set of rules, and that could not be tolerated. In retrospect, it was very much like a leopard surrounded daily by a shifting pack of mangy, half-starved coyotes.

    My cousin’s kid, also apparently on the Spectrum, is going through the same school system now. He is 8, as I recall, and has already been deemed “retarded”, “Oops, his IQ really tests out 190+”, “disruptive”, “ADHD”, “bipolar”, “emotionally disturbed”, “white trash” (we’re actually Native), and countless other labels by said school system. At their instigation, he has already been on multiple medications, including neuroleptics. It hardly need be said that he’s just a bright and active autistic kid in a rotten situation. His father was in the same boat, 20+ years ago. I was lucky enough to have parents who still don’t think there’s anything “wrong” with me. The kid’s grandmother, who is raising him because her own medicalized son is not coping well to the point that he’s homeless now, actually stopped speaking to my mother after she suggested that pathologizing the boy might not be good for anybody concerned–much less for the child himself.

    Now I’m in my early 30s, and these experiences are still affecting me. A number of people don’t think they should be, that I’m “over-reacting” and “brooding”, and just not trying hard enough to get over it; these probably constitute a very vocal minority, to be fair. Were I sitting around every day and replaying every injustice in my mind–which I am certainly not doing–it still wouldn’t warrant that kind of reaction.

    I am strongly suspecting that this attitude goes hand-in-hand with the other victim blaming, with similar motivations. Denial that anything that bad is being allowed to happen, and often encouraged, to children on a daily basis is near the top of the list. “It should have toughened you up” is another. I have to question my own mother’s ToM, the way she still tries to convince herself that our experiences must have been equivalent (I think not), and she survived, so she could bear no blame for sending me into an environment she knew was abusive. I have made it abundantly clear that I don’t blame her, but she apparently feels guilt and snaps at me to avoid looking it in the face. It was quite a revelation that people will do that.

    Very few people even want to hear about one’s concerns over what is happening now, to other human beings. I have been accused of seeing abuse everywhere, based on my own history. Otherwise they’d have to admit that something very bad indeed is happening. From what I’ve seen, it’s the same with other forms of institutional abuse.

    Sorry to have rambled, but I do think it’s extremely important to talk about these things. I am still fighting a tendency to assume that what I have to say will only waste other people’s time. Sometimes I think I am well on the road to finding some peace about the bullying, but then I realize how much running across something like this post affects me. I doubt I’m the only one. Maybe, someday, reminders that we really were not to blame for the abuse will not bring on a stomach full of butterflies and a pounding heart anymore.

  18. A lot of the time, the teachers are part of the problem. It’s not just that they look the other way, it’s that, as a few other people have said, they either condone the abuse or are bullies themselves. We’ve seen that even in some schools where corporal punishment is ostensibly forbidden, a lot of teachers will try to push the envelope and see just how much they can get away with. I had a teacher at one school who used to do things like grab me by the face and dig her nails in, or pull my hair, to force me to “look at her” when she was yelling at me. (Our parents complained and were told that I was “misinterpreting” what had happened.) She also threatened to do a lot of things she never actually did, but I lived in the belief that she could do all of those things to me at any time and that there wouldn’t be a thing anyone could do about it.

    And complaining to the administration doesn’t necessarily help either. There was one school we were at– and this wasn’t even a public school, but a small, supposedly elite private school– where the administration refused to get rid of this one teacher who was known to have physically assaulted students, and chose “unfavorites” from her classes and would relentlessly yell at and mock them, and had numerous complaints filed about her by parents. They claimed at one point that “we can’t fire her because we can’t find a replacement for her.” She stayed there for the whole four years we attended that school.

    …actually, that school had several abusive teachers and staff people they wouldn’t get rid of, not just her. And some of them would also do things like encourage students to bully certain other students, on the grounds that the targets were disruptive and annoying and were just getting what they deserved. Then again, they’d also do things to students sometimes, or encourage students to do things to other students, and then claim that those things were “jokes” and something the victims were “okay with.” (And if they got upset, it was simply because they hadn’t had the sense to realize it was all a joke.) We could never tell the difference between the real abuse and the abuse that was supposedly “not serious” and done with the “permission” of the targets. I now think that this wasn’t actually because of any social deficiency in us, but because for the most part, there really wasn’t as much difference as they claimed.

