My mom told me crying makes you appear weak. She didn’t say it quite in those words, but that was the essence. It was grade school then, second grade maybe. And she was trying to tell me not to let the bullies see me cry because then they would know they had won. She was trying to make me stronger. Unwittingly, I applied it across the board, and now I don’t cry, especially not if someone is around.
I tell you this not to elicit an emotional response, but rather to inform you of how children are told to deal with bullying. Gifted children and those who are not neurotypical can be especially hindered by bullying, and the solution is not, in fact, to just “suck it up.”
Girls have things easier, I admit, when it comes to bullying. We are less likely to be involved in a physical altercation. But words can sting too, and last a lifetime. At 24, I still remember vividly my freshman year of high school. I recall being told in eighth grade that I was made fun of behind my back. I should have graduated high school early, by at least a year, but beginning in grade school (as early as third grade) I played down my intellect to attempt to be accepted by my peers.
I’d like to tell you about children who are intelligent but were not in the appropriate educational atmosphere to utilize it, and what happens when they transfer into schools where both faculty and peers encourage intelligence and creativity. Three of the four Utz children transferred schools before they entered the sixth grade: my brother and youngest sister into a competitive college preparatory school, and me into an environment not suited for educational excellence. Every one of us was bullied before the transfer, but afterward my siblings thrived in such a positive learning environment. Dare I say it, they became popular.
When I was young, I knew I was special, but I didn’t know I was on the spectrum. I knew I was capable of awesome things, but I couldn’t imagine how to accomplish them. Knowing what I know now, I don’t wish that I had support from family, therapists, or school for my Asperger syndrome. Being high-functioning, I am mostly capable of handling myself in situations. What I do wish I had growing up is a gifted program, something that allowed me to use my intelligence instead of hiding it.
I’m going to advocate for something a little radical here. The system as we know it is flawed. October is Bullying Prevention month in schools, but that is not distributed throughout the rest of the social sphere. What starts as bullying in childhood transfers over to harassment, slander, and assault in the adult world. It is visible in the news media, in politicians’ treatment of each other, and in the way various groups of people are discussed and represented. Children behave the way mentors and parents do. In order for bullying to stop in schools, it must cease elsewhere first.