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Bullying a Factor in Autistic Teen’s Suicide

Bullying a Factor in Autistic Teen’s Suicide

Gareth Oates was 18 years old when he killed himself by standing in front of a train in West Yorkshire on March 2, 2010. At an investigation, his mother, Glenys Oates, told a coroner that her autistic son had been “routinely bullied” and called “suicide boy” by some of his fellow students for years, says the Independent. Gareth was also bullied in public in what his mother called “bullying of a disabled person – deliberate targeting.” Police in Suffolk in the U.K. where the family lives had even apologized to her for not dealing “more robustly” with the attacks that Gareth suffered.

Oates especially noted that a “gap in care services for autistic teenagers could allow further tragedies to occur.” She described how difficult it had been to get local social and medical services to recognize her serious her son’s suicidal tendencies were. Since the summer before his death, Gareth had become obsessed with a 1985 action film, The Runaway Train, in which a character kills himself by standing in front of a train at the movie’s end.

Oates also testified that she believed that something a health worker said to Gareth the day before he died was connected to his suicide:

She told the coroner she believed he had taken literally a comment made to him by the link-worker that “he’d be better off dead than in college education.”

She said taking language literally was a characteristic of his autism.

Sessions of cognitive behavior therapy helped Gareth, his mother said, but she had not been able to get him more support and she too had become “increasingly desperate.”

The early results from a survey by the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) reveal that 63 percent of children on the autism spectrum have been bullied at some point, at three times the rate as their siblings who are not autistic. About 1,200 children were included in the survey. The IAN’s community science liaison, Dr. Connie Anderson, noted in Education Week’s On Special Education blog that children with Asperger’s are the “most vulnerable,” possibly because they are more likely to be in typical classrooms in public schools, the very setting “associated with more bullying than other school settings,” according to the IAN survey.

Some families have attempted to end bullying towards a child with Asperger’s through homeschooling. One mother in the survey noted that her son, who had been diagnosed with depression in the third grade, is now “doing much, much better without the constant name calling and being singled out for his ‘weird’ behaviors!” But the survey itself found that autistic children who were homeschooled were bullied at the same rate as children in public school settings.

As April is Autism Awareness / Acceptance Month, the IAN survey’s results and the testimony of Glenys Oates about her son Gareth make it all too clear that bullying of autistic children is a serious problem which, if ignored, can lead to tragic results.

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Photo by Diego Grez via Wikimedia Commons

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43 comments

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11:26PM PDT on Apr 3, 2013

"The early results from a survey by the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) reveal that 63 percent of children on the autism spectrum have been bullied at some point"

Nonsense, the number is much higher. I think even the "nearly 90%" in the link below is likely too low as well, while the number of children who are bullied over all is 1 in 6, or 16, 6 %.
http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2009/11/13/bullying-survey/6184/
http://www.nbcnews.com/id/39758956/ns/health-childrens_health/t/students-regularly-bullied-survey-shows/#.UV0b1aKePTo

6:14AM PDT on Apr 3, 2013

Why can't people be fair to other living lives?

2:00PM PST on Feb 8, 2013

Bullying is way too prevalent in todays world...it's a disgrace..

7:55AM PST on Feb 8, 2013

Just because a person is trained to deal with autistic children doesn't mean that they're good at it, or that they don't bully the children in the classroom themselves. It's very sad that the health worker said something to a young man that takes things very literally, a very common part of autism.

7:09AM PST on Feb 6, 2013

people who bully are sick. They require treatment by ending their useless lifes.

1:09PM PST on Feb 5, 2013

Does anyone have a special home that these autistic kids can run away to if they get bullied or humiliated over the internet?

I would think it would help them make friends with other autistics that have gone through the same thing.

We need more homes for gay teens to run away to and homes for teenage girls to run away to if they are humiliated in public or on the internet in some kind of way so they don’t commit suicide.

Teenagers in general have no clue that killing oneself is not the answer, teenagers don’t have a developed enough brain to take humiliation better than adults could.

We need to set up homes that these kids of all kinds of backgrounds can run away to so they don’t have to kill themselves!

7:21AM PST on Feb 3, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

3:10AM PST on Feb 3, 2013

In spite of being weak in expressing themselves, they need others' understanding

6:10PM PDT on Apr 27, 2012

we need to start at home first then the schools need o send all there teachers to classes to learn how to work with autistic children they need to be educated about it you will be surprided how many teacher have no idea how to work with the children if they arent the child will never be able to do better just as with a child with no problems if the teacher doesnt go to college to learn how to teach how would that turn out well they have to all take time and the school system needs to send every teacher back to school to learn about this because every year of school this child advances and that teachers isnt educated its bad news for the child and the teachers ty for signing the petiation randy

6:02PM PDT on Apr 27, 2012

my son is autistic also they do get picked on but its when they want to do somethings like other kids and society says no or there not as good at it so the kids make fun but we always felt our child deserved that chamce to try good or bad at it just like any other kid they wherent asking for special favors like oh dont cut my kid if hes not good enough at any sport no just l;ike any other we do understand they have to make it but they do want the chance to try just like everyone else dont lock them behind a closed door my son wouldnt of came as far adavanced ashe did if we didnt let him try it is scarey i know like to let your child swim when he has something like this when hes little but its the same when your childs little we all hover over our child when they first go in the water but like with all my boys i was real close watching him but i did act like i wasnt watching but oh i was lol but i would any of my kids what im saying is dont be afraid to let them try things it can open a whole new world for a autistic child im not sure our child would be like he is today if we had been so protective we hadnt let him try everything any normal child did with them it like opening a whole new world it doesnt always work but in billys case he got into computors and he began talking which he hadnt before he used to just point and gunt before he can do things on a computor that we only wish we could he could have a big career in c

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