Last week was Anti-Bullying Week, heralded by the Anti-Bullying Alliance. Anti-bullying is something very close to my heart. No one and no child should ever be bullied, but those who are most vulnerable within our society are obvious targets for this kind of cruelty.
Having an autistic son opens your eyes to the perception of those who surround you and of how your child can become a target of bullying due to their disability.
So far, we have encountered no bullying and for this I am very thankful. But at the moment Tom is very young and perhaps shielded from this type of cruelty. He attends a specialist school, where every young child and adult are also on the autistic spectrum, so in a way he has been sheltered from it.
For those children in mainstream schools, the scenario is very different and a lot scarier. They are often seen as ‘different’ or ‘weird’ and as a result of this are bullied, but often without them even knowing it, due to their autism.
It is a sad fact that children do get bullied even without a disability, but for those with autism, the odds are even greater. That’s why I was really pleased when Stephen came home from school and told me they had been talking about anti-bullying week in assembly.
From what he told me, it sounded like the older children were acting out role play situations of how bullying can take place.
Stephen stoically told me that bullying is not nice and can be both through words and physical contact. I know the school he attends will not tolerate any bullying whatsoever, to which I witnessed during Tom’s short time there.
What does worry me though is the future, when Tom is a young man and then adult. In particular what worries me most is mate crime.
This is when supposed friends use those who are most vulnerable to commit crimes for them.
I am just thankful the topics of bullying and mate crime are being discussed in relation to our children and young people with autism. Let us raise awareness about this difficult and upsetting reality.