  19. Same thing happens with abuse by parents. Apparently, when parents do it to an abnormal kid, it’s called “discipline” or “trying to keep the kid in line”. I’ve still got the scars from said “discipline”.

    See, child abuse is only abhorrent when it happens to cute, innocent six year old girls with winning smiles… rather than not-so-cute ten-year-olds with unwashed hair and a refusal to look anybody in the eye!

  20. I wanted to mention that it was also considered good for girls where I was, to be bullied, not just boys. It was considered just a part of growing up and how you handled it was supposed to mean you were learning to interact in the real world or whatever. Toughening up was definitely in there as well. I was ‘too sensitive’, that’s what was written on my report card. Seeing as I always had points detracted in citizenship for reacting to bullies, but some of my bullies got “good citizenship” awards, I’m assuming they did not get things written like that on their report cards.

    What I did notice was that as I got older the bullies got more sophisticated, which made it a lot easier in some ways (easier for me not to notice) and a lot harder in others (easier for me to be tricked because the kids were getting more devious). The single time I remember anything being done about it, I was called into the principal’s office so that a guy could be forced to apologize to me. However, what he’d actually done to me was confidential, so they refused to tell me what had been done, even though I was the target. I actually experienced a great personal relief from bullying (or noticing bullying, or something) at that point, only to find out later from others that the bullying directed at me was atrocious by their standards. I’m assuming from others’ descriptions that things were going on I wasn’t seeing beyond whatever that guy was apologizing to me about.

  21. Oh yes the cuteness thing. Bullies could be counted upon for their cuteness. I was never cute. I mean was physically a cute kid by all accounts, but I was never the kind of cute that gets you out of trouble when you’ve done something wrong, and certainly un-cute enough to have gotten in trouble when I hadn’t done anything at all. I was weird, and weird made me un-cute even though my body was cute.

    I’m now of course even more un-cute because I don’t have being a child on my side, and I’m fat and unfeminine-looking to boot. (My mom grew up fat and thus knows all about being bullied just on those grounds alone. :-/ )

  22. Hi Jackie.

    First of all, points to you for REMEMBERING who Pearl Jam is. That was the music of my teenage years (1990s).

    It was incidentally girls who did most of the physical bullying, and boys who did the verbal bullying. I was not believed the few times I went to the administration of my school, moreover, I was required to see the school psychologist once a week, deemed “disturbed and at risk”, and I was called to her office on the all-call over the PA. I already had crap leftover from spending 2 years in special ed, I didn’t need my “head shrinking” time broadcast to the whole damn school, but it was.

    Coming to terms with being on the autistic spectrum has been rather liberating because it is the first ACCURATE label for what’s been going on with me my whole life. I have found some helpful work-arounds as far as how to be a little more efficient, that work with the quirks of my brain rather than against. I haven’t gotten it all under control, and I probably never will. That’s why I’m always amazed when people say “you seem SO high-functioning”. Really, I’m not. I spent three years in psych facilities, and went through bullying at the hands of staff and other residents.

    I still get crap to this day because I’m still overweight, and I have moved to Southern California where they are very appearance-conscious. I’m lucky to have a partner who’s an Aspie and doesn’t think of my excess weight as “bad” or “ugly”, because my mind is what counts to him. But that took a lot of searching, and a lot of heartbreak along the way.

    Anyway, none of us deserve the bullying we’ve gotten. :(

  23. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. It’s the first I heard about this story.

    I think his mom may have meant retreat not regress, something I understand entirely, or she was misquoted as was observed.

  24. I’ve been fortunate in that my experience with teasing and bullying was never nearly as extensive as some of the histories described here. But I do remember in summer camp when I was aged 7, I perceived the other children as mostly teasing me and otherwise leaving me out of things. I say “perceived” because I realize now, in hindsight, that only some of what I perceived as “teasing” actually was meant to be teasing. Some of the incidents that got me upset had more to do with little girls who didn’t have a solid grasp yet on personal boundaries (for example, girls not realizing yet when it’s not okay to touch other people’s things) than with “teasing” per se. And some of the time they actually were playing tag or other games, but because I couldn’t communicate with them, all I really knew was that they kept running up to me and touching me then running away — I didn’t realize at the time that a tag game had started because I hadn’t heard the sounds involved and no one told me. (I was the only deaf person in the entire summer camp and nobody there knew any sign language, there was no sign language interpreter because the idea of using an interpreter at a summer program was unheard of in the 1970s, and no one thought to try other means of communication with me such as writing which I WOULD have understood if they had. The one time I suggested they write things down they didn’t do anything about it.)

