An Autism-related Puzzle

Here’s the puzzle, friends of ours are having issues with their child with autism (a teenager).

First piece of the puzzle – For the last two or three years, their child would take a sweater to school and many times it wouldn’t come home.

One time, they confirmed that a class bully had taken one of those sweaters and dumped it in the trash. Another kid in the room had pointed this out to the dad. The parents didn’t do anything, and they continued to assume that perhaps their child gets distracted easily enough that when they sent their child to school with a sweater, it got removed and put down somewhere, resulting in its eventually being forgotten and lost.

Second piece of the puzzle – Three weeks ago, the child in question lost their phone. The parents, again, assumed that the child had put it down somewhere in the classroom, forgot about it, and then walked away without it. They simply assumed that someone found it and took it.

Without causing any alarm at the school, like talking to the school about a theft, they didn’t see it that way because they know their child, they know that this child can be forgetful. They understood that no one returned the lost phone and that did mean that someone kept property that didn’t belong to them, however, they decided to use this incident as a teaching tool for their child.

They discussed with the child that hazards of being forgetful. Sometimes, if you put something down and don’t watch it, it will be taken. This is (unfortunately) the way the world works.

They even punished the child (two days without devices) in order to drive home their point that this child was now a teenager and they had to become more responsible for their own stuff.

They were being decent parents, trying to teach their child a valuable lesson, knowing that something lost doesn’t necessarily have to remain lost—however knowing exactly how the world works. Things get taken, and sometimes all you can do is try to prevent things from being in the position of being taken.

Before I continue, let me just state that the parents were not thinking this was bullying. Even the one incident with the sweater in the trash was not enough to convince them that there was a problem big enough that they needed to talk with the school.

At least, they were hoping it wasn’t bullying.

Third piece of the puzzle – Two weeks later, the child’s phone again went missing. This time, the child remembered where he had put the new (replacement) phone, a hidden pocket in his backpack, and even told an adult that he was putting his backpack down. The adult in question later went on break.

And, the phone was lost yet again.

Where does this take the parents?

In my opinion, they have enough information and examples to go to the school and concretely say this is a case of targeting and/or bullying.

Did they do that, and what did the school do?

They did approach the school and the school immediately set up a meeting. At this point, that’s all I know about the situation.

The meeting is scheduled for this week, but here’s my take on all of this:

Our kids are targets. Targets for theft and targets for bullying.

They do tend to be forgetful and easily distracted.

They’re also device-oriented. Most of the teenagers with or without autism that I know have cell phones.

So, what do we do and how do we keep our kids, and their stuff, safe?

Earlier in the school year, for example, my child wanted to bring his DS Nintendo device to use in his after-school program (the kids get device time).

We said “no.” It was enough for us that he brings his phone to school and we know very well that that could someday be lost (or stolen), we didn’t want to add another device to his backpack.

You could say that this is a problem for all students, however I still believe that our kids with autism are targeted more often.

All I can do is hope that schools understand this and work with parents of special needs kids. They support anti-bullying on their grounds, but they also have to understand the dynamic.

Can we prevent all of it?

No, we can’t.

But, I’m awaiting to hear from my friends about how that school handles this situation. I’m hoping that they work with the parents to stop what is happening to their child.

Bullying/targeting. An autism-related puzzle.


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