Dr Emily Lovegrove, AKA “The Bullying Doctor” has recently written a book called “Autism, Bullying and Me”. This is a fantastic anti bullying resource for all teens, parents, carers and education professionals. In this guest post, Emily tells us a bit more about what drove her to write this book and what you can expect to gain from it.
I was constantly rebuked, as a child, with “Why can’t you be normal?” My parents, staunch pillars of the Methodist community, used threats, beatings and withholding food and freedom to change me. To no avail. I thought I was normal. I just thought everyone else was… well… weird. I didn’t understand their ‘rules’. I thought them bizarre and illogical.
At primary school I kept to myself, but at secondary school I did eventually make a best friend – who bullied me. Nonetheless I much preferred this to being on my own.
It wasn’t until, in middle-age, when I went to university to study psychology, that I realised that most people could be predicted to act / react in a similar way! But that still left a lot of individuals who acted and reacted, like me, in different ways.
I began to look at what exactly normal is. And found that there is no such thing! There is simply average. And that transformed how I felt about everything. (And eventually led to my seeking confirmation that I was a perfectly normal autistic.)
After my science degree I was offered a funded PhD, looking at how appearance affects adolescents. Unsurprising to me, teens in a huge variety of schools confided (in interviews and questionnaires) that they feared being in any way different as this usually resulted in teasing… and then bullying. Interestingly what they most wanted was not revenge, but popularity! This meant that standard adult responses like ‘Just tell and adult’ that resulted in punishment / humiliation of the perpetrator – who then frequently ‘got their own back’ – were rarely effective. We spent a lot of time examining what we thought bullying was – and the myths that surround it, like ‘bullying makes you stronger’ (it doesn’t – feeling bullied, or watching others get bullied – can affect your whole life negatively).
What these teens really wanted was self-empowerment!
And although I now had enough information to complete my PhD, I was intrigued. What might help with this problem? I looked into the research with those who are disfigured – either congenitally, from surgery, or from an accident – and examined how they are encouraged to cope with looking different and being viewed negatively. I then took the strategies devised for this population back to those hundreds of teens and together we worked and experimented on which strategies were particularly helpful to them – and why. Needing to validate this scientifically, I taught endless groups of teens the revised list of strategies with them filling in questionnaires before, after… and at six months later. Rewardingly there were significantly marked positive differences! Once they had a variety of strategies to use for themselves, they declared they were not only more likely to ignore a lot of minor bullying, but also much more confident about insisting their concerns were heard and dealt with if the bullying was serious.
This book, Autism, Bullying and Me, is the book I needed when I was a teenager (and, if I’m honest, as an adult too)! Based on those years of research on difference and bullying, I began to engage with individuals in the autistic teenage community, as a therapist. Again, we looked at all those anti-bullying strategies. And again, we experimented – what was particularly helpful given that many of us struggle to name our emotions and are often hugely sensitive to various things like touch, taste, light, sound? It turned out we may take a little longer, we may be more vulnerable to bullying, and we may do things differently… but essentially the strategies still worked. Autistic children and teens too felt that huge need for self-empowerment. And I think having an autistic adult to help them was also key!
Practising dealing positively and successfully with aggressive behaviours changes the way that we view the world. It helps to stop ‘black and white thinking’ (they are wrong, I am right) and ‘catastrophising’ (I am never going to find a friend). Knowing we can do this forms a solid basis for higher self-esteem. There’s lots of info in this book on what bullying is – and what advice really isn’t helpful! Such as CAN you ‘Just ignore bullying’? (No, because your body has a natural stress reaction making absolutely sure you are about to react in one way or another!) There’s stuff on how and why bullying starts, and how being seen as different in any way can affect whether we are more likely to attract that negative attention. And how to change that in subtle ways.
But most of all I hope this book shows that even if we thought it was impossible to change the way others view us… it absolutely isn’t! All we need is a commitment to love and respect ourselves to ensure that others recognise we are a vital part of all those individual, not-average but normal humans that make up our diverse society.
Copies of the book can be bought from all the usual book retailers – but if you would like a signed copy with a message, please go to www.book-ish.co.uk (go to their menu, and type the title and there it is!) HUGE thanks – and I so hope it’s useful to teens, their parents and for teachers… 😊 Dr Emily Lovegrove (Find Emily on Twitter @TheBullyingDr)
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