Parking Lot Road Rage and Adult Bullies

comic-red-angry-car-300pxThis isn’t the post I wanted to write this week, but after the weekend’s events this is the post I needed to write.

Saturday started off like such a normal day.  We had NHL with us (JSL was with B’s parents) and we were doing some shopping for needed supplies.  As we pulled into a parking lot of a local shopping center, someone pulled out of an aisle without stopping and looking and almost hit into us.  We both stopped, we honked, and some choice words may have been said.

We urged him to go on (he was already halfway into the intersection), but he signaled for us to go.  Eventually, we went on our way.

Now, if the story ended here, it wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary.  Encounters like this happen all the time.  Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story.

As we drove on, the guy pulled behind us. At first, we didn’t think much of it, but then he started pulling up close to our car.  B pulled down an aisle to get away from him, but the guy followed us.  Down the aisle, he got close and attempted to get around us. He couldn’t get to our side due to the aisle width, but he made his intentions to not let us go quite clear.

As we neared the end of the aisle, we began to panic.  B told me to call 911, but I held out hope that we would lose him by going down another aisle.  We rounded a big snow pile and went down another aisle.  Our pursuer followed.

This was it for even me.  I pulled out my phone and called 911.  As I spoke with the operator and gave her our location, we reached the end of an aisle.  A car stopped to let us go and then pulled behind us.  We’re not sure if they knew what was going on or not but this seemed to be key.  As we passed the store we had wanted to go to B rolled down her window in case we needed to yell for help from random shoppers.  We pulled down a few more aisles (while I was still on with 911) and it looked like we lost him.  We pulled into a parking spot and waited for the police to arrive.

The officer was great and took our information.  Unfortunately, in our panicked states, we didn’t think about getting the guy’s license plate number. Our minds were totally devoted to "get away from this crazy guy" and not on "collect evidence to give the police.". The officer noted all the security cameras around the parking lot and said he could check those.

The officer told us that we did the right thing by not stopping and confronting the guy.  In fact, the only thing he recommended that we should have done differently would have been to leave the shopping center and get on a main road.  We explained that we lost him soon after getting on with 911.  Besides, the guy had been trying to cut us off.  This was tricky in a parking lot, but would have been easy on the main road.

We questioned whether it was safe for us to go into the store as we were afraid that he was still lurking in the parking lot and would "take his revenge" on our car.  The officer assured us that we’d likely never see or hear from the guy again.  He said that the guy was probably upset that he didn’t get the last word in and decided to give us a scare.  Mission accomplished, idiot!

Not only were we panicked, but NHL was really on edge.  He wanted to leave and was nervous all through the store.  Thankfully, our car was untouched when we got back to it.

The next day, i had a fight with my father.  I had recounted the take to him the previous night and he called me to update me on their big snowfall.  He also criticized my calling the police, saying that this "escalated" the situation and that he surely has our license plate number and can track us down.  He told me that we don’t know this guy or what he’s capable of.  I replied that the escalation was taken when this guy moved from "nasty words shouted through closed windows" to "chasing through a parking lot."  As for not knowing what the guy is capable of, that’s exactly WHY we called 911.  We were being pursued by some guy we didn’t know.  If he had managed to force us to stop, would he have shouted obscenities at us and left?  Would he have pulled a bat out to smash our car?  Would he have taken a gun out to shoot us?  I needed to be sure that the police were on their way BEFORE we found out what his plans were if we were stopped.  I wound up hanging up on my father as he kept insisting that we should have kept the police out of it.

Yesterday, at work, I told a few coworkers about our weekend parking lot pursuit.  As I told the tale, I could feel a familiar panic rising inside me.  Here I was two days after the incident and the pursuer was out of our lives, but my anxiety over the situation was threatening to overwhelm me.  I distracted myself with work until I felt the anxiety subside.

While we were in the store, post- incident, NHL asked me why someone would do what this guy did.  I answered that we had just encountered the adult version of a schoolyard bully.  I told NHL that he makes himself feel better by getting good grades or doing well in a video game.  In other words, NHL is a normal person who feels pride in accomplishing something important to himself.  This was not the case for the guy who chased us, though.  That guy felt like the only way he could good about himself was to make others feel bad.  He didn’t know any other way to improve his self image than by squashing as many people as possible under him.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience with bullies growing up.  Bullies thrive on setting the rules – placing themselves above their victims – and ensuring that their victims fear the bully.  This bully wanted to make sure that we knew that he was above us and that we feared him.  Calling the authorities wasn’t an escalation.  I’m sure the bully would have wanted us to view it as that, though.  Bullies don’t like when their victims get assistance.  However, this wasn’t some schoolyard bully taking a kid’s lunch money.  This was a grown man driving in a reckless manner and possibly threatening violence against me, my wife, and my child.  Contacting the authorities was exactly the right method to stop the bully and to protect us from his pursuit.

