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The Fight

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a rising senior at Seton Hall University, majoring in Sports Management. He started the club Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

Over the past months, I’ve received emails from parents asking for advice in regards to schooling for their son/daughter who is on the spectrum. In this blog, I discuss a situation I dealt with in 4th grade. I would like to note that this occurrence happened years ago when autism was still very new to most public education programs. I consider it a precursor to the discussions today on bullying. It would be great if you would like to comment with your own experiences in school if you have a loved one on the spectrum in the comment section below.

I wasn’t sure how it ended up happening the way it did, it just did.

I was in 4th grade in a Special Ed – Multi-handicapped classroom with kids ranging from the age of 6 to 14.

I was in the middle of recess when a kid in my class started screaming in my right ear.

I started to panic. The noise made me feel uneasy.

I told him to stop. I started to get angry. He stopped.

I looked at the substitute teacher in class who was staring back at me looking more scared at the moment than I was. She was still; emotionless.

I turned in my chair, away from the boy, and watched while my other classmates were hanging out around me.

At this time I tried to focus. I had a hard time getting my thoughts together on what I should do. A scream is directed towards me again. Same guy, but the left ear this time. That is when I lost control.

I stood up and grabbed the chair I was sitting in and pulled it over my head. Now I was the one doing the screaming towards him. The boy’s scream stopped while he looked terrified.

I pushed the chair towards him until he suddenly grabbed it in mid air. I was now pushing the chair towards him while at the same time he was pushing it towards me. The boy was about 5-6 inches taller than I was and maybe 2 or 3 years older. My grip was loosening every second of this back and forth and he was clearly the stronger of the two.

The substitute teacher at about this time started yelling at both of us to stop. I dropped my grip and put my hands up to my ears while the boy got a free love tap with the chair to my right shoulder until he lost his grip and the chair went flying towards the ground.

I remember the substitute teacher specifically tried at a lighter tone, “You are lucky your real teacher isn’t here or you both would be suspended.”

I lost it at this time and went to the back of the classroom to get away, sobbing. The substitute teacher didn’t say another word about the incident for the rest of the period.

I was pretty quiet for the rest of the day until one of my best friends came up to me later that day and said, “I heard what happened. The word is that someone told him you don’t like noise. That’s why he started screaming. He wanted to see what would happen; if he could use it against you.” I rolled my eyes and that’s pretty much all I remember from that day…

After repeated incidents, my parents pulled me out of public school and tried to place me at a private school out of our district, under the “Universal Placement of Students” clause.  It was a small, expensive private school for students with neurological impairments. They had to sue our school district to help with funding. This is a process I’m sure many parents with kids on the spectrum have experienced. They also drove me back and forth 50 miles round trip for the next 8 years until I finished high school.

In that private school setting there were only 160 kids. We all had some letters to describe us and the atmosphere was much better. Also everyone on staff was trained to deal with students with some sort of special need.

Looking back now, as a 6’2’’ soon to be college graduate, regardless if the kid knew that I was on the spectrum or not, it made me consider whether other individuals with similar situations as myself are still dealing with similar issues today.  While I was growing up, especially in early grammar school, because of the label of being in a “special ed” program, whether I liked it or not, that was the label that was put on my classmates and me. The other kids saw it like that, and we saw it like that.

I don’t expect this to help anyone narrow the choice of where to send a student on the spectrum to school, public, private, mainstreamed, self contained…. Those are all legitimate subjects for another blog post. This was just a look back at what can be described as a right of passage for many “special” kids.   It is a passage that no child on the spectrum should have to suffer.

Educators and staff saying, “these are kids being kids” is unacceptable.   Even though the kids who tormented me may have had their own special problems, adults need to be aware and step in.

Inclusion for kids on the spectrum is often not the right solution.  In my case, I was left in an atmosphere of bullying with no one to help. Public schools are facing dwindling budgets and often aren’t able to provide the protected environment kids on the spectrum need.  I was lucky to have parents who found a safe and protective environment for me.  Many kids are not as fortunate.  I hope by spreading awareness of just how scary our world can sometimes be, people will display more sensitivity and provide the resources for us to feel safe and grow.

If you are involved with Autism Speaks U on your campus and would like your story to be featured on the Autism Speaks blog, please send it to AutismSpeaksU@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

  1. Elizabeth
    January 24, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    My son was diagnosed with Apergers and he is in a wonderful pubic school. He also has moments where noise bothers him. Please do not dismiss public schools entirely. Ours has several children on the spectrum and they provide extra aids. The school district has an autism specialist, many therapists who help and are very knowledgeable. The other children also help with their classmates, they know what bothers them and tell the other kids to stop.