    When I tried to complain to counselors, they got impatient and told me the other kids were just playing. I don’t remember if they actually SAID that I was being too “sensitive” but that was the general implication of their attitude. They didn’t seem to grasp that, without being able to understand the other kids, I often genuinely had no way of recognizing the difference. (Except later, with greater maturity, in hindsight.)

    For me, that was a very traumatic summer — not so much because I thought I was always being teased (which, again, was actually a mixture of real teasing and innocent misunderstandings) but more because there was just no communication. The only time all day that I ever knew what was happening next was when I would look around the cabin and see the other girls changing into their bathing suits. That was how I knew we were about to go swimming. Oh, and once a week, I would be following along the group, and I would realize we were taking the remote path that lead to the horse-riding ring — that’s how I knew that we were on the way to horseback riding. The rest of the time, whatever we were going to be doing five minutes hence was a perpetual mystery. Sometimes, even what we were supposed to be doing NOW was an utter mystery. The counselors told everyone else, but did nothing to make sure I understood any of it and just expected me to keep following the group. And if the group split up in multiple directions or something and I picked the wrong group to follow then they’d get upset with me for not automatically knowing who to follow even though no one had explained anything to me. It didn’t help that I seem to maybe have a mild form of prosopagnosia, ie face-blindness, so I had trouble learning to recognize the other girls in my group. I guess none of this was “bullying” exactly.

    I’ve also been fortunate that none of my teachers that I recall participated in “bullying” behavior. Most would have tried to stop it, at least if they knew about it. The one time I did get a spate of teasing/bullying from other girls in the sixth grade, my parents and school moved to stop it. Not related to me being deaf–apparently they saw me as being “stuck up” about being smart or something. I did sometimes get irresponsible about doing homework and inattentive during classwork, partly because I had undiagnosed ADD at the time and partly pre-adolescent rebellion: they interpreted that as me thinking I was too smart to do the work.

    It always makes me sad and angry to learn about teachers who not only fail to do their job in stopping bullying but actually PARTICIPATE in it. Gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender students (and students who are perceived as GLBT) have apparently reported similar problems with teachers in studies done about bullying toward GLBT students in high school.

  25. Not quite related (unless you count potential, medically unnecessary surgery to be a form of bullying … though it IS a form of abuse): it seems that in the UK they’re having a controversy somewhat similar to the Ashley X case, though in this case the surgery (singular) hasn’t happened yet and wouldn’t be as extensive as the surgeries (plural) done on Ashley X.

    The news story:

    A discussion thread over at the BBC Ouch! blog:

  26. I grew up in a rich, mostly white school district, where taunting and verbal bullying was rampant (esp. in jr. high school). Anyone who wasn’t quite ‘cool’ enough got verbally beaten up, and the teachers did nothing. I have vivid memories of my homeroom teacher LEAVING THE ROOM every day (yes, she just stood in the hall during homeroom) so she wouldn’t feel conflicted by listening to the incessant taunting. I am ashamed to say that no one, including myself, ever stood up for the victims. I was already on their radar and had experienced my share of taunts by the bullies (boys, by the way, picking on girls), and was afraid that if I said anything I would become their new main target.

    These same boys tried their country-club, snobbish bullying on a new girl from the wrong side of the tracks. I guess they confronted her after school, making racial slurs and making fun of her lack of money. Rather than hang her head (like we all did), she pulled a knife on them. Of course she was expelled, but she became somewhat of a hero to the downtrodden bullied students.

  27. My public school was mixed-race and mixed-class. Private school was overwhelmingly rich and white or Asian-American (as “only” middle-class I stuck out a bit there, at least among the kids). There was definite bullying in both, and it was a private high school where I experienced the bullying that was later described as worse than the person describing it had ever seen. (To give an example of the class thing, one kid wandered around the school asking people what class they were and then proclaimed with annoyance that everyone in the world thought they were upper-middle-class or upper-class.)

