Friday, February 25, 2011

The Primary School Bully

Bullies are everywhere!

If you've been bullied, then chances are that you met your first bully in primary (elementary) school.

The Tools of the Primary School Bully
The nature of bullying changes as the bullies get older. The first level bullies tend to be much more physical than older children. Bullying is done by pushing, pinching, punching and tripping other children.

Bullying by stealing tends to be more "out in the open", with younger bullies often taking things in plain sight of the owners - in fact, often snatching them from their hands.

Lies are also one of the main weapons in the primary school bully's arsenal. Young bullies can often lie so convincingly that they are instantly believed by teachers.

Verbal bullying is minimal in the early years but as bullies develop their vocabulary, they become adept at hurling insults and abuse at children. It only takes a few choice words from a bully to crumble a child's fragile self esteem and leave a lifetime scar that will not heal.

The Bully's side of the Story
I was planning to cover this near the end of the series (and I still will) but based on feedback from my last post, I need to put in a couple of words to clarify things.

Nobody doubts that many bullies become bullies as a way of taking their frustrations out on others or repeating behavior that they are subjected to at home. Bullies have sad stories too and in a perfect politically correct world, it makes sense for us to sympathize with the bully's side of the story and understand their motives.

I accept that.

There must however be ZERO TOLERANCE for bullying. Bullies need to identified and their mis-behaviour needs to be stopped. School social workers have an obligation to investigate the background of a bully and determine if external factors are contributing to the behaviour but we as parents and victims do not.

Bullying must be taken seriously and it must be stopped!

Believe it or not, in the long run, you provide more benefit to the bully by drawing attention their behavior and ensuring that it is stopped, than by tolerating it.

Forget the "understanding" stage for a moment because the cessation of bullying will improve many lives, not just that of the victim.

Stopping the Primary School Bully
There are lots of theories on how to stop the primary school bully, many of them told to me by my own parents;

  • Ignore them
  • Hit them back
  • Try to be friends with them
  • Don't play with them
  • Let me (parent or grandparent) at them
  • Tell a teacher
  • Get your parents to talk to a teacher
  • Hide or Play somewhere else
I've never known any of these methods to work.

You can't hide from bullies - they will seek you out for their own amusement. You can't ignore them because they'll keep attacking you and your self esteem until there's nothing left. Above all, you must never agree with them. Saying "yes, I am ugly" isn't doing you any good at all.

You don't want to be friends with them!! and you're not "playing with them!". Why do your parents always think you are?

Telling teachers doesn't work either. Bullies are excellent liars and can turn the tables pretty quickly. Even worse, if you're found to be "dobbing", then the bullies can turn the whole class against you.

Even telling a principal doesn't seem to work. Principals can't act without concrete evidence and parents are often powerless to intervene. The best they can do is write a letter. Parental intervention in a bullying incident can quickly land a parent in hot water and turn things in the bully's favour.

Bullies are not a problem you can run away from. They're literally everywhere. Even changing schools won't help. Somehow the bullies at your new school will figure out that you're a great target.

The only thing that I've ever found that works with the primary school bully is to get them caught. Remember, these kids aren't necessarily too bright. They're often so fixated with attacking you that they'll chase and hit you whenever the slightest opportunity arises.

My "foolproof" method of bully disposal in primary school was to use myself as bait by waving at the bully when I was in a position which offered a teacher a clear view of the incident. I wouldn't hit back in such a situation but would make enough noise, ideally seconds before the fact, that I'd attract the teacher's attention.

It rarely failed.

It's very hard for a bully to talk themselves out of a scenario which was witnessed from beginning to end by a teacher on supervision duty.

Of course, the other thing that helps is to not be bully-bait. I'll talk about that it a later post.

Next Time: The High School bully (Secondary /Prep School for overseas readers).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bullies and Bullying - An Introduction

This post marks the start of a series on bullies and bullying. I'm hoping to cover bullying in primary/elementary school all the way through to the workplace. Along the way, I'll try to provide some handy hints for reducing the impact of bullying and I'll point out some of the ways in which we could be considered bullies ourselves.

Bullying can become quite a problem for people with Asperger's Syndrome. In fact, a child who suffers intense bullying at school can develop into an adult with major life issues. It is a serious problem which won't go away by itself.

What are Bullies?
At it's simplest, bullying is a "dislike of the unlike" carried out in the form of a regular "campaign" against minority groups and/or individuals.

