Photo credit: Mirror
It is an unfortunate part of life that some children will end up bullying other people their age. Some children seem to have an uncanny ability to hone in on a difference and exploit it, turning it into a weakness and hurting the other kid.
Children with autism are especially vulnerable. They are often lacking in social skills, so when bullies focus on them they often are unable to defend themselves properly. This leads to more bullying.
Up to seventy-five percent of children with autism report being bullied in school. Education about the dangers of bullying can help, as does a proper support system.
One school aged child at the Cotham School in Bristol, England, is such a victim of bullying. His name is Jack Lowe, and his autism led the bullies to target him.
He has decided to fight back. Not with violence, but with an informative and moving film.
Autism and Bullying
We have discussed autism and bullying before, but it is such an important subject that it is worth revisiting. Bullying is the repeated abuse of one person by another, coming from misused social or physical power.
It can take many forms. Pushing other kids around and stealing their money or supplies is probably the most well-known form of physical bullying. Bullying can be emotional as well, from outright abuse such as making fun of appearance, to far more subtle forms such as pretending to be a friend while setting up the victim to fall into embarrassing situations.
That latter abuse is particularly likely to trap children with autism, as they may not be able to read the social cues which would otherwise inform them that they are falling into a trap. The resulting emotional damage can destroy the child’s trust in their peers, and lead to mental problems in their adult life. It can also lead to a loss of self-esteem.
As children with autism often know that they are not as socially adept as their peers, they can find it difficult to stand up for themselves or to seek out help from an authority figure.
It does not help that a lot of people are misinformed about autism, and believe it to be a problematic mental disability. Really, it is just a difference in experiencing and responding to stimuli, and the problem children with autism have with their other peers with autism may stem from this misunderstanding.
Jack Lowe has stepped out of his comfort zone to address his bullying by becoming part of a project that has led to the creation of a film, starring himself. It shows his situation and explains what it is like to be a child with autism.
A Meaningful School Project
The film was based on Jack Lowe, and he stars in it, but it was produced by students at another school. That school is Fairfield High School, and the film, titled “Think Beyond Autism,” was produced as part of an ongoing project called Sharp Shotz.
Sharp Shotz aims to combine school subjects such as English, arts, and the humanities with education about health and society. The goal is to allow school aged children to highlight social issues and bring them before a wide audience.
All of the writers, directors, and producers were school children, with help from the North Somerset Community Partnership, University of the West of England, and BBC Bristol.
Think Beyond Autism
In the film, Jack Lowe is joined with Henry Barnes, a member of the National Autistic Society. Jack explains his thoughts and views, and Mr. Barnes offers a slightly more academic explanation.
It starts with Jack sitting in a library, explaining how autism can be both good and bad, in his experience. Occasionally it cuts to Mr. Barnes, who explains some of the negative effects of bullying.
Jack Lowe’s narration continues as the imagery changes to show situations which exhibit Jack’s separation from his peers. It continues into depictions of examples of the abuse he suffered, while both he and Mr. Barnes explain how bullying hurts children with autism.
The film goes into how the situation can improve. Mr. Barnes encourages the victims of bullying to bring their concerns to an authority figure. The National Autistic Society, an association in the United Kingdom which provide support for people with autism, is brought up as a resource which helped Jack.
Jack is shown writing a letter then folding it into a paper airplane and tossing it at his bullies, who read the letter. At this point the narration is about educating other people about autism. Finally, Jack leaves the school as friends with the children who had previously been his bullies.
The end of the film encourages the viewer to see the person behind the autism. After all, every person with autism is a person, not just their autism.
In His Words
Here is an excerpt of Jack Lowe’s statements from the video that starts to detail his experience:
“In my experience, autism can be good and bad in a lot of ways. It can make me feel like an outcast; it can make me get bullied. I have experienced discrimination from my peers. I will always try to ignore them, but when I get upset I will bang my head against the wall to stop me from lashing out. They bully me and wouldn’t leave me alone. They would take my things. If I said something to them, they would just ignore me. They knew I would get really upset, because they knew how it affected me and they took advantage of that.”
We are still learning much about autism, both how it develops in children and how it expresses itself. We do not have to, and in fact should not, wait for science to have a perfect understanding of autism before we try to understand it ourselves and educate others about it.
Autism is not a disability; it is a disorder, and even then, the harm that comes from it is not from the autism itself, but from other people’s responses to it. Like many other things, people fear and mistrust what they do not understand, and it can be difficult for a neurotypical person to understand someone with autism.
The best way to bridge the gap in understanding is educational expressions such as this film. While some people on the spectrum are non-vocal, others are, and they can teach us what it is like to live with autism.
By paying attention and learning their side of things, people who are neurotypical will be able to understand what it is like to live with autism, and thus be more able to have positive relationships with children and adults with autism.
School-aged children with autism, and adults with autism too, are at a higher likelihood of being bullied than their peers. This bullying comes from perceived differences and misunderstandings. Education is one of the best ways to reduce bullying.
Jack Lowe, a student in England, had been bullied relentlessly. He decided that the best way to fight back was to create an educational film and to share his experiences with the world. This is a very brave act, and is one to be commended.
Share the word, and educate yourself and others on what it is like to live with autism. If even one child decides to befriend instead of bully another child, there will have been success.
You can watch the video using the link below.