The is a difficult and uncomfortable topic but it is close to my heart. It is widely known that Autistic children and adults are more likely to be bullied than many other groups. This has certainly been my experience as I was victimised for much of my first twenty five years and also on a few occasions after that. Bullying left me with very low self-esteem, a lack of faith in myself, trauma and anger— as it tends to do with others as well. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right, I tried desperately to fit in but with no luck. My ‘difference’ was apparent to everyone and for my young and vulnerable self, this was not a good thing.
As an adult I gained an Autism diagnosis and clinicians helping me told me that many Autistic people experience bullying. From then on I assumed that Autistic people were virtuous and trustworthy but non-Autistic people needed to be treated with care as they could be violent, aggressive and discriminatory. Sadly it’s not quite that simple. As I grew older I discovered that Autistic people are subject to the same sorts of character challenges that everyone else is. So yes, there are Autistic people who are aggressive and discriminatory. Most of the Autistic people I have met and who I know are very kind and thoughtful and hate the very thought of upsetting another person. But unfortunately. along with the many, many kind and considerate and community minded Auties, there are in fact Autistic bullies. The Autistic bully is a far less common phenomenon than the non-Autistic bully but it is still, as younger people rather aptly put it, ‘a thing.’
[I need to qualify this by saying that Autistic bullies are less common and that I am talking about actual bullying behaviour with the intent to belittle and harass, rather than behaviours which non-Autistic folks can misinterpret, like different body language, apparent ‘rudeness’ etc. Apparent anti-social behaviour by Autistic people – especially children and young people – is often unintentional and certainly not bullying.]
In my life as an Autism advocate I occasionally happen upon a troll on social media who is Autistic. They criticise people and engage in inflammatory conversations filled with insults and put-downs. They belittle others’ messages and launch personal attacks. They complain about others’ presenting style and message. These people can create division in our community and discourage people with a great message to share from saying anything at all.
I am not referring to robust debate or disagreement. I love to have a debate about something I say as it can open up new understandings for myself and others. I am more focussed on trolling and personal attacks which are pretty much the opposite of healthy debate.
I am actually quite afraid of these people who troll and hate. Every time I go to post a blog I worry if I will be shot down in flames and ridiculed. I worry that my motives will be questioned. When I see this trolling it catapults me back to 1987 with the mean girls in my Year 8 class. I feel guilty and embarrassed and think that everyone must hate what I have said. I’m just as likely to take down a post – after posting it in 20 groups – because of one cruel or insulting comment. Now I know part of that reaction is related to my own low self-esteem but part of it I am not responsible for. And victim-blaming is not my favourite activity, even if the victim is just me!
In my mind, this trolling is highly divisive and can effectively stop some people from having a voice. If you disagree with what I say, please let me know and we can have a discussion. But please don’t insult and ridicule me – or anyone else – online. I’m pretty certain that my words about empowerment and supporting one another and the occasional mention of a little black kitty are hardly worthy of such anger and cruelty. In my mind, it is better to focus on others’ strengths and the useful things they are saying than promoting division and animosity.