No matter what their child is like, whether they have autism or are neurotypical, every parent worries about them being bullied. My family and I worried that Jennifer, my sister who is on the autism spectrum, would be picked on for being different. We also worried that she would not be able to tell us that she was being picked on since she was essentially nonverbal for most of her life. Even today she can only say about 100 words spontaneously, although she can type out messages to us now. Thankfully, Jennifer proved us wrong. She was able to handle herself, and at school she was surrounded by friends who would stick up for her.
On a nice cool fall day during the first couple of days of first grade, my sister’s class went outside to recess. Jennifer loved sliding down slides. As soon as she would slide down, she would race back up to the top of the playset to slide down again. On this particular day another boy was blocking her from the slide telling her that she could not go down it because she talked funny. The girls in Jennifer’s grade overheard this and told Jennifer not to worry, they would go get the boys in their class to talk to this boy intruder. Jennifer didn’t wait for her friends to come to her aid though. She stared into the boy’s eyes, put her hands on both of his shoulders, moved him, and then continued to go down the slide. The boy was shocked that his imposing height had not been enough to deter Jennifer. When the rest of Jennifer’s friends arrived to help her, they found her engaged in her usual routine of going up and down the slide. There was nothing for them to do; Jennifer had solved her own problem.
There have been many other incidents similar to the one I described. Most of the time, Jennifer was able to stick up for herself. She may have been nonverbal, but anyone who got in her way saw how loudly she could express herself.
It is perfectly normal to worry about your child or your sibling. Before Jennifer started school, I had a hard time going to sleep because I was worried she was going to be picked on by bullies. Jennifer surprised me, though. She showed that she was able to stand up for herself, and she had a great group of friends around her who would come to her aid whenever she needed it. To all of the parents or siblings out there with a loved one on the spectrum, my message to you is that your loved one will surprise you. Things are rarely as bad as we make them out to be in our heads. Worrying about our loved ones is a sign that we care, but it is important to not get carried away by our fears. Your child or sibling has a far greater inner strength than you think.
by Jonathan Slack