Words Can Hurt | Organization for Autism Research

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In this original blog post, autism self-advocate Carrie Falcone describes her experiences with bullying and overcoming adversity.

When I was three years old, my family learned that I was on the autism spectrum. My parents had taken me to a neurologist because they were concerned.  I was their shy and creative daughter who not only had a speech delay, but also struggled forming sentences and learned at a different pace.  For a good part of my childhood, I worked with speech and occupational therapists to help me learn how to clearly communicate with members of my family. 

By the time I entered elementary school, I was able to socialize with other children my age.  However, I was still learning different subjects at a slower pace and would often rely on a teaching assistant for help on quizzes or tests. Other times, teachers would let me finish the tests when the classes were over.

I might have been an average, creative, and shy student on the spectrum, but the other kids my age could see that I was different. For years, I was constantly teased because of my emotional and learning issues. If I tried to stand up for myself, the teasing got worse. Not only was I laughed at and heavily criticized for how I dressed and acted, but there was a lot of name calling. The r-word was used numerous times whenever a classmate walked past me in the hallway or before I entered a classroom. Some of the friends that I had made no longer stood up for me, deciding to instead find other friends who were “normal” and not a high-functioning autistic.

The school administrators and guidance counselors brushed the harassment off and left it alone.  This was difficult to accept as the bullying started in first grade and continued until graduation. The fact that they did not take my concerns seriously made me feel like I wasn’t being heard, and that hurt. It still hurts because any form of harassment (physical or verbal) is not acceptable. Remember the phrase, “sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me”?  In my case, the words were more hurtful than sticks, stones, or broken bones ever could have been. I believe my school’s lack of urgency and understanding about the severity of the situation contributed to my diagnosis of anxiety and depression.

College was a different story. The courses were harder and the professors weren’t easy to speak with when I had a question. I did have a few professors who encouraged me to improve my coursework and to participate in discussions. One of my history professors enjoyed my essays so much, she asked if she could use one as an example for her next course.

Eventually, I was able to earn my college degree in writing. I currently work as a freelancer and front desk assistant. I’m still trying to find a permanent job that I can enjoy and be accepted at, without feeling like I’m in school all over again. I’m hoping to find a writing job where I’m able to take my time, not worry about finishing a deadline or project by the end of the day, receive respect and support from co-workers. I often wish those types of jobs existed, but I have not been able to find anything yet.

Despite the ups and downs, I still worry about what other people will think of me whenever I have a job interview or even if I’m at a store. It’s a constant struggle to forget about what I went through in the past.  I’m still trying to find ways to work around those memories. While I’m able to focus on other things to keep myself occupied, such as writing, walking, or dabbling in painting, getting rid of those memories is not easy. It’s going to take a long time for me to move past it on an emotional level, and I hope that someone will read this and relate to my experience. Please know that you’re not alone and that you will be able to overcome these issues: it just takes time. Remember that you are fully capable of getting a college degree, finding a job, and doing whatever it is that makes you feel better. Whether you like to sing, act, play sports, or bake…it’s all about what makes you feel great.

About the Author

Carrie Falcone lives in New Jersey. As a high functioning adult with autism, she also works as a front desk assistant and passes her time reading, writing, and going for long walks depending on the weather. She is hoping to find an additional career as a writer or blogger where she can write about the ups and downs of being on the autism spectrum.

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