By Trevor Pacelli
Moonlight, the 2017 Academy Award winner for best picture, shows us all the troubles that one boy goes through as he grows up feeling like he’s a homosexual. It is always a confusing place to be when you are young, when you feel uncontrollable romantic desires towards someone of the same sex, and yet are not mature enough to know what to make of it, especially when the other kids at school pick on you because they can sense that you are different.
So imagine how much harder it would be if somebody on the autism spectrum grew up thinking that they were gay or a lesbian?
Six-Word Lessons for Autism Friendly Workplaces, Lesson #31: Discrimination Can Surface in Various Forms.
Just like in Moonlight, a boy can become a fast subject of bullying because he’s different in two different ways: skin color and sexual orientation. But in the case of this movie, he’s in an all-Black school, but still has one of these differences from the crowd. Yet imagine if he was in another school of mostly White students, how much more the bullying would get to him? In that same way, anybody who is both autistic and gay would become a walking dartboard for bullies. Yet it’s different in the case of being autistic rather than being Black because those on the spectrum have a harder time putting their concerns into words.
Six-Word Lessons on Growing up Autistic, Lesson #45: They Can’t Explain What’s Bothering Them.
Therefore, they simply let themselves get bullied for years by everyone at school, even the teachers in some situations, which always creates a dangerous effect on their mentality. They’ll start believing the lies everyone says about them, embrace these lies, and come to live a troubled existence gloating in the very thing they were bullied for.
I am not a homosexual myself, nor do I know of anybody who is both autistic and gay, but I have known people who were one or the other. So I understand the long-term trauma and effects that discrimination has on anybody who’s different. I’m not here right now to tell you whether homosexuality is a good or bad lifestyle, nor will I try to convince you whether it’s a method of choice or genetic makeup, but what I can tell you is that bullying anybody, whether autistic or gay, always leaves a permanent scar on the victim that dangerously skews the way they look at the world.
So then, what would you do as a parent if your child with autism comes out as being gay? I realize that the answer is different for every parent, as some support the lifestyle while others do not, just like how every child on the autism spectrum is different. But for every case, there is one easy saying that any parent can say to their LGBTQ child:
Your sexual preference does not define who you are.
I have known people who felt that their gayness made up the wholeness of their identity, and frankly, these declarations have never ended well from what I witnessed. It’s important for us all to know, parents, kids, bullies, teachers, that you are far more than a gay/straight label.
I know of a man who happens to be gay, and he is a phenomenal artist and singer, as well as being an all-around super friendly guy. I know of another man who happens to be gay, and he is a very passionate and compelling public speaker who can easily make friends with anyone. I also have a cousin who happens to be married to another man, and my family and I always enjoy the entertaining conversations we have with him. It’s not about their sexual preference that makes people good or bad, it’s how they treat others that defines who they are.
So it should be a requirement for all parents to make sure their kids remember that if they ever say, “mom, dad, I’m gay.” In the case of the child coming out also having autism, here are some helpful takeaways than can clear up the child’s confusion:
By Trevor Pacelli
In the horror movie, Unfriended, from 2015, the execution and approach is typical at best, but it addresses one of the most important subjects of horror in our technological society today--suicide--which is currently the third leading cause of death for children aged 15-19. Cyberbullying continues to be a deathly serious issue that is attacking our adolescent generation, and Unfriended’s message is very clear: What’s put online stays online.
Our teens today need to understand the dangers of cyberbullying, especially when one considers the threat it has on kids with autism.
Six-Word Lessons on Growing Up Autistic, Lesson #65: Every School Has a Big Bully.
Six-Word Lessons for Dads with Autistic Kids, Lesson #29: Will Kids Make Fun of Him?
We already know that bullying is an undeniable threat to kids in schools all across the globe, and it would be common knowledge to comprehend the higher risk it has on any children with developmental disorders.
I can tell you this: I have been told that my autism was obvious, I have been told that I have no friends, I have been told that no one likes me, and I have been sweet-talked so that I could be made the butt of everyone’s jokes. Virtually all the bullying that has been done to me has been done in person.
While I personally have no recollection of someone harassing me over Facebook or other social media, it does happen all over, especially with autistic students, and it is a lot more common than you may realize.
The iSafe Foundation has estimated that more than 33% of teens have experienced cyberthreats, 25% of teens have experienced these threats repeatedly, and cyberbullying is far more common with girls than with boys. Even worse, only one out of 10 victims report these threats to their parents. Of all the teens that become easy targets for online threats and cruel comments, imagine how many of those victims are on the autism spectrum?
Autism is an instant shut-off from the expected personality traits of the average teenager. In high schools, especially for today’s youth, everyone is expected to have perfect hair, skin, clothing, be the best at whichever sport they play, be the life at every party they attend, hold a leadership position for the school council, get the most spirited during each of the spirit weeks, and most importantly, be the most up to date about what goes on with the rest of the students at school, by means of social media. If anyone is not in that list of criteria, they become easy cyberbullying targets.
Based on what I remembered in my high school years, there was always an isolated group of students with mental disorders who had special teachers with them and rarely interacted with the other students. These were students who simply developed more slowly and needed more aid in learning in a separate setting from the typical classroom. What made me stand out from the rest of them was that I still had the capability of learning in a traditional classroom setting, and I also had an active Facebook profile that I could comprehend the usage of.
It meant that I was at a level high enough for students to pick on me and not look like a jerk to their clique.
This explains why those with autism or Asperger’s are at such a high risk of bullying in all forms. As one of the Six-Word Lessons authors summarizes:
Six-Word Lessons on Female Asperger Syndrome, Lesson #52: Aspies Don’t Possess Inherent Social Skills.
Kids will do anything to make themselves feel better than something they don’t understand, even if it means drawing another girl to suicide by sending her Facebook messages saying she’s fat, ugly, and useless. They even could go as far as telling a boy with autism that he will never have friends or get married.
If you are a parent, you may hate hearing that this could be happening to your autistic teenage child, but it’s most likely that this is the case. Therefore, due to the seriousness of this issue, here are not three but four applications for you:
For more information and resources on bullying prevention, check out this page on MomLovesBest.
Thanks so much for your time in reading! My book Six-Word Lessons on Growing Up Autistic is available on Amazon, Kindle, and iBooks. Be sure to subscribe to my site for more updates on reviews like this.
--By Trevor Pacelli, an autistic author who loves to talk about movies. Click here for the full movie review of Unfriended and more reviews with autism lessons.
Inspiration for Life with Autism
This blog has a variety of articles about people living life with autism, and topics and ideas that can help in the journey. Guest bloggers are welcome. Inspired by Trevor, a young adult film critic, photographer and college graduate on the autism spectrum.