An interview I did on bullying for the award-winning website www.greatschools.net, brought up some surprisingly recent memories for me. Here's the article:
As the parent of a kid with a disability, usually I can identify with other parents in the same boat. Once though, there was this guy--I'm sure he's a decent sort and didn't mean to--but oh brother, did he tick me off! We were watching our kids, both of whom have autism, participate in an adaptive sports program. We were bragging goodnaturedly to one another about our boys' athletic prowess, when he recalled an earlier time when his nonverbal boy was targeted by bullies. I empathized with this father's pained helplessness as he described his son's hardships. I agreed with his observation that kids can be cruel. But my sympathy for the father evaporated when he half-smiled, shrugged and said that that was simply the way of things. Kids like ours, who have differences, will always be picked on by "normal" kids. He picked on "dfferent" kids when he was a child, and then said he assumed that I did too.
I did not. Like many adults with Asperger's syndrome, I am now fairly indistinguishable from adults who do not share my condition, but my childhood was peppered, no it was awash, with mean-spirited Kids-Being-Kids and their fellow travelers. The gang leaders got a kick out of kicking me, calling me names, just generally being the bullies they seemed destined to be, but the kids on the sidelines, the ones who didn't join in, but were too afraid to opt out, those were the ones who made the dynamic possible. Real bullies love and need an audience.
Don't worry, I didn't lecture this father, obviously his son's difficulties had taught him something about empathy. But I didn't engage with him any further, because there was no way he would ever understand that an well-spoken autistic adult like me STILL has far more in common with the nonverbal son than with the former-bully father. I did, however, introduce my little boy, who has a bit language, to this father's devestatingly handsome teen-aged son. I described the young man's accomplishments, telling my son to watch and learn as much as he could. My son followed his new hero around for hours. That's the way this young man shoud have been treated all of his life, and I hope he will be treated that way for the rest of it.