Tuesday, March 23, 2010

‘Defenseless’ from bullying at Calistoga schools

At JFActivist, moderator Frankie Mastrangelo shares information about bullying from the Stevens Johnson Syndrome Foundation. She invites readers to comment, asking: “Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt any kind of physical or mental abuse from someone and felt the need to defend yourself from it? Did you ever feel defenseless to something outside your control?”

I replied that bullying and ostracism are very common experiences among people on the autism spectrum, of which I am one.

I endured physical bullying, name-calling and ostracism throughout my public school experience at Calistoga Elementary School and Calistoga Junior/Senior High School in Calistoga, Calif.

“Defenseless” exactly describes how I felt in a school culture that seemed to facilitate abuse.

For example, the P.E. curriculum focused entirely on competitive sports. The most popular students were permitted to choose sides for teams. In front of everyone else in the class, I was picked last every time.

One of the most grotesque abuses was by an elementary school teacher who made the children take hands in a circle. She kept a supply of plastic combs for the outcast children to hold, so that students on either side who didn't want to touch the pariah could instead grab hold of a comb.

High school was characterized by mandatory assemblies in which student body officers designed humiliations for other people in school.

It is possible that to many involved, these were not “humiliations” but rather enjoyable fun. I, however, was always on edge whenever I had to attend these rallies, wondering if I would be picked.

Then there were the day-to-day abuses perpetuated by students at my schools: Name-calling, pushing in the hallways and systematic exclusion.

My ostracism began within a few hours of my beginning kindergarten. If and when it ever ended, as far as my classmates were concerned, I had no way to determine because of my innate limitation in understanding social cues.

At one point, I decided that if my classmates couldn’t appreciate me, than they were too stupid and useless for me to have anything to do with them.

I really have to hand it to some school administrators for their tolerant approach to some of my outbursts. I was so upset one day at all I was going through, that I furiously began kicking the exterior wall of the principal’s office. My shoes left black marks on the wall.

What a relief to finally graduate and then to discover when diagnosed as an adult with an autism spectrum disorder, that other people also shared these troubling experiences and challenges.

As an adult, I made a point of interacting with former schoolmates in the capacity of co-volunteering to produce the alumni newsletter. I believe these positive experiences will go a long way to assuage what remain very bitter memories, but I continue to publicly assert I was bullied in Calistoga schools.

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