  28. According to the experts, bullies look for vulnerability rather than difference in their victims. A child who wears untrendy clothes, is shy, has poor social skills and is isolated is a particularly likely target for bullying.
    Children who don’t ‘fit in’ are victims of bullying.

    These experts also agree that children who are victims of bullying have some or all of the following characteristics:

    believe that they cannot control their environment
    have ineffective social skills
    have poor interpersonal skills
    are less popular than others
    have underlying fears of personal inadequacy
    blame themselves for their problems
    are given labels suggesting inadequacy
    are isolated socially
    are afraid of going to school (but the bullying to which they are subjected would have that effect)
    are physically younger, smaller and weaker than their peers
    have limited skills for gaining acceptance and success
    lose communication capabilities during incidents of high stress
    have a poor self-concept
    show physical mannerisms associated with depression
    have frequent feelings of personal inadequacy
    perform self-destructive actions
    believe others are more capable of handling various situations
    have difficulty relating to their peers
    have family members who are over-involved in the child’s decisions and activities
    feel that they are more subject to external events than able to be proactive.

    It is a popular myth that bullies are unpopular, but held in high (though gridging esteem) because of the power they exert. But according to research from the University of California in Los Angeles, bullies are popular and their classmates think they’re cool.

  29. Well of course we blame ourselves for our problems: That’s what we’re told day in and day out, that it’s our fault. A lot of those sounded like things that result from attitudes about bullying rather than from something innate to the people getting bullied.

  30. Can’t you see? Of course bullying is the result of the victim’s poor social skills, not wearing the latest fashions or having the “wrong attitude”.

    Certainly it couldn’t be because the bully is a social-path who gets off on hurting others…or that teachers ignore it because they enjoy seeing someone who’s “different” getting what they “deserve”. /sarcasm

    Oh for the love of God. Will we, as a human race, ever learn to just be kind to each other?

  31. Hi Everybody,
    two friends of mine, have launched a blog called Can I sit with you, which goal is to “share our schoolyard horror stories not only amongst ourselves, but also with the children who are experiencing this special form of social purgatory right now. We want them to know that even though what they’re going through sucks, they’re not alone.”
    They are currently excepting entries and planning to publish them. All proceeds will go to our poorly funded special ed PTA.
    check it out at:

  32. i REALLY want to see that movie that kirayoshi mentioned. the combination of flemish language and an autistic protagonist, makes it irresistable. (i don’t get to practice nederlands very often)…

  33. I think schools need to realize that the rules that apply to NTs, don’t neccessarily apply to Special Ed students, like people on the Autism Spectrum. That they might behave in a agressive way for a brain chemical reason or something.

    The problem is when bully parents of a bully child, bully schools into ignoring their child’s behaviour by threatening a law suit, or telling them some sob story about why their child acts out.

    If they are not in Special Ed, clearly then they don’t have a problem. It is not a reason to send the bullies to Special Ed, and consider them “conduct disordered” at the threat of their parents.

    The parents of the bully children should be held under much more scrutiny. They should have to prove that they will make their child behave humanely, or they can go themselves to try and find him an education. They should not be able to threaten the school with a lawsuit, based on behalf of their child being accused of being a bully. They should have to be made to explain themselves, and why they think it’s reasonable to let loose a monster on other students.

  34. Sorry, this is WAY off topic for this post, but for anyone who is interested: I just now stumbled across the announcement for this international conference on augmentative and alternative communication methods. For anyone who wanted to check it out. Even if you can’t go maybe they’ll release some papers or something later on:

  35. “If they are not in Special Ed, clearly then they don’t have a problem. It is not a reason to send the bullies to Special Ed, and consider them “conduct disordered” at the threat of their parents.”

    Just want to point out that a lot of kids who are cruel to other kids DO do it because of a “brain chemical reason” or something. Obviously I don’t condone bullying, and I think we need to do a hell of a better job of protecting kids at school. But I just don’t buy the idea that some kids are “monsters” that are just inherently bad and that’s why they bully. It’s too simple of an explanation. For example, I imagine that many bullies are physically abused at home. Not that that gives them carte blanche to behave immorally, but I think it points to solutions other than just expelling them from school.