It usually takes a powerful kind of "hate" to be a bully which means that there are usually (fortunately) far fewer bullies than "normal people". Unfortunately however bullies exert their own influence over weak-minded or easily intimidated "stooges".

It's important to recognize the ringleadeer bullies apart from the stooges because no matter how many stooges you remove, a bully can always find more (there's no shortage of "stupid" following people). Cut the head from a bully cell however and the entire cell usually dies.

Did I make this sound like a war against terrorism? Well, sadly it is. Make no mistake, bullies are the lowest form of life that our kids will meet at school.

You might think that all you have to do is "hold on" for a few more years or change schools. It doesn't work that way. Bullies act on perceived weaknesses. If you attracted bullies at one school, you're bound to attract them at another. Even worse, if you've been a target for bullies throughout your school life, you'll find that you're a target for them at work.

The change has to happen within you. You have to make yourself less attractive to bullies.

Next Time
In my next post, I'll look at bullying in primary/elementary schools.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Movie Review: Adam 2009

Links: IMDB / Rotten Tomatoes 65% out of 119 reviews.

I'd been wanting to see Adam for a long time but somehow I missed it at the movies. Last night, I finally got to sit down and watch it with my wife.

Adam is a romantic drama about a couple in which the male, Adam has aspergers syndrome. Aspergers is specifically mentioned and described in the screenplay and the film makes a very good attempt to show what life could be like for a person with aspergers.

Adam's special interest topic; space, is up there front and centre but his other obsessive behaviour, while hinted at, is generally given a back seat in the story. It's clear that he eats the same meals every day and that he likes to have things lined up but the film doesn't dwell on it. The film also shows some literal interpretations and communications difficulties but again it doesn't dwell. Finally, there's a meltdown shown - again, the film doesn't dwell but moves on with the story.

I think that the fact that the film skirts around the issues rather than dwelling on them is good. It could have been a comedy of quirks but director Max Mayer has wisely kept the focus on the relationship rather than the oddities. As such, there is a lot of heart and realism to the film.

The film begins at Adam's father's funeral (his last surviving parent) and it looks at the difficulties that people with aspergers encounter when trying to become independent. Along the way, we are introduced to Harlan, his mentor and in the course of the film we see just how important it is for aspies to have a mentor.

The film looks at Adam's black and white interpretation of events and the struggle he has to make himself seen and heard. It also looks at things from the other side of the relationship through the eyes of his somewhat too understanding girlfriend.

The accuracy of Hugh Dancy's portrayal as Adam is astonishing, though there were still a few things that my wife and I felt were a little un-aspie. In particular, Adam initiated the first kiss and chose an appropriate moment - this could have been pure luck but it was a fairly un-aspie moment. There are a couple of other places where this sort of thing happens but I won't spoil them for you.

My wife was also not too pleased with the film's abrupt ending but I felt it was more "true to life".

I was expecting a comedy but while there are some funny moments, Adam is first and foremost a drama. It's a film for everyone but especially it's a film for aspies and the neurotypicals who love them.

Adam can be purchased on Amazon;

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Article: "Best of the Best: School Edition" by Danette Schott

Just letting you know that all the articles for the third series of Best of the Best are now available;

The Topic is School Issues
Click here to see the list.

It's all awesome reading on a huge range of topics.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Article: Valentine's Day - "Are Aspies Capable of Love"

With today being valentine's day for the rest of the world (It was valentine's day yesterday in Australia), my "Are Aspies Capable of Love?" article has been reprinted by Autism West Midlands.

If you missed it, the link is here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The 'Drag to School' Morning Routine

This is a "Best of the Best" Post.

School is a drag. Literally.

I'm lucky because being a father, I only have to cope with the school morning routine on my days off. In those instances, I'm a novelty and the kids behave (a little) for me. My wife however has to deal with it every day - and it's not unusual for me to get an early morning phone call asking me to "tell my children something" or clarify "did you say that they could wear [insert ridiculous article of clothing here] to school today?".

I'm sure that getting ready for school is difficult with neurotypical kids but for children on the spectrum, it's enough to make you give up the "rat race" and home school instead.

Waking Up and Getting Dressed
Unless it was a late night the night before, we usually don't have too much trouble getting the boys to wake up. Insomnia is however, commonly associated with Aspergers, so depending upon your particular child, they may wake up but have difficulty doing much else.

