Teaming Up On Bullies
Dan Coulter, Coulter Video, July 2004
When I was little, playing with some neighborhood kids, I let them
roll me up in a rug. Or I rolled myself up, I canít remember. I do
remember the feeling of being totally helpless. Someone sat on me
and didnít let me unroll for an eternity of probably a minute or so.
I struggled, realizing that no matter what I did, I couldnít free
myself. I was absolutely at the other kidsí mercy until they let me
Thatís something like the sense of desperation I now realize my
college-age son, Drew (who has Asperger Syndrome), felt when he was
bullied in high school. He talked about it at the dinner table last
night. I didnít understand until that moment how deeply it affected
My wife and I knew he had to deal with bullies in high school. We
worked with him, teaching him to ignore taunts so he didnít get into
fights. We urged him to tell us about any problems. We made sure key
people at Drewís school knew his situation and that Drew knew who to
go to when he was being tormented.
And he listened. When kids who knew that Drew didnít like rapper
Eminemís lyrics and that Drew was sensitive to noise sat behind him
on the bus with a boombox and blasted an Eminem CD into Drewís ears
Ė he kept himself in check.
He got off the bus and went to the coach who was the school
disciplinarian, as weíd told him to. The coach found out who was on
the bus and read them the riot act.
We appreciated this. It helped. But Iím realizing now that we only
got the tip of the iceberg. Drew got good grades and overcame
multiple Asperger Syndrome challenges to make a number of friends
his senior year. But he didnít tell us the full extent of the daily
attempts other kids made to tear him down. As Drew describes it now,
I have a better understanding that lot of the taunting was routine
and subtle and omnipresent. And Drew felt it was inescapable and
often unreportable. While the coach dealt with the highly visible
bus incident, Drew says that when he did report being harassed,
often teachers didnít do anything.
Thereís no shortage of approaches to dealing with bullying, teasing
and insults. Most of us have ďignore themĒ in our advice kit. I know
of a father who felt his sonís karate classes could help him deal
with bullies. I hope itís helpful, but my experience is that a kid
with special needs who gets into a physical confrontation is
frequently assumed to be in the wrong. And only a fraction of
bullying is physical.
Even if your kid is big and strong or knows martial arts, how does
he deal with the continual, subtle, non-physical stuff that the
teachers never see? Having conditions such as AS puts some kids at a
natural disadvantage and makes them a magnet for the worst in some
So what do you do?
The best advice Iíve heard about came from a panel of people with
Asperger Syndrome in a seminar on bullying. They said, ďWhat are you
talking with us for? Talk to the bullies! Theyíre the ones causing
I think you can take this to the bank. No matter what you do to
prepare your child to deal with a range of bullying behavior, youíve
also got to hit the problem at its source.
Fortunately, thereís a growing wave of information, programs and
resources that can help you and your childís school address the
source of the problem. Schools can help prevent bullying by making
all their students and staff aware of what it looks like, that itís
serious Ė and that it wonít be tolerated. More and more schools are
starting formal awareness training on bullying. The state of North
Carolina, where I live, has initiated a ďBullies Donít BelongĒ
campaign supported by the stateís attorney general.
If you have a child in school being harassed, banding together with
other parents to support bullying awareness training for students
and staff is one of the best investments you can make in your
childís education. And if youíre frustrated at trying to access
limited school resources to support a relatively small number of
students with special needs, this time youíre pushing for something
that benefits kids throughout the school. Iíve seen estimates that
one-third of school kids have been bullied.
Itís terrible that the new bullying awareness programs were sparked
by a series of school shootings, but maybe these programs can help
prevent future violence Ė and make daily life at school dramatically
better for many, many kids who would never consider violence.
These programs can help those teachers and school officials who need
to better understand the problem. An administrator at one of my
sonís schools told us that kids learning to deal with bullies on
their own was just a part of growing up. But what good does it do to
tell our kids not to get into fights over taunting and cruelty and
to tell a teacher instead, if the teachers don't take action? This
just makes kids feel helpless and trains them to suffer in silence.
Your PTA is a good place to get the ball rolling. In fact, the
national PTA organization has information about dealing with
bullying on its website at:
http://www.pta.org/bullying/. This information includes signs to
watch for that your child is being bullied (or that your child is a
I donít believe in looking back and beating yourself up for what you
might have done, but I do think we need to learn from the past. I
had to wait until my son was in college (where his experience is
light-years better than high school) to learn just how tough
high-school really was for him socially. Luckily, you can tap into
resources that werenít available to me just a few years ago.
Hereís hoping you find them and use them. Nothing is going to
totally eliminate bullying. But if you prepare your child AND
support awareness programs to reduce the problem, youíre taking out
a huge insurance policy in his happiness. You donít want your child
feeling helpless, like heís rolled in a rug. You want him feeling
free to learn in a safe, positive atmosphere.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the writer/director of the video:
"ASPERGER SYNDROME DAD: Becoming An Even Better Father To Your Child
With AS." You can find more articles on his website at:
Dan Coulter Used by permission.
All rights reserved.
For more information on Bullying visit