Post Traumatic Bully Syndrome


This summer I have seen a few posts about kids and camp and what a great experience it can be. I sent my son to church camp too. I was so nervous about it. Sweaty, clammy, shaking nervous. But, he is 14 after all so it was time. Now, while you might be thinking, “wow, helicopter parent” – let me explain. I regularly leave my son alone – the responsible party for two younger sisters. I let him go places alone on his bike. I let him scale the hills behind our mountain cabin alone without any fear.

Why does camp bother me? Because there are other kids there. You see my son has high functioning autism. And while many parents get smug and comfortable with the “fact” that their “perfect” child would only extend a solid hand of friendship to a kid like mine – I am unfortunately here to tell you it is not so. Put a group of kids together and at best they tend to “nicely” exclude my son. More often than I want to admit – they tend to target him.

You might say this happens to lots of kids and you worry about it with all children. It’s different when you have a child with autism, or any significant difference. I tell you this because I have two normal girls and I never worry about this with them. I don’t. My oldest girl was bullied once. We worked with her on a skill that stopped the bully in his/her tracks. It worked and life went on. This is not what happens with my son.

So things like church camp require a totally different set of considerations that my husband and I have to go through. It requires calls to camp directors because we have learned we can’t just let the cards fall. The adults in these situations need to know that yes, he has autism and yes; it frequently makes him a target. This is why I thought my worst fear was realized today when we received a call from the camp nurse. She had to file an official report with poison control because “a group of boys” put cleaner in my son’s drink. Oh he was fine, I am sure it was only a small amount. And yes, “kids will be kids.” But it is always my son. It’s always him

Based on past experience, this is how something like this generally goes down. We go in for a “sit –down” with the perpetrators. Can I call them bullies? The boys will give my son a grudgingly given apology. Next all eyes are on us. We now have to “forgive.” Not only that, we have to make sure they know it is okay. We have to do way more work than the bullies. I have been here far too often. And the more it happens, the more that collective experience compounds upon our family.

The bullies move on with life. And we have to pick up pieces. Pieces of a broken heart torn apart by mean words. Pieces of fear that flare up every time we put our son at risk again, at risk in front of other children. Pieces of faith lost if this occurs during church sanctioned events. The consequences for us carry on, so far eternally.

Bulling has long-term consequences for those being bullied but there are no consequences for the bullies themselves. We talk about forgiveness so freely in church but what do we do with children who do mean things? When do we talk about healing for kids like my son? When do we teach our kids that being a Christian means you should not exclude and target my son? When do we teach our kids that you should love my son?

Because here is the other side of this – Some kids do love him. A very small handful of kids not only are “nice” to my son but they like to spend time with him and show him love and affection. This tells me mountains about the beautiful hearts of those children. This is when I see God shine through people. I see it in how those children treat my son. But it is unfortunately a very small group of kids who I see this light within.

So what actually happened? We only heard from the nurse in the morning – about the poison control report. We didn’t get word from anyone else and my husband called and left a message for the camp director. We waited some more, no word. I posted something to facebook. Why? Because, in cases like this before it almost always ended with an unspoken clause that I will go silent from here on out. I am unwilling to be silent on these matters anymore and well, facebook, blogging, that’s where I get to use my voice. And I decided a while ago that this is what I am going to do from now on. So I used my voice.

The funny thing is, I never blame the adults in these situations. I was a teacher; I work with kids all the time. I know that bullying can happen with one word whispered in another’s ear. But, better communication would have saved me a day of troubled ideas in this case. Finally we got the whole story. It still doesn’t make sense to me but my son did not feel bullied. So, we are going with his gut on this. After all, as he said, he knows what bullying feels like. He said they were essentially being stupid and not mean.

Okay great, but it got me thinking – why does my head go there? And I see now, when you have a kid that has too many collective experiences like this, it leaves a strange sort of trauma over the whole family. And, when those in charge use phrases like:

  • Boys will be boys
  • They were just horsing around
  • He was just teasing him
  • They were only joking

It does weird things to my head now when I hear that. We all want to protect our children from harm. But, you have to understand that when you have the child that is regularly targeted by other kids – don’t expect me to respond with a laugh and a shrug of the shoulders. And, don’t ask me to apologize for “over reacting” or speaking out.

And, next year when the brochures for camp come out, we will still have a whole host of considerations and fears to face that others don’t. Oh, and by the way, my son says he is having a blast at camp.