  36. “According to the experts, bullies look for vulnerability rather than difference in their victims. A child who wears untrendy clothes, is shy, has poor social skills and is isolated is a particularly likely target for bullying.”
    In a conformist society, difference makes you vulnerable, and bullies target that vulnerability. But you made a good point, some kids are bullied without being really different, such as new kids.

  37. I don’t believe that bullying is caused by neurobiological factors. I do think many bullies were themselves abused/bullied, and are coping with it by bullying. Others were not, but are finding a relatively secure place on the social hierarchy by bullying.

  38. “Just want to point out that a lot of kids who are cruel to other kids DO do it because of a “brain chemical reason” or something. Obviously I don’t condone bullying, and I think we need to do a hell of a better job of protecting kids at school. But I just don’t buy the idea that some kids are “monsters” that are just inherently bad and that’s why they bully. It’s too simple of an explanation. For example, I imagine that many bullies are physically abused at home. Not that that gives them carte blanche to behave immorally, but I think it points to solutions other than just expelling them from school.” – Rachel Hibberd

    Try to explain that to the victims of school shooting, where the shooter was pushed to the point where they shot students at their school due to bullying that was ignored.

  39. Jackie,

    I think “try to explain that” captures the problem perfectly. When people are grieving, or afraid for their safety, all the gray issues and multiple causality go out the window and they want a simple explanation, like inherent evil. I can understand why this is so, but it doesn’t mean that our public policy should be based on that kind of thinking. After all the dust settles, we can take a rational, scientific look at all this and decide what actually will work best to keep people safe.

    All of this stuff came up after the Virginia Tech shooting. The simple explanation for many people was that he was broken (substitute autistic or mentally ill if you like, that was the connotation in both cases). The simple answer was “lock up all the crazy people.” Never mind that on averagep people with a mental illness are less likely to act violently than people without.

  40. I can’t walk through a playground without eyes peeled for the ones on the sidelines, the ones at the centre of a malevolent knot…

    I recall that my biology teacher, who decided that the dropping of rats’ entrails down my school blouse was flirtation – with me as willing participant. Others simply preferred not to see, or occasionally (and I was lucky that it was occasional) colluded.

  41. I was bullied in school, and I still have fear/trust issues around people because of it. I remember my mother’s now ex-husband, teachers, and school administrators telling me that it “takes two to tango” whenever I’d get attacked, as if I deliberately provoked people. I also recall a few teachers who participated in the bullying – one who knew little “tricks” to make kids look stupid, like asking what the room number was (I didn’t remember, but since I’d obviously found my way to the room it shouldn’t have been important). I remember another case when a teacher on a playground watched students attack me, and when I tried to ask for help, turned and walked away… and then sent me to the principal for discipline when I asked him why he ignored what happened. This was in the 5th grade.

    Throughout school, I kept running into a wall related to bullying – who started it didn’t matter. The bullies rarely suffered any kind of discipline for what they did, but fighting back merited excessive response – I almost got expelled for punching a bully that had harrassed me for years.

    And for me, the problem was also being different. I was born male, and acted feminine in a way that boys “aren’t supposed to,” largely because I was unable to pass as a normal boy. Being a person with transsexualism does that to you. It took me years to figure out why I was being picked on, and why my mother’s now-ex husband refused to give me any sympathy, despite being legally (and believed to be biologically) my father.

    I think my most extreme and abusive experience was in my last year of high school. I’d moved three times during my junior year, and as a consequence, I ended up having to repeat my 11th year. I got a new counselor, since counselors were assigned based on your last name and your year in school. This counselor would berate me for being stupid and put me in classes that I hated so much I stopped attending. He refused to let me repeat specific classes that I’d failed in the previous year. For example, he wouldn’t let me repeat physics, which I wouldn’t have failed if I hadn’t had two separate teachers and missed three full months of school. Instead, he put me into biology, which I hated. Or rather, I didn’t get along with the teacher. When I sat with my friends during assemblies, he’d approach and loudly instruct me to sit with the 11th year students, just to be sure everyone knew I’d failed my junior year. When my original counselor sold me tickets to the senior prom, he tried to confiscate the tickets.

