Kids With Asperger's Syndrome: 'Bullied on a Daily Basis'
High-Functioning Form of Autism Causes Social Awkwardness and Angst
By JOHN DONVAN, CAREN ZUCKER and ERIC JOHNSON
April 4, 2007
Growing up, Daniel Corcoran was the odd kid at school. He wasn't slow, but his coordination was off, and he tended to obsess on certain subjects, like light bulbs and air conditioners. At the time, his preoccupations with random objects seemed quirky, but harmless.
But when Corcoran entered middle school, his quirks were not accepted by many of his classmates and his life became a social nightmare filled with name calling and other cruelties.
Corcoran is now out of middle school and a sophomore at Ramapo College in Mahwah, N.J. His uncomfortable encounters persist, especially after taking the dangerous step of "coming out," as he puts hit, with his condition. Corcoran has Asperger's syndrome, and his decision to announce the disorder yielded mixed results from his peers.
Asperger's syndrome is a form of high-functioning autism, characterized by social isolation and eccentric behavior during childhood. "It means my brain is different," Corcoran said.
Twelve-year-old Noah Orent also has Asperger's, and like Corcoran, he's mild-mannered and began to get bullied at an early age.
"I was just merely called 'Game Boy freak' or stuff. There was one kid that was the worst. He just called me names and he was not nice," Noah said. "He was mean -- mean to the bone. I was so mad that I couldn't let out my anger. I was just like hiding it. I just didn't feel like being at that school anymore."
'Bullied on a Daily Basis'
Noah is not alone, and some school systems are working on a solution to the social angst that affects many with the disorder. Jed Baker, a psychologist who works with many kids with Asperger's, found out the situation for kids with the disorder was very severe.
"In some areas, there have been reports of 90 percent of kids with Asperger's are getting bullied on a daily basis," he said.
Baker consults for the Milburn New Jersey Middle School, which has stepped up its focus on children with Asperger's and other conditions. His primary mission is to build a healthy social network of these kids. At Milburn, he partners children with Asperger's with volunteers from the student body.
"Building social skill groups, where we're creating an atmosphere of an accepting peer groups so these kids don't feel isolated," Baker said. "They have people who are at least friendly to them."
Working with what were once called the "uncool kids" has become a cool thing to do, and kids like Noah don't get picked on. "I was learning about basically just how to make friends and stuff," Noah said. "I mean, at my old school I never had many friends."
"When we moved, I was so happy to be finally away from them. I felt better," he said. "So then I started here and now I'm having a lot of friends. I like the school, the staff, even Dr. Baker. And I'm having a good time."
'Trying Too Hard'
As for Daniel Corcoran, it's too late to go back to middle school, but he's grown content with where he is now.
"I couldn't be happier, you know," Corcoran said. "I could be, but I mean this is, I haven't felt like in this amazing frame of mind since who knows when. It seems like all dreams start to come true."
And while he has grown up in many ways, he still sometimes has bad days. Women and romance now perplex Corcoran as much as the bullies who once tormented him, and the Asperger's is sometimes to blame.
"The thing that I realized -- I have to stop doing what's called trying too hard," he said. "Trying to force a conversation with a girl even if she's not fully interested in talking, asking too many questions, showing signs of being nervous, maybe."
Corcoran said he was building the confidence that was often absent in those with Asperger's.
"As long as I stand my ground, and I am who I'm supposed to be, and I get to love myself for who I am -- others are really really going to love me too," Corcoran said. "I really do think some people are going to like me. And I'm convinced I'm going to meet somebody really special one day."
If Corcoran can picture that day, so can those who have known him all his life. Fitting in while standing out -- it isn't always easy for anyone but some have to work harder to get there.