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I grew up being bullied because of my autism diagnosis

This guest post is by Anthony Ianni, a national motivational speaker, as well as a national autism and anti-bully advocate.This post is part of an initiative on our site called “In Our Own Words: Living on the Spectrum,” which highlights the experiences of individuals with autism from their perspectives. 

Throughout life I’ve overcome so many obstacles and challenges that were bigger and greater than my height and shoe size, which is 18. But I also came across a lot of negatives in life. And one of those big negatives was bullying. I was bullied from my early kindergarten days until I was a freshman in high school. Two reasons why I was bullied was because of my height (for those of you who have never met me, I’m 6’9), and because I am on the autism spectrum.

People would bully or tease me at a younger age because with being on the spectrum I would say or do things out of the ordinary, have wig out moments from loud noises, have a hard time understanding jokes/sarcasm (which I still struggle with to this day) and some of those things I did were considered “different” from everyone else. I was tricked into doing and saying things easily as well and one older 5th grader took advantage of that one day by tricking me into putting my tongue on a frozen poll at recess. What’s crazy was this guy tried to treat me like a family member and called me his little bro all the time up until that day. This person knew everything about me, including that I was on the spectrum and took full advantage.

However, what happened 17 years after that is something I’ll never forget. This same person who did tease and bully me so much after that day, was waiting for me outside the Breslin Center at Michigan State and asked me if I could sign a ball for him and his little brother. I was cool with it, but here’s the catch - this guy never had a brother or sister. When I remembered that, I smiled when I got to my car knowing that this same person who did what he did to me and took advantage of me was waiting for me outside the arena and asked me for my autograph. So be careful with what you say and do to others in life folks, because you never know who that person is going to be later on.

So if some of you want to laugh about what happened to me as a kid, that’s your choice and I don’t care if you do laugh about it. However, what I do care about is this month which is National Bulling Prevention Month. This month means so much to me mainly because I do a lot of work in this field, but this month also can mean a lot to the 3 million people in the autism community that I represent everyday as well. A lot of kids or adults who are on the spectrum are the prime targets for bullies today mainly because of the “different” traits or characteristics that the person with ASD can have. As a national speaker, I’ve heard stories from other kids who have brothers, sisters, and cousins with ASD about how they get bullied and why. Whenever I hear these stories, it pushes me even more to get out there, spread my message and to impact as many people as I can in my speaking career. This month, however, is a chance for all of us to spread the message that just because someone has “different” traits or characteristics, doesn’t mean they should be treated differently. Yes we are all different in a lot of ways, but here’s something we all have in common that someone told me, “We’re all born, and we all die.” That statement couldn’t be truer, and it’s time for us to start being the change that this country can have as well.

For me personally I’ve never seen black and white, I’ve always treated people how I would like to be treated and that’s with kindness and respect. That’s something both my family and teachers have taught me throughout my life. Now it’s time for us to start making some changes as well, because the more we learn about a person’s traits or characteristics in life, the better we can become as people. But for the ASD community, it can also mean more awareness and understanding of what some people who are affected by ASD might go through. This is why a month like this can have such a lasting impact on not just the ASD community, but on everyone.

Like I tell every student that I speak to or parent, teacher, business person, student athlete, etc. around this country: The change doesn’t start with Anthony Ianni, it just simply doesn’t. It starts with all of us because we can change someone’s day from bad to great, a life from terrible to incredible, and at the end of the day, we can also save someone’s life. So starting today, we all need to go out and not only be that change in life, but we also need to go out……and MAKE that change!! BELIEVE THAT!

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Here are some tips on how you can combat bullying here

Have a story you want to share for our “In Our Own Words: Living on the Spectrum,” series? Email us at InOurOwnWords@Autismspeaks.org.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.