I was born Autistic and ADHD in the 1970s. I was not given any diagnosis beyond “hyperactivity” and the vision issues that required frequent surgeries and daily, humiliating application of an eyepatch, which everyone blamed for my social “disinterest.” They didn’t know, and in many cases didn’t care, that said “disinterest” was a mix of my autism and an intense dislike for other children. Bullying began in nursery school, at the age of three. At that age, it was less verbal and more physical. I still have a deep scar on my face from being violently scratched by another child. My things were taken, I was often hit, and namecalling began.
Primary school wasn’t much better. I had learned to avoid others though, and even though there were physical fights, I was small and fast, and even bigger kids soon realized that while they may hit harder, I hit much more often, so things did not come to a head until Grade 4.
That year, the worst bully of them all was my teacher. He was famous for his grotesque, used-car-salesmanesque suits and his short, reedy build. He bullied children because it was the only way he could feel like a man. He chose a handful of ‘misfit’ children every year and made their lives absolute hell for the duration. This had apparently been going on for as long as he’d been teaching, an open secret throughout the school board. Unfortunately, during the year I had him, his own child was ill with leukemia and I think he resented kids who were healthy when his own was so ill, and the bullying took on a viciousness that was beyond everything he’d done in previous years.
I was not the only child bullied in my year. Two boys and three other girls were tortured by him that year, for the supreme crimes of being overweight, being part of a single-parent family, being in a family on welfare, being gifted, having a disability, and having parents who were divorced. None of these things was any child’s fault, but we were tortured daily for them. He also vocally encouraged classmate bullies to target us in any way possible.
The worst wasn’t being smacked across the hands, face, back or buttocks with the blackboard pointer. It wasn’t having our desks upended and dumped out in front of everyone. It wasn’t even being called horrible, vulgar names in front of everyone. It was his unrelenting meanness and sarcasm that hurt the most. It was the fact that for me, he used my learning disability to make me out to be stupid, constantly belittled everything I said or did, and scrutinized me like I was a germ on a microscope slide, always looking for new ways to inflict injury. The worst was that he made my own parents complicit in the torture by means of adding hours of math homework no one else got (my LD is in math), even after I was diagnosed with the math LD and math-phobia, and by making me bring home a ‘behaviour book’ full of nasty lies every night, guaranteeing that I’d be punished by my strict parents at home.
My mother was a teacher. When I told her about the physical abuse (meter stick, blackboard pointer, fists), and the psychological torture, she refused to believe me. She didn’t want to think about another teacher doing those things, so I was accused of lying and left to fend for myself.
I was suicidal at nine years old. I scoured the house like a cop with a warrant, looking for my father’s handgun. I planned to take it to school and use it to kill him and the dozen or so of the worst child-bullies in the class. I never gave Dad much credit for being aware of what was going on — he was the type of Dad who left the parenting to Mom — but he somehow knew what I was doing and sold the gun before I found it. I began self-injuring that year. I also retreated deeply into a world of obsessive fantasy based on Star Wars, refusing to speak any language but those heard in the movies, talking and playing Star Wars constantly. My obsessive autistic nature was giving me a way to avoid a real life that had become untenable. Living in fantasy as much as possible gave me a much-needed respite from the hell of my reality.
We moved that summer. I began Grade 5 at a new school. My teacher noticed that I had fears, unusual outbursts, and such a deep withdrawal from others that I wouldn’t speak in class and she got me in for testing and some much needed therapy at CPRI, where a lot more of the abuse that I’d endured in Grade 4 came to light. My parents had to face the reality that I had not been lying. By that point, we had no relationship. I hated them for abandoning me when I had come to them for help, hated them for punishing my obsession with Star Wars when it was the one thing making life worth living for me, hated them for believing the abusive, bullying teacher over me. Our relationship remained severely damaged for many years and there are still undercurrents today, despite my now being 36.
I have also been left with PTSD, depression, low self-esteem, frequent urges to self injure, an opiate addiction, issues with authority, and a violent temper that quickly turns physical if I think someone is trying to bully me or shows me disrespect. It has only been luck that has kept me out of the justice system, and I know that. I fight against these problems every day.
I never got the help I needed when I needed it most. The hurt is still there, still raw. I still hate him for what he did to me and to the other kids in my class that he bullied. For many years, I wanted to kill him in painful, lingering ways. I know that if I’d never been his victim, my life would be very different than it is, and I resent the fact that I have these scars because of him. It makes me furious that other teachers knew, the school board knew that he was a child abuser, and no one stopped him. So many people carry blame in this systemic failure that allowed a child abuser to go on teaching until his retirement when it was known that he was victimizing children less than 10 years after he began teaching. People knew he was an abuser for more than 20 years and did nothing to stop him.