    Many schools systems have also taken the pro-active approach to bulling too. Know that many kids on the spectrum are contributing to the “main stream” classrooms today and we hope building a more aware and understanding society.

    I know each system is different but do not dismiss all public schools out there.

  2. Heather A
    January 24, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    Kerry: Thanks so much for your article! My son is a 4th grade who deals with bullying at times, but thank God, has a lot of support with his 2 teachers and one para, an OT, PT, and weekly group sessions with the Guidance Counselor (who he adores). So far (just this year) inclusion is working – but I make sure to go on nearly all field trips to get a feel for the class and know his teachers well. Sound like you have wondeful parents, and that you are a really strong young man! God bless you!

  3. Tammy
    January 24, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Kerry; Thanks for writing this article and being a voice for so many that are dealing with bullying. Also for being an inspiration to us parents who have wondered if our children will be able to go to college and make it. My brother grew up undiagnosed and without knowledgable support, and unfortunately although he had an IQ in the gifted range, he was not able to be successful in college or in work and lives off of disability.

    On the other hand, our son was diagnosed at 8 years of age, and being an OT, I set to work on making sure he got plugged into all of the available resources. We chose to homeschool for 5 years after our son encountered mass bullying in public school with very little control from his teachers or staff. The school had very little special education available, abnd made it clear they were not supportive of children with any kind of special needs that required accommodation.

    After 5 years of homeschooling, our son is attending a small, private christian school that has been very accommodating. Our son is 15 now and doing exceptionally well academically, although he still struggles socially. He like you has a very hard time with noise, but especially with large groups and significant change.

    I agree with you. MOST public schools are not equipped to provide the accommodations that are needed by kids on the spectrum, nor are they equipped to provide an environment that is most condusive to learning. I know this b/c I worked in the public schools for several years. I believe that this deficit will only grow worse with impending budget cuts and in a lot of areas, declining enrollment that requires school consolidation and larger classroom sizes.

  4. Bobbie Bush
    January 24, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Kerry, I am the grandmother of a 4 year old boy diagnosed last summer as being on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. My heart was warmed to read your articulate, heartfelt blog. Not because you were bullied or even because your parents put you in a safer learning environment. Your wonderful way of expressing yourself has given me another ray of hope that Miles will be able to fully express all of the wonder and intelligence I see when I look into his eyes. He is zoned for a very good public school system. He is already receiving occupational and speech therapy at the elementary school. The OT makes us feel that he is her only student. She has already accompanied him to the 5 year old kindergarten class to accustom him to the sights and sounds. Her next plan is to let him join them for lunch. We can see progress with him every day. His spontaneous vocabulary is rapidly growing, sometimes to our dismay. We have learned that he hears and understands EVERYTHING we say. So, my son, his wife and I have all had to be mindful of the words we use. He WILL use them somewhere down the road and he will use them correctly. Sometimes that is funny. Other times, it shames us for the language we have used in front of him. Thank you, again, for being you. As I am certain you have learned, life is made up of all kind of wonderful people. The sooner each one of us learns to embrace everyone’s differences as well as the similarities, the sooner the bullying will stop. It has to start with the adults. Thanks for reminding us of that!

  5. Patty Freed
    January 24, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    We have a son who is 17, high functioning Aspergers Syndrome, he has had problems with bullying up until he got to be 5ft 10 and 200 pounds. This issue does need to be addressed, but until people realize, that no, this does not have to be the way kids behave, it will never stop. Bullying comes from low self esteem, I was bullied growing up because I was poor, and one time because of the fact I was white and they were black, three of them bullying me. He wont defend himself, so they push him until he snaps like you did. Now that he is bigger not so much. Our school is afraid he will go postal on them, we have no such issues at home, yes he gets angry, but there are accepted ways to express it and he has learned what these are. We have to get people educated about what Autism is and is not. And like I told one of the kids once “Everyone has something they can be criticized about, you are not perfect either.”” thanks for sharing

  6. January 24, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    I feel like this is something that could happen to my son in a few years, and it made me happy that he is in the school where he is for now. It also reminds me that as his mom I need to be his advocate and voice. It’s okay to give a long list of “things to remember” for your child at the beginning of the school year. Teachers will go back and look if they need (hopefully — I know I did when I was a teacher). I appreciated your personal story. Thank you for sharing.

