Saturday, 5 December 2015

Bullying of Autistic People

“Bullying is achieved by projection of the bully's inadequacy onto others, through criticism, exclusion, isolation, etc.
Bullying is sustained by denial, counter-accusation, pretence of victimhood .  It is perpetuated by fear, ignorance, indifference, silence, denial, disbelief, deception, evasion of accountability, tolerance and by reward for the bully.”
(Adapted from the summary by Tim Field, national expert in bullying and prevention).

Research shows us that targets of bullying tend to have highly developed empathy for, and sensitivity of others.  A high degree of perceptiveness.  A strong sense of fair play and reasonableness.  Very non-violent and reluctant to report something, not wanting to get the person into trouble.  A strong forgiving streak and a mature understanding of the need to resolve conflict with dialogue.

Often, targets of bullying have a personal characteristic that is different. Disability, colour, etc.   Autistic people experience extensive bullying and targeting from a few people, because we are different. 

Victim-blaming is how bullies keep their bullying going. Best if they can get others to agree that we are actually the bullies, or that we deserved it.    Or that we are somehow paranoid, inadequate, 'a bit unstable, bless them'.  They will tell people not to get involved.  They will tell others that the person is a nightmare to deal with, and best left alone.  They will fabricate and falsify accounts of what happened, even when real evidence exists.  And, most importantly, they will claim that they are the real victims.

Most people want to believe the bully.  Especially if the person is socially excellent.

Few people want to believe the autistic person.  After all, we have a social communication disability.  Our exact problem is that we do not have 'the gift of the gab' (to use an expression).  The ability to persuade others.  Bullies do.  Guess who wins, in any situation where the listener is unsure about autism?  A good predator with excellent social skills and a clueless audience will win every 'battle for hearts and minds'.

The most simple way to unpick a situation is to look at the outcome.  Who ended up afraid and having to leave?  Who ended up living personally with no money or resources?  Which person has a social communication disability and would struggle to manipulate people, and which other person does not? 

Is anyone pretending that the autistic person is 'a nuisance' or 'deserved it'?  
Is anyone telling you that they 'have extensive experience dealing with autistic people and they can't be trusted'.  Or spreading myths about us being dangerous?

Do please be careful about this.  Logically, it is as untrue as if someone came up to you and said, "I have extensive experience dealing with women, and they can't be trusted - they are so dangerous". 

Never, ever fall for the trick of believing a whole million autistic people in the UK are identical to some single bizarre case they will give you as the example.  (A case where they misunderstood what was happening, most of the time, and thought it was malice of some kind... when it's a epilepsy event happening). Let me put it this way - do you believe all clergy are exactly like some clergyperson in Court on a charge of something?   Or that all people with size nine feet are likely to be mass murderers?  It makes no sense, yes?  It makes no sense for autism either. 

We all have a responsibility to stop the victim-blaming, and to start looking at the bullies.  Find out more.  Get good training.  Review your safeguarding materials and think about how these apply to this honest, caring and often-vulnerable group of people.  

And be prepared to be our allies in a world where predators see too many autistic people as easy targets.  A bully relies on you knowing nothing about autism, in order to spread misinformation about us.  Is your organisation or group getting really good training on the million autistic people in the country from actual autistic experts?  Why not?  Would the group book training on (say) Black issues by booking a load of white people who had once met a Black person?   Would they book a course on how to be a musician from someone who had once seen a musical instrument, or from actual musicians?  Same with autism.  There's a strange myth that if you've invited a Psychologist or Psychiatrist along, that must count.  Well, they are of course splendid people. But autism is not a psychological difficulty, and most of them get no training on autism apart from when they are in our lectures.  The absolute top qualification for autism is 'being autistic'.  And there are many autistic professionals on this topic.  Not random autistic people plucked out of the crowd.  Professionals who earn a living from explaining autism, and who are autistic. Speaking from first hand experience, living with autistic family members, working with autistic colleagues of all kinds at all parts of the spectrum.  Any good non-autistic expert will want to work with us as partners in the course.  Look for respectful co-working from them.   

If you are not getting training from actual autistic folk, think about who is stopping you learning about autism from autistic people themselves.  What is their motive?  That can be a scary set of thoughts to start having about colleagues.  But brace yourself, and go there with that set of thoughts.  Ask them why they are objecting.  See if the reasons are based on myths, or malicious gossip, or maybe both.   Then start getting some real information in there.  There are so many fantastic autistic advocates and trainers working with places now.  Seek them out.  Many wonderful professionals also, who work alongside us in responsible ways.  Tony Attwood is one such.  Always worth getting to his conferences, at which I and the Autism Oxford team speak alongside him.  Find us, talk with us, learn about us as people and friends.

Me, I've had my fair share of bizarre behaviour from a few people.  Many people of course are splendid friends and entirely safe.  But predators know how to spot us, alas.  As if the world is not hard enough for disabled folk, without us being targeted.

I keep loving, and praying, and working for a world where we learn to communicate with autistic people in good ways.  I forgive the people who did what they did.  But I also have to be responsible about how we train people on autism.  Basic safety has to underpin that.  And the world I want is one where no autistic people have to put up with sexual abuse and violence.  Nor with being told it's our fault and our responsibility to be nicer to the bullies. 

Is that the world you want, too?