The cruel irony of Autism Awareness Month: There’s still much to learn about autistic people

There is a cruel irony to John Benjamin Haygood’s being arrested during Autism Awareness Month.

Video has gone viral of Haygood, a 10-year-old boy who is on the autism spectrum, being handcuffed and escorted out of the school while his mother vocally protests. Although she agrees with the district that he had displayed disruptive behavior in the past, she insists that the problem is with the district’s refusing to accommodate him, even describing its decision to invite her recently expelled child back on campus just to arrest him as “a ‘this is what you get.’”

While all of the details of Haygood’s case haven’t emerged, I have to say this much, as an autistic person: Luanne Haygood’s story has the ring of truth to it.

When a 2012 survey by the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University found that 63 percent of autistic children had been bullied, they were referring to mistreatment by other kids, but the truth is that this bullying is never limited to the school’s grounds. Neurotypical children bully autistic children because they learn to do so by nearby adults. There are certain behavior patterns that are deemed “normal,” and while they may not know that the traits they’re picking on are associated with autism, they are nevertheless singling out autistic people for mistreatment.

Considering the way that this school handled Haygood’s situation, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to discover that whatever mistreatment Haygood endured on a day-to-day basis at that school started at the top and trickled down. I say this as someone who remembers how, when I was a young child, my teachers would get visibly annoyed when I failed to realize how much I was talking, or just blurt out what I wanted to say without recognizing classroom protocol, and how the other students would pick up on these cues and blast me for being “annoying.”