This week I had it in mind to discuss the truly tragic news that an autistic boy, Michael Raven, aged 12 from Leicestershire had hanged himself after relentless bullying. However, there isn’t a lot I can say on this story as apart from the tabloid press this story has been largely ignored by the media, overshadowed as it was by a far more high profile suicide that of Cardiff City Football Club manager, Gary Speed.
In no way am I suggesting that Speed’s death was anything but a tragedy but its coverage and speculation on what drove a handsome, wealthy and successful man to the edge has preoccupied front and back pages of the national newspapers since it happened. Even the tabloids lost interest in Micheal after a blaze of unsubstantiated stories that he was bullied to his death by a gang of girls.
Scouring messages boards and blogs there appears to be some truth in that at least one girl was bullying the boy mercilessly and that she was doing so was well known throughout the school. Bullies in my experience rarely work alone, their egos are too fragile and they need some kind of constant approval or even disapproval to keep themselves feeling vital. In the event of Michael’s suicide the girl in question has had to close her face book account because of a bombardment of hate she received.
All of this begs the question: what the hell were the staff at the school doing? Reports state that the school, St Wilfreds Church of England High School, insists that the bullying was never reported but come on! Are victims always expected to have to go running to teacher especially when they have likely been warned of awful consequences should they do so, or, should staff be able to spot the signs and step in. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
In my experience in education autistic kids get bullied by staff too. This is of course anecdotal from first hand accounts of autistic people themselves, second hand from their parents and carers and, in some cases what I have witnessed (and I must say felt forced to address) myself.
I know of pupils being harrassed into revealing in front of a whole class that they arrived late because they’d been at a counselling session, then being told by the teacher they dare not miss another one of her lessons; pupils complaining of bullying and teachers and classroom assistants turning a blind eye because, “He brings it on himself: he knows those noises/clapping/feet tapping/etc winds person X up and he just needs to stop it.” A special kind of sadism, though, is the domain of the PE teacher – throwing balls at a pupil because he enjoys to see the child recoil, throwing a ball to prove another child can’t catch, admonishing a child and showing him up for not being able to dress himself quickly or correctly in the right kit. If anyone out there has the means to make a proper study of this I bet the results would be shocking.
Of course there are brilliant educators out there who get the best from almost every pupil they teach and put themselves and their careers on the line defending pupils who need their help but until autism is seen by the mainstream of teachers as a REAL disability and not a convenient label for a child with problems then nothing will change.