Written by S. Bowyer

     In 2014, two Maryland teenage girls were charged for taking advantage of an autistic boy, "Michael," aged 16. They befriended him, then allegedly pressured him to masturbate, walk on thin ice he could and did fall through and have sex with the family pet, while they recorded it on their mobile phones. Lauren Bush, 17, and her friend, who's name was not disclosed, not only taunted the boy, but it was alleged they kicked him in the groin, pulled his hair, and held a knife to his throat. 

     His parents were not aware this abuse was taking place. At one time his mother did ask him why he came home with wet clothes, to which he dismissed as he fell in a pond. Michael did not discuss the girls' suggestion of walking on the thin ice, or that they did not help him get out again. The teenager went to a normal school and was trusted to walk home by himself since he was 12 years old, so the wet clothes weren't followed up. 

     In an interview Michael's mother stated, "He doesn't appear to be traumatised. He thinks these girls are his friends and is surprised the police are involved."

     Michael stated that he wants the charges dropped against the girls. "It really makes me upset that my parents want to see them in jail. . . because I really like them."

     His father was candid about the situation. "He may be more disabled than I convinced myself. . . Right now, I am trying to get justice for him and others like him."

     In a similar case, that was unearthed only recently, Jenny McCarthy, model, TV host, actress and author, spoke on The View about the difficulties with her autistic son.

     "My son's main goal is to make as many friends as possible," she said, before explaining that a summer camp Evan attended emailed her to state the friends he talks about are actually those who are bullying him. 

     She continued. "They're laughing at him but he laughs too. . . I said, 'you have to find the kids that like you and are nice to you. Who do you sit next to in the cafeteria?' And he said, 'No one. I ask, and they say no.'"

     McCarthy highlighted that because he does the things the children ask of him, such as putting bugs down his pants, and they laugh, Evan thinks it's funny too. She comments, "It's so wonderful that he's not aware that kids are making fun of him. But at what point do I need to teach him that? . . . At what point does it stop? In high school they'll be like, 'Here drink this?' 'Okay!'"

     The question is sparked: how do parents of autistic children, and those with mental issues that affect sociality, prevent or protect their children from such occurrences? 

     The first step is to understand how a child with Autism learns. I got in touch with Dr. Wendy Lawson, who is involved with Autism and Asperger's Support, a group who cater to over 200 families and individuals. 

     "Bit of a tricky one this," she starts. "If you are living with an Autism spectrum condition (ASC) you have a brain that is 'wired' differently to those living without ASC. Our brains (with ASC) are designed to focus upon the thing that captures our attention. This means, outside of interest, we don't divide attention easily and aren't great at sharing or showing interest in things not capturing our attention. Typical people, however, are designed to show and share interest with self and others, even if they are not particulary interested! They have the brain for it."

     She continues. "To help ASC individuals understand social concepts and connect to what might be happening for another (e.g. friendship issues) the first step is to join them in their interest and use this to build a bridge to other interests... it's a case of widening their interest window. For example, if a child is interested in Thomas the Tank Engine, you can use the characters from the stories to 'teach' how to be friendly; how to recognise when someone isn't being friendly and so on."

     On her website, she lists a few helpful hints on communicating with an ASC person. These are:

  1. Check out the autistic person's perception of what is being asked, demonstrated or said.
  2. Teach that behaviours, emotions and desires can have particular facial and bodily expressions. Explain what these are.
  3. Rote learn rules for specific situations (ie. we hug family members, not strangers).
  4. Give time, whenever possible, to acclimatise to change and don't suddenly spring things onto the person.
  5. When the individual is anxious: use music, space, reassurance, relaxation and breathing exercises, a calm voice and any other acceptable known anti-stressor.

      The second step is to identify the bullying. Autismsafety.org (US-based) focuses on understanding bullying against Autistic children, claiming that children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied, and that children with Autism are more vulnerable because of their communication skills, social cognition and motor skills. A survey conducted by the Massachusetts Advocacy for Children (2009) indicated that 88% of parents with Autistic children reported their children had been victimised in the past year. They state the signs a child is being bullied include: 

  • * reluctance to attend school
  • * emotionally sensitive behaviour; anxiety
  • * change in daily routines (diet, sleeping patterns)
  • * torn clothing, damaged books, or other items
  • * cuts or bruises
  • * decline in school grades

     Autismspeaks.org, based in America, list 10 facts that parents, educators and students need to understand about bullying of disabled people, particularly Autistic people:

  1. Students with disabilities are much more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers.
  2. Bullying affects a student's ability to learn.
  3. The Definition - bullying based on a student's disability may be considered harassment.
  4. The Federal Laws - disability harassment is a civil rights issue.
  5. The State Laws - students with disabilities have legal rights when they are a target of bullying.
  6. The adult response is important.
  7. The Resources - students with disabilities have resources that are specifically designed for their situation.
  8. The Power of Bystanders - more than 50% of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes.
  9. The importance of self-advocacy.
  10. You are not alone.

      The website also features a book, The Autism Acceptance Book: Being A Friend to Someone with Autism by Ellen Sabin. The book is said to be a conversation-starter, that includes exercises to include "normal" children in the life of an Autistic child. It's suggested as ideal for use in classrooms, camps and group settings where children can learn together. I assume it's to strengthen understanding and prevent possible bullying situations. 

 

     Michael's parents have publicly stated they worry the community will blame them for his victimisation. However, it should be recognised that many parents struggle to control and understand their ASC children, often due to lack of social support.

      Dr. Lawson writes on her website, "Although in the past autism was perceived to be directly related to poor maternal care and attention, today it is considered to be a disorder of the Central Nervous System (CNS) possibly genetically based."

      "Sometimes, individuals need a specific program prepared for them by a psychologist. Unfortunately, unless the individual is intellectually disabled, the parent or carer will have to bare the cost of this themselves."

     Families having difficulty with their children recognising proper and inappropriate contact with others might find help in their local area. Dr. Lawson suggested places such as Amaze in Victoria (www.amaze.org.au) and ASPECT (www.autismspectrum.org.au) in New South Wales. She also stated that often local councils and schools will run support programs for children with Autism.

      Austismsafety.org state that SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) programs help the children learn to handle school, relationships and personal development. It was found that high-quality programs decreased issues with conduct, anxiety and depression, and increased their social skills, attitudes about their self and others, and their own classroom behaviours. Their website includes a special area about bullying, which features resources and brochures about protecting children against bullying, and other Autism-based situations, such as medical devices, locators, teaching aids, and information resources to protect their rights. 

      Additionally, McCarthy's co-host, Whoopi Goldberg, suggests, "Have Evan introduce you to his friends and when they're off having fun, have a conversation with the parents. . . The parents might not be aware."

 

  • No comments found