For us, getting dressed is a nightmare. My children will often forget non-visible parts of their uniform, like underpants. You might think that your children are flouting your authority by not wearing them but it's more likely to be simply forgetfulness.

As an adult, I can clearly remember times in my childhood - and going all the way up to fifth grade at school where I forgot my underwear. In particular, this happened on sports days when I was already putting my PE uniform underneath my clothes. I'd be concentrating on what I needed to wear and would forget the essentials. It was embarrassing at school and I wasn't happy about it. I certainly didn't do it to be funny or to irritate my parents.

So... before you start to get annoyed at your children for these simple mistakes. Take a deep breath and ask yourself if they aren't already stressed out enough by it.

There's also the matter of finding the uniforms and the issues of fine motor skills. That's right, aspies often have difficulty with fine motor skills on things like buttons. Finding things is difficult too because many aspies have terrible organisational skills.

Finally, there are distractions like rules, TV, siblings, breakfast and toys. My youngest tends to have rules about everything and can get into a tizz if he doesn't have breakfast BEFORE he gets dressed. That was a good rule when he was younger and couldn't eat breakfast without spilling it all over himself but now that he can, it just gets in the way of things. It's better to have breakfast as a "reward" for when you're changed than to allow it to slow down the whole morning routine.

A note for dads. Don't be tempted to do cool things for breakfast on weekends. I put honey on my son's breakfast on Saturday and Sunday one weekend. From that point onwards he insisted that he have honey on it every day. It was bad enough when it was simply making his uniform sticky but then when it suddently ran out, it caused chaos, a meltdown and a refusal to go to school until breakfast was served "properly". My wife gave me hell for that one.

Some helpful rules
Some of the best morning rules you can enact with your spectrum children when getting ready for school are;
  • ALL Clothes to be laid out on their floor in a "body pattern" the night before - with inner layers (underwear etc) on TOP.

  • Only one child is allowed in the bathroom at any one time.

  • No toys, books or other non-clothing items to be handled before you are dressed.

  • Dressing to occur in (separate) bedrooms only, away from the distractions of siblings, TV and breakfast.

  • No breakfast until you pass clothing inspection.

Yes, I know it all sounds a little rigid but that's exactly what children with aspergers need. Routines and Rules.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Best of the Best Series

I want to briefly talk about the best of the best series because up to this point, I haven't introduced it properly.

The Best of the Best series was devised by Danette Schott of Help! S-O-S for Parents. It's a great site, so if you haven't visited, please do.

The idea behind the Best of the Best series is for a group of bloggers to all post different viewpoints on a shared topic at the same time. This is great because if you don't find that my particular view suits your situation, you may find that someone else's does.

You'll find Danette's rules for the Best of the Best here.

You'll find a list of the bloggers who are officially part of the best of the best series here.

Note: This is not some kind of secret club. If you're a blogger and if these topics seem to be in your area, then please get in touch with Danette and join in. The more, the merrier - and the better the chances that we'll provide well-rounded and balanced information.

So far there have been two best of the best topics;

Topic 1: Autism and Treatment Options

Topic 2: Social and Play Skills

From now on, I'll start marking and tagging my posts when they're part of a best of the best series.

    Friday, February 4, 2011

    EBooks and Compulsive Collecting

    I was reading an article on author Tobias Buckell's views on eBook piracy a couple of days ago and was struck by a couple of key paragraphs where he refers to compulsive collectors who have the urge to collect but not necessarily read.

    "Consider hoarders. These are pirates who literally attempt to find every single book online that they can. These pirates are well documented. They’re obsessive collectors, list makers, compelled by something other than a love of literature."

    I could really relate to that paragraph and I started to think about how some aspies with OCD comorbids like myself and people with general obsessive compulsive disorders could get themselves into a lot of trouble over internet piracy - for the wrong reasons.

    Some time ago I bought a CD from Corel. It was called World's Greatest Classic Books and it had "over 3,500" books in Envoy (.EVY) format which was at one time being positioned as a competitor to PDF.

    I never actually read any of those books because I couldn't get comfortable reading large amounts of text on a PC Screen.

    I've since gotten myself a cheap eBook reader (a MiGear) which cost half the price of the cheapest Kindle and is colour too. It's comfortable enough that I can read books on it.

