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“Give me your lunch money.” “Meet me on the playground after school.” When we think of bullying, these are phrases that come to mind. We mainly think of the tormentors we had as kids, but rarely do we think about the bullying we encounter on a daily basis as adults.
For the high functioning autistic (HFA) adult or for an Aspie (one with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism noted for a lack of social skills), it’s something we face every day, simply for being who we are. I say we, because I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome six years ago at age forty-six.
Keep in mind that at my age there was no mention of autism in schools until nearly ten years after I graduated and Asperger’s wasn’t a thing until thirteen years after I graduated. That means I was never autistic; I was weird. And weird get bullied and those scars stay with you and make it easier to be bullied as an adult.
I went to public school through fourth grade and then Christian school fifth through twelfth. I don’t remember any bullying—mental or physical—at public school, but I certainly remember teachers at Christian school calling me stupid, lazy and weird. The kids were a bit more colorful with their words.
Fast forward to adulthood and the circumstances we find ourselves in are different than as a child, but the game is the same.
If you’re on the spectrum and have a hard time picking up certain social cues, you’re like a deer standing alone in the middle of a meadow with trees all around. People are waiting with their loaded rifles to pick you off from every side.
With the autistic person, bullying tends to be a lot of humor at the HFA’s expense. Someone says something about you and you’re not sure how to take it, but everyone laughs, so you laugh along with them.
This just adds fuel to the fire because not only are they mocking you, a form of mental or psychological bullying, but also they’re getting you to join in. This ends only one of two ways. Either you never figure out what’s going on and they get tired of it, or you eventually catch on, they call you several colorful names and you end up feeling like a piece of garbage not only because they did it but because you threw gas on the fire by participating.
How do I know this? Personal experience. What happens after that is that you spend the next days/weeks/months thinking about it and letting it consume you. Because you’re smart and have a very high IQ, you beat yourself up because you’re smart enough you should have seen that coming.
You forget, or don’t care, that you have a known deficit in the social area because of the way you’re brain is wired. You continue to beat yourself up and now the bully has you doing his work for him. In essence, you’re bullying yourself mentally with what Saturday Night Live’s Stuart Smalley would call, “Stinkin’ thinkin’.”
Generally, the physical bullying stops as an adult, though I guess that depends on where you live, and it turns to mental bullying and harassing or intimidating/threatening to get something you have and they want. Neither way is good, but at least we have fewer bruises.
Whoever wrote, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me,” wasn’t living in the real world.
Of course, names hurt. They’re meant to hurt. Also, I know the above phrase is supposed to be a metaphor for life, but keep in mind that HFA’s like me read things very literally, so I see that phrase and call BS.
I was once part of a group of creative people. When and where the group was located doesn’t matter to the story, so to keep everyone happy, I’m not going to mention something that doesn’t matter.
The leader of this group and myself were friends and in fact, had a standing weekly appointment to meet for coffee and to talk. This went of for I’d say close to six months before it ended.
We were at a function one evening and the leader of the group accidentally misspoke, and being autistic, I wasn’t completely clear what he meant by what he said. In fact, the thought that he misspoke never even came into my mind until he raised his voice and in front of everyone there, tore my head off as I was “thanked” and loudly spoken to about making fun of his mistake.
I didn’t make fun of his mistake. I found his story interesting and wanted to follow along, but besides being completely embarrassed in front of a group of peers, I felt bullied. I felt bullied because this person was aware of my autism and thought the response to a clarifying question was to yell and degrade in front of a group.
We spoke during a break and I explained why I had asked and when we finished talking, I thought we were good. We weren’t.
Fast forward a couple weeks and I received a whole list of my transgressions and was kicked out of the group. Nearly everything on that list of mortal group sins was autism related. Things like asking questions, like asking if someone could speak up so those of us in the back could hear and of not sharing with the group what I was working on, even though we’re told at the beginning that sharing is optional. Not being overly social is a big trait amongst our crowd.
I’m not the only one this happens to, I posted in my Asperger’s Life Support Group on Facebook and received many stories from HFAs who are bullied in the workplace because of their autism, or for co-workers who don’t know about the autism, because of their very noticeable autistic traits.
They talked about feeling embarrassment, shame, hurt, depression and anger at letting themselves be bullied into doing things they didn’t want to do because they couldn’t “read” the bully’s intentions at first. It’s sad that in 2018 adults are subjected to bullying for being differently wired.
When I was a sales manager for a Chrysler Jeep dealer, I had a General Sales Manager who regularly called me Forrest Gump in sales meetings and in front of others. He thought it was funny to point out that I was weird and different. I just felt the pain of being called out and laughed at by a group of my peers. What was I going to do, leave the job and find another where I would be bullied a different way?
These are just a couple examples, but when we mock, laugh at or otherwise hurt others and especially those who are different in some way, it sticks with them/us for a lot longer than you may think. Try including different people into your groups and you may be shocked to learn that they/we are decent people.
Let’s be adults and stop bullying others, no matter the reason why.
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