This week over at Autism Daily Newscast there’s a guest post written by an ABA practitioner named Karen Kabaki-Sisto on ten “perks” of having your autistic child bullied. It’s written to and for parents (as opposed to autistic children, or school staff.) So I’m going to respond to Ms. Kabaki-Sisto directly, as the mother of an autistic child and student.
While you open by saying that the harms of bullying cannot be brushed aside, for the purpose and duration of your listicle, you did just that. The first “perk” you mention is the creation of “autism-friendly programs” in the school, such as workshops (for peers or teachers isn’t entirely clear.) But a child being a victim of bullying is not required for the implementation of such a program. So this is actually something schools should be doing well in advance of any peer abuse, to prevent it from happening at all. This is not then a benefit of bullying, but a consequence of insufficient planning.
The second “perk” of bullying you mention is team work. “Working together as a team in partnership with you as the parent, the school’s teaching staff, aides, principal, counselors, and psychologists will provide the safest environment for your child to learn and enjoy.” There is no reason to tell parents this is the automatic guaranteed response the school will have to their child being bullied. Bullying is an issue of school culture. From my experiences as a mother and as a former bullied child, I can say that while I didn’t change much from year to year, or develop tremendous social skills to explain the difference, some schools were much better and some much worse. When schools are proactive, bullying isn’t even an issue. If bullying is already happening, chances are you’re in a school that won’t care and won’t act to resolve it.
The third “perk” you suggest is Autism Awareness. But autistic adults have told us, countless times, that they want acceptance, not awareness. Anti-autistic hate groups like Autism Speaks have made sure everyone knows that autism is prevalent, and according to them, something to fear. Increased awareness in the absence of acceptance can lead to *more* bullying, not less. Making peers aware of a child’s differences without teaching them to accept those is not good anti-bullying.
The fourth, uniquely autistic “perk” of bullying you offer is increased verbal and communication skills. This is not necessarily true. Bullying is not actually known to be an effective teaching style, especially for children with communication impairments. Assuming that bullying and having to report bullying will fix these communication challenges, rather than making reporting more difficult and allowing bullying to go on longer, is not based in reality.
Your faith claim is that bullying builds strength. Again, reality and research don’t back you up. Bullying has long-term negative consequences and no real positive ones. It’s a form of peer abuse and a reflection of the school’s culture. A school where bullying happens is unlikely to be a school that takes bullying seriously, or works with a bullied child in constructive ways. When my son was being bullied by peers, that bullying was supported by teachers and other school personnel. The solution was to move and change schools, not to build connections with the culturally damaged school.
The sixth “perk” of bullying is paradoxically “more friendships”. In reality, bullied children are less likely to trust peers and will struggle to make friendships. Additionally, bullies tend to pick on children who already lack friends, as they won’t have allies. The experience of being bullied in no way at all guarantees or even increases the likelihood of forming good friendships. When my son started attending a school with an anti-bullying culture, he quickly formed friends with the other students.
You say the seventh “perk” of bullying is “overall well-being” in direct contrast to virtually all research on the health impacts of stress and loneliness. Apparently the not-actually-guaranteed increased speech skills from perk four are awesome enough to mitigate all the negative effects of being verbally or physically tortured by a peer while your parents were away and unable to intervene, and teachers chose not to.
Your eight ridiculous claim is that bullying leads to healthy relationships. “Ways to deal with bullying also help your child deal with sibling rivalry, ‘stranger danger’, or any other personal threat.” Yet again, a child being the victim of bullying is not required to teach social skills or safety standards. There is no reason to wait until your child has been harmed and abused to address other personal threats.
The ninth “perk” of bullying is a bit amorphous. You claim that being bullied will increase communication and survival skills, make my child more aware of people around them, make them a “conscientious citizen and good Samaritan“. You don’t mention that being bullied may make a child more fearful or aggressive, that heightened arousal is the far end of increased awareness, or that communication and survival skills are not in any way at all guaranteed to increase as a result of bullying.