    I took two weeks holiday recently. It's the longest holiday I've taken in years. One week we spent on a cruise (the less said about that the better, though you can read the first two parts of the story here and here). The rest of the time I spent at home.

    I'm not the sort of person who can spend time at home without getting at least a few projects done but not all of them make sense. In this case, one of the projects I completed was the conversion of those 3500+ books to PDF format to use on my reader.

    It wasn't an easy conversion by any means. I had to open each book up, print it to PDF Format and rename it. All of the files were similarly named (eg: EBOOK00042.EVY) so I renamed all of them to reflect their author and title. I also arranged them into folders based on their author.

    It was a lot of work and I'm still not sure whether I'll read those particular books but I feel good that the job has been done. Some I definitely won't bother with but at least I have them and at least they're categorised and in order.

    It's an impulse that I have little control over but I feel better now.

    They don’t actually read the author’s work, they just want the book to have it. Many online pirates have tens of thousands of books or more. They’re not reading them. They’re scratching some other itch.
    - Tobias Buckell**

    (**an author I'd never heard of before this and maybe I'll read one of his books - or maybe not).

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    Book Review: "How to Teach Life Skills to Kids with Autism or Asperger's" by Jennifer McIlwee Myers

    "How to Teach Life Skills to Kids with Autism or Asperger's" is a very practical book which will have you itching to try out a whole bunch of new techniques and strategies with your children before you're even a quarter of the way through.

    I was really looking forward to reading this book because although there are lots of "autism stories" and "what is autism?" books, there are comparatively few practical guides - and even then, most of those focus on coping as a neurotypical parent or on "problem solving" rather than teaching practical skills that you can use in everyday situations.

    The first few chapters are all background material about the author. They're mostly necessary because you need to know where she's coming from. After that however it's "all go" on advice you can really use.

    Layout and Style
    I was expecting a book full of headings, tables, cute little diagrams, separate (boxed) examples and lists but surprisingly, the whole thing is prose.

    This means that compared to other books of its size (a little over 300 pages), this book covers a lot more ground.

    At first the "wall of text" may seem a little daunting but the chapters are short (under 10 pages each) and they stay on topic. Jennifer's writing style is also very easy to read and if you have nerdish tendencies, you'll discover that it's full of subculture references which keep it fresh, interesting and fun.

    The book covers an amazing array of topics including: meeting people, proper greetings, table manners, teaching financial independence, road safety, choosing appropriate attire, standing up for your rights, kindness, positive attitudes and (gulp) chores.

    You might be thinking that this must be a book for people with older children but it's not - it's made very clear that you have to start young. Most of the examples in the book seem to be aimed at children who are about seven years or older but there are toddler and preschooler references too.

    Despite the title, this isn't just a book for parents. I found myself fascinated by some of the social rituals that Jennifer describes and I learned a lot which I'll have to adjust in my life. Is hand shaking really as complicated as all that? I've just realised that I've been doing a lot more social things wrong that I thought. No wonder I get strange looks at times.

    Not to worry though because Jennifer also includes a lot of info on handling "failures" gracefully. An essential skill for perfectionists.

    Throughout the book, Jennifer explains a lot of things from an aspie point of view. She shows how aspie rules and literalisms can produce some very unexpected interpretations. It was interesting to note that sometimes my aspie interpretations had led me to the same conclusions and sometimes I had reached different but equally "crazy" conclusions.

    I was also surprised to note that in some cases, I have the same behaviour patterns but was unaware of my own motivations. It got me thinking and understanding more about myself.

    Lasting Impact
    This isn't one of those books that you read once and "put away". You're going to want to refer to it quite a bit. In fact, there's so much information in the book that the details fade very quickly. I already feel like I need to re-read some chapters before I try some of the techniques.

    Jennifer makes it clear that you can't suddenly go from "nothing" to implementing all of the techniques in the book. It will take time and you'll get the best results by introducing new techniques and house rules slowly and at appropriate moments. In some cases, you may need to wait until your children reach certain milestones.

    This is a book that you're going to need to keep for the long term and you'll need to re-read certain sections as and when they become more relevant.

    Every parent and every aspie should have this book. It's brilliant.

    You can obtain a copy of "How to Teach Life Skills to Kids with Autism or Asperger's" by Jennifer McIlwee Myers from Amazon or Future Horizons.

    Honesty Clause: I was provided with a review copy of this book free of charge.