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:
- Bear in mind one thing: boys are at a more bullying risk in the classroom, because kids feel that it improves their public image and self-esteem. Girls are at a more bullying risk online, because that is where the most personal attacks can be made without anyone looking down on the offender for degrading a girl.
- If you are getting harassed online by someone else, TELL SOMEBODY. It’s not a sign of weakness, it only reveals how brave you are in standing up against a lie you won’t believe about yourself.
- Consider what will help decrease the risk of bullying for your child. It could mean going to a smaller, more private school, or it could mean doing running start college courses; my parents homeschooled me for two years. It all depends on what works best for your situation.
- Know that cyberbullying does not stop after high school. I had situations in college when I was bullied, especially due to my autism. Even while out in the professional world, there will always be jerks who will attack any minority group to make him/herself look more superior.
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.