Across the community, autism is notorious for creating havoc for people with the condition and their family members, who attempt to understand how someone who appears to have no disability can be so disruptive.
Two of the most recognizable newspapers offered insight on those obstacles Monday. A recent study picked up on most outlets reported that out of 920 parents with autistic adolescents surveyed, 46 percent of young autistic people said they were victimized by bullying.
The study, published in the online journal Archives of Pediatrics and American Medicine, was cited in an article from The New York Times. Exact numbers are difficult to pinpoint, but estimates suggest 10.6 percent of the general adolescent population has been bullied, meaning autistic youth are over four times as likely to be a target for bullying. Conversely, the rate of autistic children who enacted torments was 14.8 percent, similar to the estimated rate for the entire adolescent group.
Not surprisingly, children who are considered on the high-functioning end of the spectrum were at the greatest risk for harassment. Although the stance toward mental disabilities like autism is more receptive than when this writer attended school, the unusual quirks and mannerisms of autistic children are clearer to spot in mainstream classes, where students are exposed to bullies the most.
Although the study was based on data collected in 2001, the issue remains a highly topical one as school bullying has received much national attention. While states have passed anti-bullying legislation and school districts take a tougher stance to stop the problem, autistic students may have trouble communicating stories of bullying, if they’re even aware of the tyranny at all. Because people on the autism spectrum are less likely to decipher sarcastic and humorous language, they can be easy prey for perpetrators, who can make fun of them without the victims understanding the intention.
Elementary and middle school can be particularly tumultuous, as students sometimes try to fit in by pointing out the differences of others in order to feel more normal themselves. Autistic people are not the only prone segment, as homophobic bullying has received more mainstream media exposure in recent years.
Such oppression is routinely parodied and dramatized in media from children’s programming to comic book series, but the consequences are gripping. Victims are at a higher risk of depression, stress, collapse in academic performance, and suicide. Prolonged exposure can lead to feelings of insecurity and a desire for revenge. School bullying is also believed to be a major cause of school shootings.
The long-term exposure in my formative years prevented any significant attempt to establish social friendships out of concern that doing so would only set myself up for a pitfall. While my strengths in memorization helped me score well in grading reports, I have effectively blocked out most of my youthful memories to maintain focus on the present.
Beyond bullying, autism can have a profound effect on siblings of autistic people, as a Monday editorial published by The Washington Post demonstrates. There is limited research on the subject, but experts believe a younger sibling has an easier adjustment process because they have always been exposed to the concept, whereas older siblings have a sudden shift to deal with.
The side effects for siblings of autistic children can be harrowing due to the lack of control they possess over the situation. Siblings may be embarrassed to bring friends over, wondering if their mentally disabled relative will suffer an emotional meltdown. They may also withhold feelings, fearing it could overburden their parents and fail to meet expectations of higher responsibilities. Because parents spend much time and resources attempting to compensate for a child’s autism, siblings may feel left out.
Cowing may not be a common strategy for brothers and sisters of autistic people, but article author Ranit Mishori references instances of herself and her subjects would engage in ethically questionable behaviors to prevent their autistic relative from compromising their social standing.
However, researches have highlighted positive effects on having a sibling on the autism spectrum. In stable families with no demographic risks, the long-term impact is limited in its negativity. Experts say most siblings end up doing well and even gain early lessons in patience and responsibility.
Even fictional representations have adopted this view. The 1988 film Rain Man documents the growth of lead character Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), whose selfish views are extinguished through a cross-country road trip with his much older autistic brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). In the film’s climax, Charlie defends Raymond when he feels his brother is being unfairly interrogated during a custody hearing.