Your tenth and final “perk” of autistic child bullying is the entirely baseless and unsupported claim that “Ironically, and in spite of the bully’s goal to do the opposite, your child will grow self-confidence and self-preservation esteem.” Except, even with strong parental support, even with moving the child out of the bullying school and into an anti-bullying school, even with therapist support, a child who has been bullied is an abuse survivor, and carries all the scars of that with them.
I understand the impulse to find a silver lining, but you mustn’t forget the cloud. Bullying is abuse. While many abuse survivors find strength in their recovery, or find ways to turn the harm done to them into good they do for the world, the price is simply too high. Preventing abuse should always be our goal. Asking child victims to turn abuse into a positive is asking too much. We should protect our children. That means schools need to implement effective, evidence-based bullying prevention and response systems, and parents need to watch out for signs of abuse like depression, avoiding school, faking illness or injury, and self-harm. It’s our job to look out for them, not their job to make the best of a bad situation we can fix for them but won’t.
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The “Autism Daily News” people have LIGHTLY re-edited the article (changing “perks” to “strategies” and a very few other words) _and_ they have closed comments there, removing several people’s comments (mine among them) It’s still at the same URL …,and, of course, the ten things they are calling “strategies” now are even less “strategies” than they were “perks”!
So go there, read the article, then (if you agree that it’s even worse than it was!) DIRECTLY reach the author and editor (the author is VERY easily Googled, and the editor/owner gets messages via Facebook Messages at Autism Daily News’ Facebook page.
Below is my response, in full, to the (unacceptably) rewritten article, which I have sent to the persons concerned. Feel free to use it to,spur your own ideas, if it helps.
The article’s vaunted change of title is a “Band-Aid” superficiality: plastering over the tiniest fraction of the surface of the wound you caused (which your article continues to inflict).
Changing the title, adding a word here, shading and a phrase there — without _fundamental_ change in the underlying presuppositions and attitudes — reveals itself clearly in thexslightly revised piece’s ineffectiv attempt to purvey ten alleged “bullying perks” as now, oh-so-nicely, “strategies.”
Let’s look, point by point, at what you are now dubbing “strategies.”
SISTO: “1. Promoting Autism-Friendly Programs: Bullying in schools can sometimes be the result of prejudice against the unexpected ways that children with autism speak and socialize.”
———– RESPONSE: To say that bullying is “sometimes” the result of prejudice is false. There is NO act of bullying that does not stem from someone’s prejudice. Prejudice instigates EVERY act of bullying — or (to call things by clear names) every act of torture, harassment, and assault.
(Torture, harassment, and assault are the words that the English language uses when these things are done to someone we care about. When they’re done to someone we don’t care as much about, such as someone else’s child, the same things get called “bullying” instead.)
Calling prejudice only “sometimes” a cause of bullying is not only false, but dangerously false — because, when you only _sometimes_ identify the roots of any evil, that evil will remain and spread. (Imagine where we’d be today, if we still thought that scurvy was only “sometimes” caused by lack of vitamin C!)
SISTO: “Not unlike other prejudices, this is an opportunity for parents and the school to promote social justice, tolerance, respect, and acceptance.”
———- RESPONSE: Promoting justice, respect, and so on, definitely matters. But justice, and all the rest of it, should have mattered _before_ the torture and assault. Treating these important and non-negotiable values as mere “strategies” to be hastily patched in after the fact … that is like watching me break my arms, then telling me that health and restored function are “strategies” which you will now use to promote a campaign to build a hospital. (And why does anyone call justice “_social_ justice”? — it is as if someone imagined that simply being just, simply being fair, couldn’t possibly be worthwhile unless it was “social” too. )
“Along with your help,”
——— RESPONSE: Who is the “your” here? Whom do you consider your audience? Us autistics? Our parents? If you meant to write the parents should be helping here, why not be clear about whom you’re talking to? Why not write “Along with the help of parents”?
