October is National Bullying Prevention Month – This month The Art of Autism is accepting articles on bullying and promoting kindness, acceptance, and inclusion.
By Hannah Sumrall
Growing up Autistic was like growing up as an alien having been transported from a different planet. I had “quirks” that the other kids thought were odd. I would share intimate details of my life with the other students not realizing that they were put off by that. I would wear the same clothes to school every day, not because I didn’t have other clothes, but because I liked the ones I had been wearing.
Most of the time I was off in my own world, engrossed in my poetry, finding inspiration around every corner. When that wasn’t the case I never missed a beat to talk with others. At that time in my life I was still learning the balance of the give and take of conversations so I did a lot of the talking.
We had just moved states and my brother and I were both starting out at our new schools. He always seemed to have a way with others and could make friends wherever he went. Things were a bit different on my end. I was the friendliest person but without the ability to read social cues or facial expressions I was unable to tell when I was making people uncomfortable and more often than not my friendliness seemed to be my downfall.
After just a short while the kids started bullying me.
It started off with name calling and demeaning comments.
I did my best to stay positive but eventually I started to lose my self confidence. More and more often I found my gaze stayed on the floor. I was afraid to look up. Afraid to see the judging glances of others. Scared that if I dared to lift my gaze they’d think that I was inviting them in to bully me. Quickly I became very familiar with the intricate patterns of the school carpet. When my eyes were not fixated on the floor my head was buried in my notebook as I found that writing poetry was a wonderful outlet.
The combination of the new move and the bullying in this new and unfamiliar environment threw my life into a tailspin.
I felt alone, lost and at times I felt hopeless. Yet despite all of this my spirit still continued to shine out. I was still just as “quikry” and invested in my special interests. I was still talkative and friendly. These were core elements that made me who I was and that couldn’t be changed. It was through my experience with bullying that I discovered my knack for writing and found that this was a great resource in helping me cope.
When the bullies realized that they hadn’t changed me the bullying got physical.
I started getting shoved into lockers and tripped in the hallways.
I felt alone and isolated and school became a place that I dreaded. A place that I was scared to go. My mornings became filled with panic attacks and made getting me into school everyday a battle. The teachers did little to address the situation and eventually the decision was made that home schooling was the best option.
Being bullied created a ripple effect that pushed its way into every aspect of my life. Even after leaving public school I spent years struggling with my self confidence. I struggled with behavioral challenges related to the effects that the bullying had on me and spent quite a bit of time working on developing healthy coping mechanisms. Learning to work through the ebb and flow of emotions that would arise from the experience.
People bully others for an array of different reasons, whether they themselves are feeling hurt or insecure, or they are scared they will be outcasted or they won’t fit in.
I realized that bullies must be experiencing a lot of pain within themselves if they felt the need to inflict that on others.
Sometimes when people are in pain and they don’t know of healthy ways to cope with that pain they bully others. I find a sense of peace in understanding this and it helps me remember to always be kind. We don’t know what unseen battle someone may be fighting.
There is a quote that goes something to the degree of “don’t let anyone dim your lights, they don’t pay your light bill,” I reflected on that quote a lot during my time in public school. In fact, it is a quote I still live by to this day.
If you are being bullied or have been bullied in the past just remember that you are not alone. You are a wonderful person who deserves love and happiness. And you have survived 100% of your life up to this point! And that’s a pretty huge accomplishment. Never forget how strong you are and never let anyone dim your lights.
Hannah Sumrall is a writer and public speaker with a focus on advocacy. She was diagnosed with Autism when she was 22 and uses her personal experiences and knowledge to help others. Hannah is fascinated with psychology and outer space. In her spare time she enjoys spending time out in nature.