The following article was submitted by Linda Griffin, Resource Specialist Director for the Autism Society of North Carolina, for National Bullying Awareness Month.
One of the most painful chapters in my life was when my young son was being bullied. His eccentricities, inappropriate remarks, rigid rule-following, and lack of social understanding were all catalysts for teasing and taunting by other children – sometimes in subtle form and sometimes in more flagrant acts involving emotional and physical violation. He was called names, his book bag dumped on the floor, his lunch tray knocked out of his hands, his drumsticks broken, and his papers torn. He was pushed, tripped, laughed at, excluded, and even punched and kicked. On one occasion, my son was hit, kicked, and slapped by another student in a classroom with the teacher present. The teacher’s back was to the students, and when he caught the interaction out of the corner of his eye, he sent both my son and the offender to the principal’s office for punishment. After classmates were interrogated, the truth came to light. The teacher then called me to discuss “victimization” and advised me that my son should learn to make eye contact and carry himself in a more assertive way to avoid future attacks. I was insulted and angry that it seemed my son was being blamed for incensing the bully. After that terrible incident, we homeschooled our son for a time. Eventually we placed him back in public school but with great care for his safety. We used his IEP to denote “safe places” and structured his day to avoid times and places that had been a problem. These measures made his high school years less stressful and more positive.
A few years after our son graduated from high school, an anti-bullying bill was introduced in the North Carolina legislature. Needless to say, I was a strong proponent, and so was the Autism Society of North Carolina. I wrote a letter to my district representative describing our painful journey. This sympathetic legislator kept my letter in his shirt pocket and read it on the floor of the House before the final vote on the bill. I don’t know whether it touched or changed anyone’s heart, but for me, it underscored the value of speaking out against wrong.
In 2009, the General Assembly passed the School Violence Prevention Act. The law specifically prohibits bullying and harassing behavior – written, electronic, verbal, or physical. The law applies to every student and school employee, and it specifically mentions students with developmental or sensory disabilities as a protected group. The School Violence Prevention Act requires every school district in North Carolina to implement an anti-bullying policy that includes:
- A statement prohibiting bullying or harassing behavior
- A definition of bullying or harassing behavior no less inclusive than that set forth in the law
- A description of the type of behavior expected for each student and school employee
- Consequences and appropriate remedial action for a person who commits an act of bullying or harassment
- A procedure for reporting an act of bullying or harassment, including a provision that permits a person to report such an act anonymously. (This does not mean that formal disciplinary action will be permitted solely on the basis of an anonymous report.)
- A procedure for prompt investigation of reports of serious violation and complaints of any act of bullying or harassment, identifying either the principal or the principal’s designee as the person responsible for the investigation
- A statement that prohibits reprisal or retaliation against any person who reports an act of bullying or harassment, and the consequence and appropriate remedial action for a person who engages in reprisal or retaliation
- A statement of how the policy is to be disseminated and publicized, including notice that the policy applies to participation in school-sponsored functions
This law cannot undo the awful things that happened to my son, but I am comforted to think that it has made a difference for the children who have inherited its mandate. The School Violence Prevention Act certainly has acknowledged that bullying exists and points school staff in the right direction. Hopefully, this law will lead to a change in our culture – one where the entire community is involved in bullying prevention; where children are taught what behavior is expected and appropriate; where no one stands by as a silent witness without intervening; where adults promote kindness and respect for everyone … just imagine.
The Autism Society of North Carolina has an online resource guide on bullying, and our bookstore contains dozens of titles addressing the problem. Please let us know if we can help you. Linda Griffin, Resource Specialist Director, can be reached at 919-865-5090 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Tags: autism, autism advocacy, autism education, autism legislation, autism north carolina, autism society north carolina, autism society of NC, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum, Bullying, Developmental disability, North Carolina, North Carolina General Assembly