In Our Own Words: Embracing empathy and individuality to overcome bullying

Every person is unique, but sometimes our differences are not understood or accepted by others. A lack of empathy and understanding can lead to emotional or physical bullying that can be extremely damaging to an individual’s mental health and well-being. This is especially true for people on the spectrum—over 60% of autistic children and young adults experience bullying. Research shows that high school students, school-age children with special healthcare needs and those from disadvantaged neighborhoods are at highest risk.  

These alarming statistics reaffirm the importance of coming together as a community to understand, include and support people with autism and all disabilities.  

In this feature, in honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, you’ll meet Halle and Alyssa, two young women who have overcome bullying in their own ways by embracing love, empathy and individuality. 

Halle smiling with her hand on her head

Halle shares how her autism diagnosis as a teenager helped her find her power 

My name is Halle. I am a 16-year-old female on the autism spectrum.  

Growing up, I felt like I did not belong. In a lot of ways, life has always been challenging. Most of the time, I thought it was my fault, but I started to see things differently once I began learning more about myself. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and ADHD at 8 years old. At times, teachers would get frustrated with me, which only made me feel like more of a problem. It wasn’t until years later that I would begin to understand myself in ways that I never thought I would.  

One day, I saw an autism quiz online and decided to take it because I was curious. The results to the quiz were very relatable, but I never thought I had autism. Then, two years ago, after going through a few difficult experiences, my parents suggested I speak to a therapist. This is when I received my autism diagnosis. Hearing those words felt like a whole new world for me. It was the first time that I felt seen and understood – like I wasn’t alone.  

Halle wearing a yellow shirt and smiling

To me, autism means learning in a beautiful way and seeing the world in a beautiful way. How people perceived me wasn’t much different after my diagnosis. I’ve definitely been bullied before and it’s because of how I communicate. If I could go back to the person who bullied me, I would say to them everyone does everything differently and participates differently even if it doesn’t fit the social norm to you. There have times when I would be staring off into space and a person thought I was staring at them and called me “weird.” I felt heartbroken because I believed it to be true. I never felt like I fit in, but when I realized it was okay be to your own person, things changed.  

Rather than promote bullying and give bullies power, I would like to turn it into a positive. For anyone who has been bullied, I would tell them to put it in the past and learn from it. The same goes for those who have done the bullying. You can learn from your mistakes and be better in the future. I am thankful that Autism Speaks gave me a chance to share my story. We have to use our voices to stand up for what is right and hopefully change the world for the better.  

Brookelynn and Alyssa

Alyssa shares the lessons she learned from her sister Brookelynn 

Hello, Autism Speaks. My name is Alyssa and I’m 21 years old. I want to introduce you to my little sister, Brookelynn. She has autism and is nonverbal, although she has limited communication through American Sign Language.  

Even though she struggles to communicate, she doesn’t let anything stand in the way of doing whatever she sets her mind to. She just graduated from high school in May, and now she’s in a school to help her navigate her adult life. Brookelynn was diagnosed at age 3, but that doesn’t define her. She has a big heart and is the happiest person I know. She likes listening to music and the movie “Finding Nemo.” She also likes to carry around beads and strings for sensory stimulation. Without her, I don’t know who I would be.  

I wanted to share my sister’s story because I want everyone to know how special she is. She is truly my pride and joy. I advocate for my sister because only people who have siblings or children with disabilities really understand what it’s like. She’s been the one who taught me that it’s okay to be different as long as you are genuine to yourself. It can be a struggle at times, but the challenges also make us stronger as a family.  

Brookelynn and friends

We are all very protective of Brookelynn, but me especially, so if I hear people making fun of her or see her being bullied in any way, it really gets to me. To be honest, I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has made fun of her or even myself for protecting her, and it makes me sad. If I could go back and talk to the people who have bullied my sister or another person with autism, I would tell them that autism isn't something to joke about. Do some research before you put someone down for being different. It’s not funny at all. In my opinion I'd much rather hang around my little sister, who can't talk but has a good heart, than hang around people who use words to bully and make fun of others. 

I’m happy to be part of this blog because I’m glad Autism Speaks is trying to prevent bullying. I think it’s important to teach children from an early age that bullying can really do damage. I would love to see more anti-bullying lessons in school and for more stories like these be done to reach as many people as possible. I love you, Brookelynn. This is for you <3 

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