February 15, 2013

Bully: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

News Flash: There's a lot of drama on the Internet.

Chances are you've seen it somewhere. Maybe you commented on a friend's Facebook page about gun control, or Planned Parenthood or healthcare, only to find yourself the subject of insults or disproportionate rage. Maybe you were called "socialist!" because you supported Obama. Or you didn't breastfeed long enough, or dared to vaccinate your kid, or let him cry it out to sleep. If you were brave, you tried to defend yourself. If you were smart, you remembered that these people don't know you, laughed it off, and moved on.

It should be no surprise, then, that similar drama happens in the autism blogging sphere. Most people are blissfully unaware of this drama and I consider that to be a Good Thing. I try to keep it out of my blog because honestly, my mom or aunt or friend from summer camp doesn't care about that crap - they just want to know how Moe is doing. When I try to explain it to my husband it sounds like we're all a bunch of junior high school kids. And I do suppose we behave that way sometimes.

But we parents of kids with special needs (creatures of behavior that we humans are) have been conditioned to fight. We get defensive. Every day, out there, we fight for our kids' education, transportation to school and basic safety. We defend them to other parents who don't understand why our children are "misbehaving." We try to educate why it isn't okay to call our kids, or anyone, "retarded." We have to speak out all the time, for our children's very lives are at stake.

And we're writers too - not traditionally known as the most emotionally stable of populations.

So when we are insulted, sometimes unfairly and sometimes quite fairly, it is understandable why we are quick to react. And when those insults come from autistic adults, sometimes referred to as self-advocates, those insults cut a little deeper.

Autistic people have also learned to fight. I cannot speak for any autistic person of any age (except my own son when I need to). But some of the people I've encountered have suffered abuse by parents, teachers or other caregivers. Others were not abused but spend their whole lives fighting against the barrage of sensory and social demands of the world around them just to go about their day. Adults especially, may feel written off, left out of the conversation by everyone. And then we parents, who should be the closest of allies but who have become so used to speaking for our own children, forget that most autistics are people who can speak for themselves, thankyouverymuch.

I'd like to put it out there that I am a really nice person. I get along with people. In my job, I was that person who could walk the line between engineers and marketing people (the internet wars have nothing on that). I give people the benefit of the doubt.

I also like a good argument, and am not one to shy away from a debate. And so, sometimes, when I've been on the internet, I've made a "helpful" comment or two. And been slammed down pretty hard. One particular incident left me in tears. But I blog. I comment on blogs. I engage in facebook dialogue. It happens.

What's that saying? You walk around the dog park long enough, you're going to step in some shit. (That's not a saying? Well it should be...copyright 2013, Anybody Want A Peanut).

But recently, there has been a lot of nastiness. I and many of my friends have been called names. They've been called bullies (and worse). And that bothers me. Because bullying is serious. And while I can't say I've always behaved perfectly when tempers are flaring, I can say that I do my best not to make it personal. And, not surprisingly, some of the worst behavior - the actual bullying - is coming from those doing the worst of the name calling.

What does it mean to be a bully?

It does not mean:

  • Engaging in conversations in public forums.
  • Disagreeing in those conversations, even several times.
  • Being "unfair," no matter how infuriating. I engaged in a heated discussion in which I used someone's words back at them. I got my hand slapped; the other person didn't. It wasn't fair, I didn't like it, but it wasn't bullying. (I told you it's like junior high. But Mooom...she said a bad word tooooo.)
  • Saying something stupid or even inappropriate. You may deserve to be told that what you said was stupid and inappropriate but sometimes the way things sound in our heads come out all wrong on virtual paper.

It does mean:

  • Continuing to say inappropriate things over and over, even though you've been told those things are inappropriate. (On someone else's page. On your page, say whatever stupid crap you want as long as you're not harassing anyone.)
  • Sending private messages or emails with words like "you and your horrible troll friends."
  • Collaborating with others to systematically call out and defame individuals simply because you don't like who they are friends with.
  • Bringing private conversations into public forums or threatening to do so.

