At breakfast last Friday morning, my fork paused mid-air when my 13-year-old Autistic son mentioned that he had to fill out a bullying report at school. When I asked why, he gave me the summary version (as we all had places to be that morning): a boy grabbed his shoulders, painfully rolling and pinching the flesh, continuing after my son asked him to stop. Plus a girl threw my son’s own salad in his applesauce and on him at lunch the previous day at school.
I composed a quick email to the principal at Ponca City’s West Middle School, asking that the students who attacked my son be held accountable. One of the principal’s replies stated that I needed to get the “whole story” from my middle schooler.
This weekend, I got the complete story according to my son. Before I share it, let me first explain one of the challenges people with Autism face.
Individuals with Autism have social skills deficits that make them frequent targets of bullies. They have trouble understanding the “intentions of others and understanding what others are feeling and thinking.” Worse, they often, “take comments literally instead of understanding the underlying and, perhaps, unkind message” (access the source in the online version of this column).
Back to the story. On Wednesday, “Joe”, we’ll call him, my son’s attacker at lunch on Thursday, evidently told my 13-year-old boy that “75% of rape starts by a hand on the shoulder” was a “joke”. Being Autistic, my son took the statement that this was a joke literally.
When my son repeated what he thought a “joke” the next day at the lunch table, “Beth”, upon hearing it, apparently threw my son’s food on him. And not only did “Joe” squeeze my son painfully on his shoulders, but the same was also done to both of his sides and he was apparently choked (my son demonstrated with both hands on his own neck) Thursday at lunch. I asked my son several times about how he responded and reacted to what these students did. He said that he did not lay hands on Joe or Beth, but instead asked Joe to stop, and when he didn’t, stood up and tried to get away, but Joe followed him. He was not provided more food to replace the applesauce and salad the girl rendered inedible.
Meanwhile, my son’s band instructor emailed to complement his behavior and effort in band. Later, he asked why I thought my young trombone player “wasn’t focused at all in band. He was playing when he shouldn’t have been, not paying attention, not sitting up, and not playing with good fundamentals that he usually shows” on Thursday afternoon. When I informed him that my son had been bullied at lunch Thursday, right before he came to band, the instructor replied, “Now I understand.”
My 13-year-old also told me about several other bullying incidents that have happened to him this school year. This is a major step in the right direction for him, because when he was bullied in elementary school, he never told me. I’ve had to make very clear to him that I will support him and do whatever I can to stop it. Kids don’t report bullying to adults who do nothing, or even worse, blame the victim.
Unfortunately, blaming the victim seems to be exactly how the school responded. My son was called to the office on Friday (in response to my email, I presume) and told by the principal that he would have consequences for his comment to the girl.
Still trying to assume that the principal had the best of intentions, I reported the “whole story” to the principal this Monday morning, figuring he either didn’t have all the details or was not educated about the social skills deficits related to Autism. I shared the same quote as I did earlier in this column with the principal.
The administrator responded by giving my son three days of In School Suspension, thus ensuring neither my son nor I will want to report any further attacks.
Yes, the bullying victim is losing out on three days of instructional time because another student saw a gullible target and took advantage. Because this targeting was made possible due to my son’s Autism, this incident appears to be a violation of his civil right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), which is protected under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
My boy told me he has been physically bullied (a pencil thrown in class that hit him in the eye, hit repeatedly with a hard lunch box by a boy who took it from a girl, had his trombone for band yanked from his hands and thrown, to give a few examples) several other times this year.
According to Oklahoma’s School Safety and Bullying Prevention Act, school bullying policies must include how the parents of bullying victims and perpetrators will be notified in a timely fashion. Yet, I was never notified that my son was hit repeatedly with a lunch box in October, even though my son said he went to the principal’s office to report the incident.
I am (uncharacteristically) rendered speechless by the school’s response, so I could use your help, dear readers. What would you say to the principal?