    As a consequence of his treatment, I ended up skipping a lot of school. I admit, it was my choice to skip school, but he was forcing me into classes that I had no interest in, and calling me into his office to tell me how stupid I was.

    It took me a few years to actually extricate myself from the repeated insistence from my mother’s ex and my counselor that I was stupid and incapable of learning. I held onto this image of myself even while getting excellent grades in college.

  42. “Never mind that on averagep people with a mental illness are less likely to act violently than people without.” – Rachel Hibberd

    So then there goes your claim that most bullies are bullies because of a “brain chemical reason”. They are not the same as someone with a genuine mental health issue, such as being on the Autism Spectrum.

    People who know someone has been abused, know that it’s likely that person will strike out at others and try to victimize them in return. All I am saying is don’t put the Lions in with the Lambs. Putting children who are likely to bully, in with people who are easy victims is asking for trouble.

  43. Because MOST people with mental illnesses are no more violent than anyone else, or even LESS violent on AVERAGE, does not preclude the possibility that in a few individuals the “brain chemistry” imbalance (or a brain tumor, if located in the right place in the brain) could tip in the other direction.

    I do doubt that this is a PRIMARY cause of bullying–I’m guessing that in most cases it either isn’t present or is a secondary factor at most. And as you point out, it is critical not to paint all people with mental illnesses (or with brain chemistry imbalances–the two groups are not necessarily mutually inclusive) with the same brush.

  44. The only context in which I have ever heard “brain chemistry imbalance” used is to promote a drug that does the opposite of whatever the supposed “brain chemistry imbalance” does. There’s this assumption that if the drug works (or appears to work) then some chemical was “imbalanced” in the first place, when that’s only one of a whole lot of explanations.

  45. Certainly, the fact that the average is skewed one way doesn’t mean if someone is at the other extreme it’s in spite of that thing. For example, on average people with chromosome anomalies have lower muscle tone than noprmal people, but certain types of chromosome anomalies cause high muscle tone as well.
    However, bullying is far too deliberate to be due to a neurological anomaly. For example, brain tumors in a certain place (frontallobe, maybe, or temporal lobe) can cause rage outbursts, but not relentless targeting of a particular person considered ‘weak’ while behaving well around others. It’s more random than that.
    And if someone has a higher or lower level of a certain brain chemical, how do you know it’s an imbalance? Maybe it’s an adaptive reaction to something else. Depressed people on Prozac sometimes loose serotonin receptors, which indicates that their brain seems to have ‘decided’ they really do need low serotonin.

  46. I don’t neccesarily go for the “brain chemistry” explanation either. I was quoting someone else there. Except that I would like to point out that at the most basic level, EVERYTHING is brain chemistry, including thoughts, schemas, self-esteem, etc. It’s all patterns of activity in your brain.

    I think the important thing is to look for an explanation, or at least a solution, rather than taking the easy route and ascribing bullying to an inherently evil nature. (At least from a public policy perspective).

  47. Ettina, you make a good case. I was actually thinking of how brain tumors can in some specific cases cause those rages etc when I spoke of brain chemistry (plus the way that brain chemistry is an important factor in shaping personality and pattersn of behavior in general), but I didn’t stop and think through how that differs from the targeting that goes on in bullying behavior. Thank you.

  48. I believe that bullying is enabled largely by bigotry. If it was not socially acceptable to view some people as “less than”, bullying against such people would not also be socially acceptable.

    There’s no doubt more to it, but I would assume it’s the primary factor in the bullying Amanda describes in her post. I believe it’s why I experienced the bullying I did.

    Bullies pick on their targets and keep pushing as far as they can before they hit real consequences. Often, they never suffer any.

  49. Well said, Lisa. Certainly there are all sorts of factors that lead to bullying behavior, and those factors should be addressed. But a bully is not likely to continue to engage in ongoing, repetitive harassment of *one particular person* if the majority and/or people of authority make it clear that it won’t be tolerated — and won’t receive the encouragement the bully is seeking. And discouraging bullying behavior shouldn’t be limited to “Oh, don’t pick on him; that’s not nice”. It should be more along the lines of “We do not believe that you are any better than he is. He is one of us, and we don’t think you’re ‘cool’ for tormenting him.”

