Several news stories have emerged in the past few days, underscoring the troubling and persistent issue of bullying regularly endured by those with autism and other special needs.
In Kansas, 22-year-old AJ Alexander was attacked outside of a Starbucks, leaving him shaken up and with a black eye. The unprovoked assault occurred as Alexander was listening to music and minding his own business. His father says the suspect emerged out of nowhere and attacked his son and cannot say for certain if Alexander, who has autism, was singled out or if the attack was random.
Additionally, in Ohio, 20-year-old Braxton Devault suffered a beating at a bus stop as he waited to be transported to his vocational school. Devault suffers from both autism and epilepsy and believes he blacked out and had a seizure during the attack. His mother is now pleading for the bully to be expelled from school.
As troubling as these incidents may be, they are only the tip of the iceberg and a microcosm of what plays out around the country on a daily basis. Harassment, teasing, bullying and physical attacks are all-too-common for those with autism, particularly those who are high functioning.
Despite greater awareness, bullying remains problematic and while much has been done to address the issue, there are additional steps that need to be taken to ensure children with special needs are protected.
Since parents cannot be with their kids all of the time, advocacy needs to begin with fellow students and neurotypical peers.
As we reported
last year, a heartening story involved a fourth grader who launched an anti-bullying campaign after witnessing his fellow classmate with autism picked on during recess. The story was covered nationally and the boy’s efforts were lauded as an excellent example for other students around the country to follow.
It would be nice to see some follow through on this initiative on a larger scale to ensure we’re doing all we can to protect children and young adults with autism from the kinds of incidents that have occurred during the last few days.