The stigma and ignorance surrounding mental disabilities may have led the parents of teens who bullied a classmate with autism to blame the victim.
On Monday, WHO-TV reported that students at an Iowa high school had posted a video online mocking the involuntary movements of classmate Levi Null, a 13-year old with Asperger’s syndrome. “People tell me to run into things and I don’t really like it,” said Null, who also has ADHD. “And I tell them that I don’t want to and they just laugh at me, whenever I do it.”
On Thursday, it was revealed that the report had triggered an outpouring of support — for the accused bullies.
Some of those defending the teens who posted the video have turned to shaming the autistic victim. Levi Weatherly, a parent of one of the accused teens insisted his child was not wholly in the wrong. “Three-fourths of this stuff he brings on himself,” he said, “and probably a fourth of it is bullying that shouldn’t be going on.” One implied that he was asking for it: “This kid has done things to get people mad that I think he could probably control.”
But this sentiment betrays a basic ignorance of autism. According to advocacy group Autism Speaks, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are “characterized by social-interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors.” Like Levi Null’s Asperger’s syndrome, his repetitive movements and difficulties socializing are not voluntary, and he cannot turn them off at will.
The students and parents at Melcher-Dallas High School are not alone in their misunderstanding of mental disabilities. In schools, students viewed negatively because of mental disorders are often easy targets for bullying and unfair treatment at the hands of teachers. According to a report by the Interactive Autism Network, 63 percent of children with ASD aged 6 to 15 have experienced bullying, with kids like Levi who also have ADHD more likely to be victimized. Forty percent of ASD children have been punished by school teachers and administrators after suffering a meltdown or outburst in response to bullying.
Last year, the Huffington Post interviewed Stuart Chalfetz, a father who discovered that public school instructors were verbally abusing his autistic son. Chalfetz said his son was treated as if he were “subhuman.”
(HT: Raw Story)
Christopher Butterfield is an intern for ThinkProgress.