Trigger warnings: bullying, violence, rape
Chapter three of Matty’s story describes his experience and middle school and some of the problems he faced as a young boy with undiagnosed Asperger’s struggling to understand the point of view of others. If you haven’t read chapter’s one and two, then I urge you to do so, as they provide an eye opening account of what life is like for autistic children and highlight the need for autism awareness within schools. (Both chapters can be found on the Seeing Double blog). This chapter deals with something that we all face, but that young people on the spectrum are particularly vulnerable to: bullying. It’s something I experienced myself at school, where I stuck out like a sore thumb and (for the first couple of years) had almost no interest in social interaction. Being a girl, most of the bullying I experience was psychological, and a lot of it went straight over my head due to my issues with literal thinking and not being able to interpret facial expressions or social cue’s. For Matty, however, a great deal of the bullying he faced involved physical violence and his account of it is not for the faint hearted. It’s always a pleasure to read Matty’s blogs. However, I found this passage more difficult to edit due to the immersive nature of the story and the shocking events that take place. Now, here’s chapter three of Matty’s Story…
Today should have been my first day of placement on an early year’s teacher training course. I barely slept last night due to a toxic cocktail of excitement and nerves, and arrived at school early, only to find out my placement had fallen through. I’m now sat at my laptop with this little setback reminding me of some of the difficulties I encountered at high school. Before discussing these difficulties, I want to highlight that I’m fully aware my concerns are far less serious than the circumstances occurring in other people’s lives and this blog is not written through the desire to elicit sympathy or portray myself as more unfortunate than others. I simply want to share my story.
The transition to high school from middle school was a confusing time for me. In 2000, the school system changed so that all the middle schools in the country would be closed. I was supposed to stay at middle school for another 2 years, but we were moved to high school in year 7. However, the high school I’d chosen did not have the facilities to hold extra students. The year 7 and 8 pupils were all moved to another middle school, where we’d remain for two months while additional rooms were built at the high school.
I had settled in to the middle school I had been at, and I felt it was unfair to shift us all down to another one. This new campus was old and dark, and I was in floods of tears the first few days. One thing which helped a lot was the reunion with L. We had managed to come to negotiation with the head teacher and would be allowed to be in the same class, after initially being separated. However, my problems were just beginning.
I looked at the other students at Buttershaw High school like they were monsters. I realise now I’d had a different upbringing to them, some of the students growing up right in the middle of a rough estate. Their way of surviving was to act tough. They would bully me to hide their own insecurities. In hindsight a lot of it was banter, but I didn’t understand the difference back then between humour and seriousness. The amount of time L protected me from bullies when I lost my temper over something they said was ridiculous.
L insisted on buying me lunch at the local chip shop. This took me out of my usual routine of eating lunch in the dinner hall which was distressing but L wanted me to relax more. One time we got attacked by a couple of older guys when we sneaked out of the school grounds to pick up lunch. I was hit over the head by a large object (I can’t remember what). It left a big lump on my head for everyone to see. L escaped with a large bruise on his shoulder. L’s mum came around to discuss this with my mum and we decided to press charges for assault. The lad who did this us, as it happened, lived on our cul-de-sac. His mum never apologised and the lad who’d assaulted us got off with a warning.
My life at high school wasn’t all pain and tears. I had joined a writing group and several of us had our stories published. The learning mentors, Mrs Z and Miss T were friendly faces I could trust and offered me some respite when I needed it. I started playing football for the local team with L and was soon made team captain! The manager really pushed me to fulfil my potential and gain self-confidence. Eventually the team lost some players I trusted and they were replaced with bullies. If I made a single mistake during a match, they were incredibly hostile to me. I soon went back to being the frightened little boy who didn’t dare participate in sports.
I’ve made mistakes throughout my life, and having Asperger’s Syndrome does not excuse me of them all. Transition from the old middle school to the newly completed high school took place and now it was me and L against the bullies. We were the smallest in school and soon became their prey. Fights often broke out between Buttershaw, a predominantly white school and Grange, a predominantly Asian school. At time, the students would arrange fights in the local park and then unstoppably charge out of the school grounds to fight. I was encouraged to participate in these fights but I refused.
L tried to educate me to be more streetwise, but it didn’t seem to work. Eventually he told me I needed to grow up – toughen up or get beaten up. I knew L wouldn’t be able to stick up me for ever. He was already known as the guy who looked out for me and this didn’t make him popular. Understandably, we started to grow apart. While L worked hard to be accepted by his peers, I had little empathy for my fellow students and was constantly at the mercy of the bullies. I began to realise how fickle friendship can be, and the extent to which people would go to be accepted. Students I thought I could trust betrayed me.
J and C, who had made fun of me throughout primary school and middle school continued to do so. On their own they were likeable and loyal. Together they were vile. They would spread rumours about me behind my back. One of these rumours was that I had raped a girl. This seems absurd now, but for weeks I was met with real trepidation from the girls on campus. Surely they didn’t think I was actually capable of rape? Then again, I wasn’t very social, and most people knew so little about me they were likely to believe anything someone else told them.
In one class, I was attacked by a boy who thought I’d called him a ‘specky four eyes’. It never occurred to him that I would not make fun of him behind his back. This same person would do anything to belong. He used to bring food into school every day for the bullies to eat. As soon as they’d finished filling their faces they would bully him again; then be nice again and promise him acceptance if he bought them more food. This continued and he never seemed to understand he’d been deceived.
I felt more in a comfort zone at home, but soon our cul-de-sac was invaded by bullies from the next estate. They would arrange football matches against, me, my brother and my brother’s friends, which always escalated into fights. One afternoon, my brother was chased from the football pitch. I followed him out of instinct, but when my brother got away, I was left behind. I was confronted with yells of ‘what’s it got to do with you?!’ One of the girls from the estate held me down and punched me in the face until I had a black eye, bust nose and broken tooth. The worst thing wasn’t the pain of it. It was the embarrassment of being beaten by a girl. At least my brother got away unscathed.
At school, L told people he had me wrapped around his little finger. I took everything literally back then, so I had no idea what this meant. He would make me do things. We discussed this at a school reunion last year where he apologised for his behaviour. I said he needn’t say sorry. Now, I understand why he did it. L just wanted to be accepted himself.