Autism and the bullying frontier

Miranda Steffen

We’ve entered a new frontier….bullying.

The victim: 8yr old Middle who has autism.

The perp: 13yr old girl next door.

I’ve had my suspicions for a while, but tonight, I saw it and heard it with my own eyes and ears. Let me give you some backstory:

At the end of last summer, a new family moved next door. They have two girls who are 10 and 13. The 10 year old is the kind of girl that rules the neighborhood, but in the adorable America’s-sweetheart kind of way. All of the kids love here and she’s the most kind-hearted kid, especially to Middle. JACKPOT, I thought, he made friends on his own! And to this day, that’s still right….most of the time.

Every once in a while, The Big Sister emerges. I rarely see her as she is in a Kafkaesque stage of girldom…metamorphosing from a sweet little kid, to a snobby, eye rolling, adults-and-anyone-who-is-different-are-beneath-me-and-stupid teenager. It really is the cockroach years of “those” kind of girls. They’re everywhere, obnoxious, and you just can’t shake ‘em.

Anyway, about two months of them living here, the neighborhood kids set up a lemonade stand, and Middle went over to hang out. This girl was out watering their garden. Middle came home a little wet and said, “That girl get me with water!” I walked over there and said, “Did you spray him with water?” She said, “I was watering our garden and he picked one of our flowers and I accidentally got him wet. I just asked him not to pick our flowers.” Ok, that seems valid, right? So I told Middle not to pick flowers out of their garden [totally a valid point] and shrugged it off. Still, I had a nagging Mama Feeling, I couldn’t quite shake.

Nothing happened after that until about a month ago. The girls got a new trampoline and Middle was stoked. He came home from school and said, “I want to jump on that friend’s trampoline!” as he ran out of the door. About five minutes later, he came stomping in, head lowered and arms up [visualize a goose about to charge you]. This is his “I’m super-pissed” stance. I said, “Hey buddy, what’s the matter?” He looks up and his whole face collapsed. “Friends say ‘go home’. Friends say ‘go away Middle’” Then he crumpled into my arms and cried. It was a cry of heartbreak and it killed me. It took all of me not to cry with him, but after biting the inside of my lip hard enough to calm down, I said, “I’m sorry you’re so sad. That was mean of your friends. Sometimes, friends are mean. Sometimes, people you don’t even know will be mean. How about we go outside and play?” I have never seen one of my kids so profoundly hurt and I ached for him.

Big [being the awesome brother he is], Middle, and I went outside and pitched his tent and made a secret clubhouse all afternoon. We blasted music and had snacks and toys…the whole to-do. By the end, Middle was laughing and having a blast, but I felt that tugging Mama Feeling again. This wasn’t like The Friends! I’m not and won’t be That Mom who interferes with the Laws and Lessons of Childhood, but this seemed so out of character. I walked to a point in our yard where I could see the trampoline and there, sitting in the middle, bossing everyone around was the Big Sister. She caught my eye and stared me down with That Look that only teenage girls can have. This is what I’m dealing with, guys. Well, A) don’t mess with my kid and B) I’m not going to be bullied as well so I stared right back with the same screwed up look on my face. Admittedly, I am a petty adult, on occasion [though it did feel good]. We sat like this for a solid minute before she slowly shifted her eyes and walked off…meek…and probably stunned that an adult would stoop to her level.

Tonight, Middle was in our room and heard The Friends. He looked out our window and said, “I am going to play with The Friends!” and ran out the back door. I glanced out the blinds and saw Her leading the group. I slowly opened the window while keeping the blinds shut so I could witness their interaction. Middle walked up and said, “Hi Friends!” with a big grin on his face and started milling around. This 13 year old bitcheroo stuck her finger in his face and said, “No. Go! Shoo!” Middle turned around and started walking off and she followed him saying, “Get out of here! Go!”

My blood was boiling.

I threw my shoes on and went outside to confront her, but another adult had called them over to the other side of the house [they were having a cookout so a group of people were over there]. My husband saw me and asked what was wrong and I told him. By now, Middle is stomping around the house. Husband marched over there and told her dad what had happened. He profusely apologized and said he would take care of it. Meanwhile, I’m explaining to Middle to stay away from that horrible, horrible person. I’m curious to see if she’s outside tomorrow because you can sure as shit be guaranteed we will be there playing and waiting.

Now granted, Middle has autism so this in and of itself is a whole other level of terrible, but my main issue is the fact that he is EIGHT and she is THIRTEEN. She could babysit him! I’ve been trying to figure out what I will do if this happens again. Will I jump all over her? Will I go straight to the parents? I can’t say that I’d do the bigger, adult thing, because now the gloves are off and mamas claws are out. I’m a pretty laid back person. I like to see the good in everyone and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. If I got in a fight with anyone in school, it was with the bullies defending the kids they were picking on. I’m a huge fan of the underdog and an avid avoider of confrontation, but this? This is ridiculous.

Another point to mention is that Middle is the sweetest boy. His heart is huge and filled with nothing but love. It’s hard for him to figure out how to make friends and even, how to play with friends, but that’s all he wants. friends and hugs are his Thing. When a friend at school is upset or having a meltdown, Middle comes and asks them if they want a hug. His first grade teacher and his resource teacher have both told me that kids come and ask HIM for hugs now. He has a HUGE amount of empathy – especially for a kiddo with autism.

I was never bullied in school, nor did I bully. Are there any folks out there who have been bullied or have been bullies? I really want to hear both sides of this from a psychological level. Why did you bully? How did you feel when were bullied? Were there long-term effects on either side of this coin? Please post and share – there will be no judgment unless of course, it’s my kids you’re picking on.

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