Autism’s Got Talent 2022 performer Jack Roberts writes an article for Antibullying week
Bullying is a problem that plagues many facilities around the world: schools, work and home life can all be infected by it. The scale of this issue is shocking as well, over a quarter of young people report being bullied in the last year alone and almost half have been bullied at some point in their school careers. This is just in person – almost 30% of people have experienced cyberbullying as well, an increase of 88%.
My name is Jack Roberts, I am 17 years old, and I’ve been bullied for over a decade. I think bullying needs to be talked about – and what better time than Anti-Bullying week? If you struggle with topics such as: bullying, suicidal thoughts, mental health disorders (Depression, Anxiety and PTSD), then I don’t recommend this read.
If you’re still here, then here’s some background information about me. My name, as mentioned, is Jack. My pronouns are he/they, and I am a transgender boy who lives in Cymru having moved from Devon. I have many disabilities and differences including Chronic Pain, Autism and ADHD. I’ve always been seen as odd, often quiet, a teacher’s pet, a tomboy (when I was seen as a girl). My interests were odd, even now when I get upset or overwhelmed, I retreat into ‘geeky’ and unusual interests. Currently, these include TV shows such as Doctor Who or Heartstopper, games such as Minecraft or Pokémon, and academic interests like medicine, especially genetic disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. To really put into context how odd this seemed to everyone around me, when I was 10 (I was diagnosed as Autistic at 13), I was reading 400-page-books about Doctor Who, and was learning about conditions such as Microcephalic Ectodysplasin Primordial Dwarfism or Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy.
Now that you know about me, I can discuss bullying and the effects it has on people around the globe. Bullying is defined as an ongoing and deliberate set of actions in relationships that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm. There are five main types of bullying:
- Physical Bullying – Actions that cause physical (and possibly psychological) pain to the victim
- Verbal Bullying – Words that cause psychological harm to the victim (name calling, shouting)
- Social Bullying – Actions that damage a person’s social reputation (spreading rumours, isolation)
- Cyber Bullying – A form of bullying that takes place through technology (texting, trolling etc)
- Sexual Bullying – Can be physical, but may not be it is always of a sexual nature
Any of these can have a serious impact on victims, and can have many detrimental effects for the rest of their lives. This can range from just being sad, to loneliness and isolation, to a wide range of mental health conditions and substance misuse and ultimately, to Suicide. To understand the harsh impact of bullying, I will tell you my story, which still affects me today, years after leaving school. After I’ve run through a watered down version of my story, I’ll discuss the causes of bullying and prevention.
My story with bullying started at the age of four. I had just started school, and I had two bullies – we’ll call them (fake names) “Luke” and “Chelsey”. “Chelsey” and “Luke” did not know each other that well, but they both put me through years of verbal and social bullying. They would spread rumours about me, do things intentionally to upset me, call me names, isolate me from my friends and more. “Luke”, I remember, would turn his eyelids inside out to intentionally freak me out. “Chelsey” would hurt me, then when she was caught, claim that I started it.
My parents did know about this, and went to the school multiple times – but to no avail. In fact, the teachers at that school often caused me problems too. In my first school, I was force fed food which caused me sensory issues and caused me to be sick, and I was scrutinised for many of my autistic traits – including working hard at school! One time I did extra maths homework, and almost got detention for it. I was shouted at for not liking certain foods, or struggling to make friends. I was told I was lying about my disability, which I got when I was 5.
In Year 2, my grandmother died as well, which caused me a lot of distress. I was mocked for this by my classmates. I left my first school at the end of Year 2, after 3 years of verbal and emotional bullying.
From Year 3 to 6, I attended my second school – a local private school. Here I met a new, worse bully: “Mary”. “Mary” was a popular girl, she had many friends. She subjected me to verbal and social bullying as well as a couple incidents of physical bullying. I had no friends for my four years at that school, I was called names, teased, mocked, tripped, treated as a servant for the other students. The one who let this all happen was “Mary”. She also got her friends to blame me for a lot of things, which often led to teachers shouting at me too, which would lead to sensory overloads. I had one amazing teacher – “Miss W”. She worked out my autism, would foster my interests, academic or not. She organised meetings with the headteacher to discuss my situation, and helped me day to day. I can only remember one situation where I was upset with her, when “Mary’s” friends sided with her and ganged up on me after she elbowed me in the side and I was bruised.
Unfortunately, “Miss W” was the only good teacher. “Mrs J”, the headmistress, wasn’t as good. She would ostracise me and tell me off for having preferences. One time I stood up to another bully (not “Mary”) and she almost suspended me because I wouldn’t apologise for getting annoyed at him. Another time, she made me go on a school trip my parents hadn’t agreed to let me on. It was during a heatwave, and we were made to sit on a balcony for 6 hours, in charge of two children aged 7 and 9. We were told we weren’t allowed any water. One of them ended up with heat stroke and dehydration.
By the time I left that school, when I was 11, I was already having frequent nightmares. I had also realised that I was transgender. My chronic pain was worsened from the age of 10.
My third school was the local state secondary. I attended here for 2 years. These were the worst 2 years two years of my life. I was bullied in every way on a daily basis. I would leave school with bruises from where I had been punched, or shoved into a metal locker. I would be called every slur under the sun, attacked for every identity and characteristic. My appearance, gender, sexuality, weight, health – all mocked.
