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.