The context, evident throughout the rest of this piece, does of course make plain an unstated presupposition that “you” = “parent.” I’ll return to this a bit further down, at the point where you begin to make inescapably plain that you wrote as if you assumed an autism-interested audience to be parents and _only_ parents. It is just as if you and your editor had forgotten, or had never learned, that a VERY large percentage of the people reading anything with “autism” in the title are — surprise! — us autistics (Many of us are NOT parents, and are more than a little sick of the presupposition that “a person reading about autism = a parent = probably a person without autism. “)
“schools should focus not only on integration within the mainstream for education but also guidance of how to better connect socially to their peers with autism – possibly through workshops or specially-structured activities.”
———- RESPONSE: That isn’t strategy: it’s a goal (which could, presumably, be reached _by_ strategies which you aren’t, here, spelling out). Calling it a “strategy” is like a speech pathologist telling a patient who stutters that “your treatment strategy should be to not stutter.”
”2. Team Work: Working together as a team in partnership with you as the parent,”
——– RESPONSE: Why, again, equate “you” (each reader) necessarily with “parent”? Why not write “in partnership with _the_ _parent(s)_,” instead of presuming that everyone in your audience can be described as “the parent”? Writing “in partnership with parents” would have conveyed your meaning WITHOUT the exclusionism of using a “you” that immediately specifies it doesn’t REALLY mean _everyone_ present.
“the school’s teaching staff, aides, principal, counselors, and psychologists will provide the safest environment for your child to learn and enjoy.”
——– RESPONSE: Again, do you or your editor Imagine that “Autism Daily News” is only for parents? Why assume that “your child” makes sense about every reader? Why not “provide the safest environment for _each_ _child_ to learn and enjoy”? (This would include each child — and each parent — without leaving so many of your other readers feeling, once again, as though “Autism Daily News” had a sign on the door reading: “Parents Welcome — People With Autism: We don’t mean YOU.”)
”3. Autism Awareness Every Month: Not just during October’s National Bullying Prevention Month but always, more awareness of the bullying of kids with autism means more awareness of autism overall.”
——— RESPONSE: Again, this is not a strategy — in fact, it isn’t even a sentence. It’s relabeling a hoped-for goal as a strategy (“Treatment for stuttering: Don’t stutter”) because you had to give up calling it a “perk”
“4. Kids Learn Skills: Teaching your child how to deal with bullies increases her verbal communication with words, nonverbal communication like body language and facial expressions, survival skills, civil liberties, and independence.”
———- RESPONSE: Again, this is not a strategy. It’s a vaguely worded curriculum item (“Teaching your child how to deal with bullies” tells _what_ to accomplish, not _how_), followed by some hoped-for outcomes (one of which is poorly expressed: “verbal communication with words” is pleonastic, like “female adults who are women.”)
“5. Builds Strength: As your child learns defensive skills from you, his friends, and his teachers, he is growing stronger connections with everyone.”
———-RESPONSE: “Builds strength” (with what follows) is, again, not a strategy, but an expected outcome. Further, “stronger connections with everyone” are not always even _desirable_ outcomes. “Everyone” after all,,includes the child’s tormentors. It is immoral to expect — let alone to teach — the victim of tortures to grow stronger connections” with his or her torturers. (Further, it is psychologically destructive. Google “Stockholm Syndrome.”)
“6. More Friendships:”
———- RESPONSE: “More friendships” is not a strategy.
“Discussing the communication and social deficits experienced by kids with autism puts greater social responsibility on their peers who don’t have autism. When it comes to a child with autism, being a proactive observer can make all the difference to prevent bullying and protect them. As a result, your child will spend more time with good friends, make new friends, and possibly will want to get involved in different activities with them.”
