My son was cyberbullied.
He is 15 years old and autistic.
I do not like to allow autism to define him, but it is quite literally what makes him who he is. He was born with a neurological “disorder” that creates the way he sees, interprets, and processes the world around us. It is what makes him tick, and it is what will help him to create his place in this world.
We live in a neurodiverse world. We all process in our own way. The thing about those on the spectrum is the extreme responses and behaviors they may have in coping with the world. Many on the spectrum have sensory processing frustrations. Lights are too bright. Sounds are too loud. Smells are too intense. The way things feel on the skin, hair, or fingernails are too much for the brain to understand and cope with. As you can imagine, this causes many parents great frustration when their child is young and “different,” and they don’t know why.
Acceptance of neurodiversity and advances in medical and social sciences have truly been a godsend to families learning how best to understand and grow with their children on the spectrum.
This neurodiversity on the spectrum could potentially come with OCD traits. A need for sameness and routine. Obsessive thoughts and extreme interest in particular fascinations. These obsessions and OCD behaviors can lead many down a dark path. I’m certain individuals with anxiety, depression, or perhaps bipolar “disorder,” can understand what it is like to fixate on a moment that crushed your soul and this one moment extending into hours, days, and years of your life spent obsessing over the incident.
This obsessive behavior topic brings me back to my son being cyberbullied.
We homeschool. We have been homeschooling for roughly seven years now. There were many reasons we switched, but for this son in particular, it was because we didn’t want to see him fall through the cracks, and I didn’t want to see the cruelty of other children stalemate his learning. This homeschool life has kept our children safe from the world of mean kids and adults. So, when our 15-year-old was cyberbullied a couple of weeks ago, he was not ready. It wrecked his world. Wrecked his world hard.
What had begun as an argument about a video game turned into another kid (maybe adult) running my son through the gamut of Cyberbully 101 that I had only seen on TV anti-bully campaigns:
“I hope you die.”
“I hope you die tomorrow.”
“I’m gonna f#$% your mom.”
This all stemmed from my son typing a response in which the words were out of order. You see, his speech patterns are different. He didn’t really begin speaking until he was five, and even now at 15, words are difficult. He had typed up what he thought was coherent, and was brutally, brutally crucified for it. His matter-of-fact brain tried to make sense of the bullying at first. He apologized for maybe having said something he didn’t realize was offensive. He asked what he had done to deserve being chastised. He asked the other person to “please stop.” All to no avail.
This is when he finally came to me to tell me what was happening and let me tell you, I am beyond grateful that he did and I am happy to know we have made our home a safe place where he knew he could come to me.
Here’s where the hard stuff comes in. I removed his access to the site he was on, and I had to place him on a “self-harm” check because he became what the ugly side of autism can become when left unsafe.
He hurts himself.
He will hit, scratch, bite, and slap himself. He will break, smash, and ruin other things.
When he came to me with the situation, he already had a scratch on his face. I had to check his arms and legs. He’ll even bite his tongue. His stims were out of control. What, in his calm state, is simple humming and pacing. Handwaving and echolalia (noise and word repetition) had become severe and frantic. I must explain that, for some on the spectrum, they do not feel pain the same way most people do. For some, it is pain at the slightest sensation; for others, it takes immense pain to feel. My son requires immense pain to feel, so he does not exactly feel what he is doing to himself.
This went on for days.
Not hours. Not minutes.
It took a week to bring him back. A week for him to get past the obsessive thoughts that would consume him at random times. A week of sitting with him and listening to him retell the story. Over and over again. A week of watching him pace the hallway retelling the story to himself. A week of him asking me if he was a “loser.” Asking me if he was a “disappointment.” Asking me how to “stop thinking about it.” How to “get over it.” A week of him asking his brother all those same questions and retelling the story to him, and his brother kindly listening and patiently waiting.
It was hard.
During week two, we entered calm down phase. I let him get back on the media. It brought back a few conversations, but it also gave him some closure. The cyberbully had been banned indefinitely according to its profile. I’m sure it is still around under some new strange name, but for the time being, my son is content and this makes me feel okay. Others on this particular site jumped in to defend my son and others had jumped in to echo the cruelty of the first cyberbully, but now in week three, my son is at peace and has moved on.
I believe we all must face adversity in order to grow. That being taught lessons in strength and courage are important for resiliency in life. I know my son will move forward well enough and stronger from this moment in time because he has a support system that will always be strong to help him be stronger. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck when life is coming at you in a full-frontal assault.
I suppose this is a simple storytelling to make a point that you truly never know what a person is going through. That cyberbully didn’t know what he started. I’m sure he thought it was funny and didn’t care beyond that. It could have been a 10-year-old kid repeating things he hears, or some sweaty dude in his dirty apartment.
You simply do not know the effect your words and actions may have upon another human being. At any moment in time, you can make or break a person, and I feel as though we need to be reminded of that. We also need to be reminded that we need to be there for our people.
Create a safe place to land and a fortress of kindness to create an armor for when we must leave.