This is the second installment about bullying and how members of The Arc of King County have dealt with a variety of situations. This month, one of our long-time interns, Al Suarez, shared his experiences. While each of our stories highlight the challenges, there are not always easy solutions. As our children are going back to school, we encourage our community to openly talk about this problem, to not only create awareness, but to also provide a safe space for sharing ideas and strategies.
Meet Al Suarez. He’s a lot like other 22 year olds you might meet. He lives with his Mom. Enjoys playing games like the Fallout Series, Half-Life, and Hearthstone where he’s legend ranked.
His encyclopedia of mind will amaze you. It’s full of video game history. Comic book knowledge. And humor that will have you laughing so hard you cry. But there’s something a little different.
Al was diagnosed at the age of five. His life drastically changed with one word – autism. It became obvious that he was, well – different.
“It first started with my dad and continued with my brother. My autism diagnosis scared my father. I was no longer normal in his eyes. And this only encouraged my brother.”
Unfortunately, bullying started at a young age for Al. First at home, then at school.
“At school I was bullied by my peers and teachers. I quickly started butting heads with the teachers. And in turn, became a bully myself. The only way I could combat the emotional pain was to physically fight back. It was my only sense of power.”
This was a nasty cycle that eventually led to Al leaving his first elementary school and moving to a private school more adept at supporting Al’s education.
“My tendency to bully and get into trouble continued with this new school and right into middle school. It wasn’t until seventh grade that I started to think through the emotional pain and the bullying cycle. I realized that I could stop the cycle. It takes two to bully. We’re both in pain. I wanted to stop that process. So I removed myself from it.
I haven’t fully recovered through the experiences in my life. I’m still working through them. But the upside is that I’ve ended the cycle. I see my role. The role of others. And I have decided I don’t want any part of it.”
Instead Al has taken to writing jokes on his blog Groaners by Al, is an active member on a softball Special Olympics team, and is a new member of a Toastmasters Club. By connecting with others in not only the disability community, but in King County, Al has found friends who accept and enjoy his differences.
Follow Al on Twitter ash12364 and his blog, http://lolgroaners.blogspot.com/.