You may notice in this account in particular, I haven’t mentioned anyone by a (fake) name. This is because there were too many people. I have only mentioned one (minor) incident that stuck with me. I won’t go in depth with any others, as I don’t know the ages and past of who may be reading this. However, here’s a short watered down version of (some) of the other incidences, so you get a better picture:
- I was beaten up, and then sat next to the person for the rest of the year
- Got shouted at for refusing to operate heavy machinery under the effect of medicines that make you drowsy
- Got screamed at for having a sensory overload, and was told I was faking being ill, more than once
- Forced to stay in school with an infectious illness
- Told off for safely stopping a student from harming himself
- Shouted at for telling staff about a student with a weapon
- Had items stolen (including clothing)
- Videos and group chats were made about me
- When OFSTED came, they hid us from the inspections so our negative reports wouldn’t impact them
There were a couple of other students I befriended. We went through it together. I will only mention one specific incident in depth – I was being beaten up in the corridor again. I saw a teacher and cried out for help. She watched for a moment and left. No intervention, no nothing. I went to my tutor, my head of house, the principal – even with proof. My parents wanted to help, but never realised how bad it, or I, was. To me, nobody cared.
As you can imagine, this had a profound impact me as a younger child. By the time I was 13, I had already been diagnosed with Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety, Generalised Anxiety, Separation Anxiety and Depression. I was suicidal, and did attempt to harm myself many times. My small group of friends were similarly affected.
Luckily, I was moved back to the Senior section of my old school after being diagnosed as Autistic and granted an EHCP. The bullying stopped at 14 – after a decade of relentless abuse. I still experienced discrimination there, I was told I wasn’t “autistic enough” to see my friends in the SEN centre. However, compared to what I had been through in Years 7 and 8, it was amazing.
I thought this was it for my bullying story. Unfortunately, it was not. I started college and came out as transgender. This was the only college in the area, and I was recognised by people from my secondary state school. They screamed at me while walking around. I had a panic attack when this happened. I ended up leaving there due to my health.
Even now I’m out of school, I receive a lot of verbal abuse on the internet. I get called all sort of names based on my gender identity, appearance, weight. It’s nothing compared to what it was, and it doesn’t affect me often, but it’s still there.
Today, I have diagnosed PTSD, Adjustment disorder, Depression and Anxiety. It’s still common for me to have nightmares about my days at school. I cannot go to the town I lived in, nor the one where my school was, without panicking and checking over my shoulder for those that called me all that pain. It’s not the only trauma I have now, but it’s still affecting me, 3 years on from any serious incident. I still have not told anyone everything.
So, why do people bully?
It’s rare that people bully purely because they are malicious. Often, it’ll be a combination of factors, such as poor home life, insecurity, needing an outlet for their negative emotions, not understanding their actions’ effects, prejudice, or just following the crowd. I had one bully, who later apologised to me, he explained he just didn’t understand how much he had hurt me, he just thought it was some fun, a game with his friends. He had been going through a lot and wasn’t trying to cause me as many problems as he did.
There are things that can be done to stop what’s happened to me happening to others, and it needs to be done, after all, the story above is only my story. With so many students in the UK, over 5 million young people currently in the UK’s state schools and higher educational facilities alone have been bullied at some point, not including those being or having been bullied in work or at home, or those in private schools. How many others have stories just like mine?
What can actually be done?
It’s anti-bullying week. Please take the time, this week if not any other, to research how you can help those who are bullied, those who are at risk, such as Autistic people, and to think about your past, did you ever do hurtful things without realising? Do you still?
One thing is awareness. Awareness is crucial, the more people are aware of the issues facing people today, the more likely it is to be solved.
Secondly, the school system is broken, not only is the anti-bullying system broken, but so is the system for handling students with different needs. Had my autism been identified earlier, maybe I would have been in a safer place earlier, maybe I wouldn’t have PTSD, maybe I wouldn’t still be struggling. Schools need to develop effective anti-bullying policies with more effective sanctions for those who hurt other students. Organisations inspecting schools should also ensure all students have access to have their voices heard, so they can guide, sanction and reward schools appropriately.
If you know someone who’s been bullied, check in on them, just ask how they’re doing. If you know any school students, make sure they’re okay and not experiencing or causing bullying. If you see any bullying, say something, don’t stand by and watch someone suffer.
Another thing, which ties into Anna Kennedy online, is understanding and acceptance of Autism, as well as other neurodiversity’s, conditions, and identities. Had I been understood, had my interests been accepted, then teachers wouldn’t have treated me as such an outcast. If I had had the correct support, the bullying would have been nipped in the bud. I may have even been supported to make friends with students, as well as understand neurotypical students better. If I had been encouraged with my academic interests (which likely stemmed from being autistic) from a young age, who knows how much I could have achieved by this age? If all children knew about transgender people, or autistic people, then I would have felt safer throughout my whole childhood. I would be happier now.
Hate is not natural, it is learnt. We need to ensure children don’t learn these behaviours and help adults who have them unlearn them. Bullying is a horrible thing, nobody should have to experience it and we should help those who have. Do not let another child end up traumatised.
Thank you for reading this.