  50. “It should be more along the lines of “We do not believe that you are any better than he is. He is one of us, and we don’t think you’re ‘cool’ for tormenting him.””

    Good point. I think often teachers chastise bullies, but there’s an implicit message that reinforces the higher social status of the bullies. It’s almost as if they’re saying “I know he’s lame and deserves it, but try to resist.”

    I had a teacher who would participate in negative gossip about unpopular students. The thought of it still makes me smoulder. I think the issue with her was that partly because of her age (fresh out of college), she was caught up in the pressure of wanting to be liked by students. She gossiped for the same reason the students did- she wanted to make sure that she was in the elite circle.

  51. When I was still in school, in one of the later grades, a girl from the first or second grade was being picked on in the corridor (I had been picked on before in earlier grades as well). We talked to her about it but she didn’t want anyone else mixing in. When we told a teacher about it who walked by, he said they were working on that with the class, but he also said: “Well, it’s kinda hard to make them stop it, and it’s also kind of understandable, she looks pretty weird.”

    I was almost too angry to reply to that, I don’t know what I said to him, but it wasn’t friendly. (We were not very formal between teachers and students in that school).

    And this was at a school that was generally very friendly and where picking on people was very rare compared to other schools. I just hope that girl managed to make it stop during the next few years too.

  52. I got all of the „your looking funny somehow“, “your walking/moving funny”, you can’t say that, others don’t” or the “you just don’t do it this way and that’s why you’re an idiot and everyone’s proving it to you” from my teachers. Even after gaining some social skills later in life bullying still got on me again and again for being nice and cool (which translated in friendly, even tempered and self-confident, but of course children yet lack these specific terms) but being “so strange somehow” at the same time. From my personal experience I cannot believe that a victim of bullying always has a poor self concept or is vulnerable. Some are, this is true, as these characteristics usually draw people near them, but most shy people are either discarded or mothered, not bullied. In my opinion this theory is just a simplified excuse for the weak handling and ignorance of bullying. No doubt, after years of torment people usually show most of the described characteristics! But that’s usually not the reason why the bullying started in the first place. An optimistic parent also only goes into despair if his child is somehow suffering. In this example, it’s not the despair that causes the child to suffer, but that’s what the study tries to point out in my eyes.

    I know for a fact that most of the children that first bullied me failed school horribly because of personal issues. The one who was the front bully was severely ill, which nobody recognised until she attempted suicide. However, all these children, today they are young adults, remain mostly extremely popular and well liked among other people. I think identification is a big issue here. It’s easy to treat someone bad whom you can’t recognise as a being that is similar to yourself, but it’s all the harder to bully a person that appears to be just like you. But of course, that’s just a try at understanding the non-autistic mind from an autistic point of view.

  53. I think identification is a big issue here. It’s easy to treat someone bad whom you can’t recognise as a being that is similar to yourself, but it’s all the harder to bully a person that appears to be just like you. But of course, that’s just a try at understanding the non-autistic mind from an autistic point of view.

    I think that’s exactly it. It’s about difference (and really, a form of bigotry – both the bullying and the tolerance for bullying).

    Of course, I think about this from the non-autistic plus “I’ve been bullied” point of view, rather than the “bully’s” point of view.

  54. A book about the causes and prevention of childhood bullying contrasts developing self-esteem in children with developing self-respect.

    Children with too high self-esteem have an inflated opinion of themselves that shows no consideration for others, or any real understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. This attitude is the root of much bullying.

    While self-esteem is awarded, self-respect must be earned through responsibility, cooperation and achievement. Humility, empathy, compassion, generosity of spirit, a realistic belief in their own abilities, and a willingness to try new things all show self-respect.

    A child who respects himself also respects others – and other things, such as property, emotions, responsibility and authority. A bully does not respect others because he has no respect for himself. A child with no self-respect sets himself up to be a victim by not interacting normally with others, by lacking the social skills that are a definite part of self-respect. Children who respect themselves have been shown respect.

    But autistic children who do not have social skills can learn self-respect, which is not dependent on having those skills.

  55. Pingback: Bullies and the Bullied - Scoutmaster

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