  7. James Hoffman
    January 24, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    I am an 40ish adult on the spectrum. I say “Fight!”. The world is a cruel place; whether as a child or an adult. Always was always will be. Not a place to be seen as weak. “Fight!!”, I say “Fight!!”.

  8. salam berhane
    January 24, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    I know things are a little different than you went to school but still some people are very unkind. I think it starts with the parents we need to teach our children to love and accept everyone only then are they able to accept someone different than them. Thank you Kerry and I hope things will get better for our children

  9. Suzanne
    January 25, 2011 at 5:20 am

    As your mother Kerry I am truly sorry I ddint know about this when it happened.
    I also know that the work you are doing sharing what it is like to be on the spectrum is truly amazing from the responses you are getting. At four we like many who post here had no idea what the future would bring for you and I am grateful for Autism Speaks to give you the venue to offer your stories. Stay warm its freezing out!

  10. Sarah
    January 25, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Kerry – Love your posts as usual. Looking at pulling out my AS child right now.

    ANYWAY, saw this article in the NYTimes and thought of you – I remember one of your posts saying that you got really into exercise in middle school (lifting weights, I think). How fortuitous you wrote a timely blog entry so I can send it along. “Phys Ed: Brains and Brawn”, By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS, January 19, 2011, 12:01 am, The New York Times http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/19/phys-ed-brains-and-brawn/?scp=1&sq=brain%20exersize&st=cse

  11. January 25, 2011 at 9:16 am

    It breaks my heart to hear these kinds of stories. We are very fortunate in Walpole, Mass, to have a public school program that has a culture based on respect and acceptance. I am not saying things like this do not happen on occassion, I’m sure they do, but they are NOT tolerated. My son is in an inclusive 4th grade class and I am always amazed, every time I volunteer, how caring and respectful the kids are to one another. Every child who passes through the school spends 1 year in the inclusive classroom and is taught about differences. I am lucky, my son has not been teased or bullied (yet). I am not foolish enough to believe it will never happen, it is inevitable, but I am grateful for the efforts of the school to create an environment where my son feels like he belongs and where he had flourished.

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Words-4-Autism/323956325331?ref=ts

  12. Tonya
    January 25, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    One of the things we really struggled with when our 7 year old got ready to start school was the bully factor. I personally had been bullied as a child, and I had seen my oldest son bullied at his last school. However, the school he is in is absolutely wonderful. We have only had one incident with any type of bullying and that was an 8th grader (who was in my oldest son’s class) followed my kids home from school one afternoon and kept calling Cannon (our autistic 7 year old) a “retard”. My 10 year old daughter (I think she was actually 8 or 9 at the time) jerked the kid’s backpack off his back and proceeded to beat him over the head with it. She then punched him in the stomach once and the face twice, kicked him in the knee, collected herself, grabbed Cannon’s hand and walked the half a block home. Needless to say that kid never called Cannon a “retard” again, and once the school heard about what had happened his parents received a phone call. The funny part was that it happened right next to the Sheriff’s department and County Courthouse. I don’t usually encourage my children to fight, but in this case, I felt it was more than called for.

  13. Suzanne
    January 26, 2011 at 6:34 am

    Tonya

    Special Olympics had a program last year Spread the Word to End the Word the r word
    Kerry’s SDA program did it on Seton hall campus and I know some NJ school systems did it also.

  14. January 27, 2011 at 10:19 am

    I always find your posts very helpful and enlightening. I am so glad you eventually ended up in a better situation. It’s ridiculous to think a child should be able to cope with that kind of pressure. I am so grateful my son has a parapro with him through his day, because in addition to the help she provides, nobody gets a chance to seriously torment him. In the past, when he didn’t have someone with him for things like recess, or in later grades when his regular parapro had some situation or illness and the substitute was delayed, it was amazing how quickly the vultures descended upon him. They could sense his difficulty and saw an opportunity for their own amusement. No one could see how impossible this made it for him to behave and function the way they wanted for him to do. Changing this one thing has made a world of difference.

  15. Karen
    February 2, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Kerry,
    As others have said, your account was bot distressing and encouraging. My 11 year old son has Aspergers, and this year in fifth grade has encountered bullying, although it is in some very subtle, hard to catch forms. Because of budget issues, his support has been cut, so he is not very equipped to respond constructively. We are having to fight for his special ed. status to be maintained because the school(and the New York state) define success in school solely by grades. Since he has good grades, he doesn’t need help is what they try to tell us. I am encouragesd by your status as a senior in college. It reinforces to me that the world is wide open for my son; he will just enter through a different door!

  1. January 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm

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