In this guest blog for Anti-Bullying Week, Daniel, 18, who has a diagnosis of an autism spectrum condition, talks about his experiences of being bullied and the importance of speaking up about it.
I remember the first time I was bullied very vividly. I was 5 years old and was playing by myself in my primary school playground because my support assistant had gone inside. Three older boys pushed me into a huge pile of leaves and started calling me names. I lay there hoping a teacher would come and save me as I didn't know how to defend myself.
Fortunately, my mum had arrived in the school’s car park and saw what was happening. She ran to the playground and shouted to the staff to help me. Then my mum spoke to the headteacher and the boys got into trouble. They never bothered me again.
The next time I was bullied was in high school. When mum and I chose my high school we believed it was a school for people who had social communication needs including autism. The fact that I was quiet, calm and always tried to be polite did not go down well with my peers. This made me the target of all kinds of abuse and bullying. There was one boy in particular who enjoyed making me unhappy; on many occasions he would laugh at me, call me names and swear at me.
My mum rang the school a number of times and the teachers always promised to deal with it and said I wouldn't be with the boy again. The teachers were more supportive of my mum than me; they would often ignore my complaints or say I should ignore the boy. I was very upset the teachers wouldn't listen to me. Mum complained so often that for subsequent years I was never with the boy again.
When I went to the Post 16 unit I tried not to draw attention to myself but one boy chose to make my life miserable by poking and prodding me on the minibus. Once again I was told by the staff to put up with it as the other boy was challenging. I was miserable. Another boy on the minibus stuck up for me and he got into lots of fights. Eventually the kind boy was removed from the minibus and I was left to defend myself. I lost the only person I had been able to speak to in the school.
It was then that I told my mum and she telephoned the headteacher. After this I was allowed to sit up front next to the staff, but sometimes I had to sit in the back and it would happen again. My mum had to sort it out again. By this point I was so unhappy I couldn't wait to leave the school.
I think I was bullied because I am calm and quiet and like my own company; I was seen as an easy target. I like to write lists and pace as a form of stimming [self-stimulation]; I do these things as I don't have any friends. I can’t seem to make friends and I need to talk and get my thoughts out so I do this to myself. People see me as disabled and therefore I’m not taken seriously or respected. I don't see my autism as a negative thing and if that's how they feel about me, it’s too bad.
My advice to anyone who has autism and is being bullied is to always tell someone you trust exactly what’s happening and how it makes you feel so they can help. Things don't always go away just because you tell someone, but it’s better than holding it all inside yourself and facing it alone.
Becoming a youth patron for Ambitious about Autism has been very positive for me. It gives me the opportunity to be heard and share my opinions with others who are interested in me and what I think and how I feel. I enjoy being listened to and valued; it has helped my confidence immensely.