———- RESPONSE: Again, this is not a strategy; it’s what you _wish_ would happen. “Discussing the communication and social deficits” does not mean that the people with whom they are discussed will _do_ anything about the “greater social responsibility” they now supposedly have. It does NOT mean, for instance, that the target of torture will now get better friends. Too often, all that “discussing the communication and social deficits” actually _does_ is to give a a child’s actual or potential tormentors a better idea of just how and where to take advantage of these and damage the child further.
“7. Overall Well-Being:”
———- RESPONSE: That isn’t a strategy, It’s a wished-for outcome.
“Monitoring potential bullying activity”
——— RESPONSE: This, at last, is a strategy … or might be. ONE strategy, 3/4 of the way down a list of ten, is a very poor intellectual or practical return for an article that claimed to deliver strategies.
“requires the te7. aching staff”
——– RESPONSE: Hmmmm, “requires the …” _what_, exactly?! That glaring typo (“teaching” misspelled to include a numeral, a space, and a punctuation mark) appeared also in the earlier (“perks”) version of your article. Anyone can make an error: but preserving the error, in two successive versions of the document, provides clear evidence that it was carelessly edited both times — if it had been carefully edited for its revision (as the circumstances demanded), an error of this size would have almost certainly have been caught before the article appeared in its (barely altered) new form. (Especially disturbing is the fact that the particular error made — involving, as it does, a space added within the word — causes the five letters of the intended word “teaching” to appear as the separate word “aching.” Of all the words which might be created — and retained — through careless editing, the word “aching” is particularly unfortunate in an article on the subject at hand.)
“to supervise more and create new interventions to ensure the well-being of your child.”
———— RESPONSE: This (which of course should be done _before_, rather than after, any child ends up tortured) is not a strategy. (If a professional exam in any professional field were to ask for a list of strategies for attaining some curricular or practical goal, how many of the strategies in this article’s list of ten would be evaluated as being concretely and specifically measurable enough to rate as strategies and to monitor in action?)
”8. Healthy Relationships: Ways to deal with bullying also help your child deal with sibling rivalry, ‘stranger danger’, or any other personal threat.”
———– RESPONSE: “Healthy relationships” is not a strategy. To state that “ways to deal with bullying” exist and have advantages — without detailing what those “ways” are — is, again, to call a non-strategy a strategy.
“9. Increased Life Skills: With your child’s increased communication, survival skills, and independence, she will become more aware of the people around her. This makes your child a conscientious citizen and a good Samaritan towards other people who may be in need overall, not just due to bullying.”
———— RESPONSE: Again, you are using the label “strategy” to (mis)name a goal — or, more precisely, a wish. It is as if a nutrition article on”ten strategies for losing weight” told readers to follow a “strategy” which was: “With losing weight, you will be healthy and you will start helping others to lose weight.”
”10. Self-Esteem: Ironically, and in spite of the bully’s goal to do the opposite, your child will grow self-confidence and self-preservation esteem.”
———– RESPONSE: Again: this is not a strategy. Further: “self-preservation esteem” is not good English, but is (once more) most likely to be sloppy editing.
The “Band-Aid” quick-fix quality of the revision suggests a rush job — as if the writer, and/or the editor, thought that changing the title and a couple of surface details would prevent people from noticing that the piece remains substantially unchanged. In particular, as shown above the decision to reclassify alleged “perks” as “strategies” makes the content and structure of the work even more difficult to take seriously and to apply as real-world advice. The problems throughout the revision (notably including the weaknesses of structure and content which were created by misusing or misunderstanding the concept of “strategy”) do not speak well for the writing, editing, or other expertise involved. (I cannot speculate on whether the problems were allowed to pass into print because of sheer haste — people scrambling to fix a misguided article, and hoping that a surface retouching would pass muster — or because someone assumed that not everyone in the audience would bother to read very carefully after having discerned problems with a previous version of the work — or because of some other reason. Whatever the cause, though, the [slightly] revised article remains conspicuously inappropriate, in more than one regard, for “Autism Daily News” or any publication which strives to be helpful, fair, and respectful of its readers and of their experiences and concerns.)