When you are reading a facebook page or a blog, and someone call out someone else, don't just jump on the bandwagon. It is fine to support your friends, but remember that you are only hearing one side of the story. Important pieces may be missing, since the owner of a blog or FB page can remove comments at will. (Also, don't like how someone is behaving on your page? Block and move on.) We all want to make ourselves look our best and have our delicate egos stroked. But don't engage in name calling just because your friends do. (Ugh. I can't believe I'm almost 40 and had to write that.)

And finally, a note to myself: if there is a facebook thread that is pissing you off, or a blog post that you disagree with, you don't have to respond. Sometimes, it is best to close the computer and walk away. Or make some pumpkin muffins, which is what I'm going to do now.

As always, respectful disagreement and helpful additions are welcome in the comments, but I will moderate comments I deem are inappropriate.


  1. Seriously. A dictionary in some people's hands could save a lot of time and buthurtedness

  2. Nice summation! But seriously, someone let me out of this dog park. I think a few are not current on their rabies shot.

  3. what if it's HIGHLY inappropriate?? I'm ...asking for a friend.

    1. There is something to be said for intent. I think bullying requires intent. You can be unintentionally offensive, and it doesn't make the behavior okay, but I don't think you can be an unintentional bully.

  4. Good post. And this is why I pretty much stay the heck away from any autism groups anymore, minus a very small parents' group I'm a part of where the #1 rule is no judging (respectful disagreement ok). I feel like no matter what I say it's going to be "wrong," so why even try to engage in conversation?

  5. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I get upset sometimes that we (not you & I but you know what I mean) cannot get into a discussion about a subject. I think healthy disagreement/debate is great. It allows us to learn from one another and how we got our idea/thought. I love that you said we don't have to respond. Sometimes that is the best revenge, not engaging.

    I agree also that it becomes like JR High. An experience I hated and have no wish to repeat.

    I am cheering you from my desk. Thanks for a brilliant post!

    1. Thank you. I'm pretty sure not enough people cheer for me on a regular basis ;)

  6. Well said. Sometimes, it's best to "drop the chalupa." if we're all fighting, we can't be listening. Or trying to work together to make the world a better and safer place for ALL autistics, young and old, cld and adult.

    1. Yes. I've been given that advice before. Someday I'll actually listen :)

  7. YES. THIS.

    Also? Being a snarky bitch is also not bullying.

    1. Thank goodness. Or I'd really be hanging out with the wrong crowd :)

  8. Yes. Engaging in conversation whether it be disagreeing or not does mean bullying. Making threats and/or trying to wield power over another does.

    Also, I think we went to the same Jr. High School. No, really. I think we may have.

    1. We didn't. But I'm sure I know people you went to jr high school with.

  9. i liked this post for many reasons.
    ~ i used to teach in an all girls school (yeah, let that sink in)
    ~ my daughter was bullied via the internet when she was in jnr. high (trust me, i know what bullying looks like)
    ~ i have two more daughters... both whom are adolescents... one on the spectrum
    ~ i recently wrote about internet bullying
    the term 'bullying' needs to be used in the appropriate context... not just casually thrown around. the repercussions of bullying can be devastating.

    hmmm... i think i may have forgotten my point here, unless it was just as simple as this. thank you.

    1. You hit on a huge point here that I didn't discuss. Bullying - real bullying - is serious business. We can't be casual about that.

  10. I love Jill Smo. I think we have the same hair..... She draws it ALL the time! And we'll put. I began following 'Normal is a Dryer Setting' last year when Amy wrote a story for CNN. Have read all of yours and Jill's, (loved them!) stumbled into a few Train Wreck Blogs and one particularly foul group of hate-mongers. Learned my lesson! So happy for your Valentine's Day kiss.

  11. *well* Well WELL put! Curse you auto correct!

  12. I. LOVE. THIS!!!

    I hope everyone reads this because it's something that needs to be read.

  13. I feel like this should be posted in the locker room. Very well said. It's amazing to me how the blogging world can so frequently bring flashbacks of middle school. So far, I don't *think* I've stepped in any poop, but like you said, it's probably only a matter of time in the dog park. Loved it!


I love comments! Respectful disagreement always encouraged.


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