The bully did succeed in making us afraid of him, but this fear will be short-lived.  Whether or not he faces legal repercussions for his actions, I refuse to change my behavior (e.g. not going to that shopping center anymore) or live in fear of any bully.  As the anger over being put through this fades, what will remain is pity for an individual who can only find meaning in his life by pushing down and scaring others.

NOTE: The "Comic Red Angry Car" image above is by roland81 and is available from

Perks From Being Bullied? I Don’t Think So!

Recently, a tweet crossed my stream lambasting someone for writing an article about all of the benefits kids with Autism get when they were bullied. I couldn’t believe it. Surely, nobody could seriously argue that being bullied actually helped kids. I was sure that the article would be dripping in sarcasm with "benefits" like "stops trying to socialize with anyone so they don’t get hurt" or "learns not to trust anyone ever." Instead, the article actually claimed all sorts of benefits that kids on the spectrum could get by being bullied.

I’m both the parent of a child with Autism and has been bullied and someone with Autism who was bullied growing up. My bullying experience left me scarred for many years. Any insinuation that being bullied is a good thing that strengthens kids hits close to home. Needless to say this article upset me.  I know I should treat this article’s author using the classical "Don’t feed the troll" method, but I get the feeling that the author seriously believes her words. Furthermore, I fear that someone without experience with bullying or Autism might believe what she writes to be the truth. Therefore, I’ve decided to post a point by point refutation of her article. I’ll give each way she claims bullying makes kids with Autism stronger, a synopsis of her reasoning, and then an explanation of why she’s wrong.  (I’ll note that I’m not going to link to the original article as I don’t want to give it any more traffic than it has already gotten.)

Promoting Autism-Friendly Programs

The author claims that bullying can be the result of misunderstandings about why children with autism soak and act the way that they do. This, she concludes, the bullying is a good thing because it can be used as an opportunity to educate.

There is a grain of truth in here. Bullying can be done out of a lack of understanding. Also, educating students about why a child is acting the way he acts is a good thing. That being said, an act of bullying – even if it is used to begin an education campaign – is NOT a good event. At best, you are trying to take a bad situation and prevent more bad situations from occurring. We wouldn’t say that it’s a good thing that someone came down with an illness because then they can educate others about the affliction.

Team Work

The author claims that a bullying event will cause you to work closely with teachers, aides, counselors, principals, etc. Since this is a good thing, the author says, it means the bullying was good for the child.

Again, the author mistakes a good follow-up from bullying with the bullying itself being good. Working with your child’s school is good whether or not your child has been bullied. Bullying doesn’t make this partnership good. Again, you’re trying to help prevent further bad events in the future. This doesn’t mean that bullying is good.

Autism Awareness Every Month

The author makes the claim that bullying kids with Autism raises awareness of Autism.

Raising awareness of autism (and of bullying) is a good thing, but there are better ways of doing this than via being bullied. The ends don’t justify the means.

Kids Learn Skills

The author claims that dealing with bullies teaches communication (both verbal and nonverbal) as well as "survival skills, civil liberties, and independence."

I couldn’t disagree more. Being bullied will taught me NOT to communicate with others. The more verbal or nonverbal communication, the more ammunition I handed my bullies to use against me. Bullying will just frustrate kids with Autism, not make them feel more comfortable socializing.

Builds Strength

The author’s theory is that bullying builds strength in a child with autism because they grow closer to parents, friends, and teachers.

This is total bull. Bullying doesn’t give a child stronger ties, it weakens ties. It makes children feel inferior, threatened, and like they have no safe place. Bullied kids often feel like they can’t talk to their parents, teachers, or friends about being bullied because they might be seen as weak. Bullying isolates kids, plain and simple.

Furthermore, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that bullied kids receive support from those around them. Perhaps the bully is a popular star quarterback and dealing with the bullying might mean the team does poorly.  Maybe the school administrators are in denial about their school having a bullying problem and so don’t want to hear about any incidents.  In either situation, the person who is bullied can be shamed and pressured into either staying silent or even into "admitting" that they were the cause of the incidents.  When this happens, the bullied child won’t feel closer to people, but even further isolated and alone.

More Friendships

The author claims that discussing the bullying can lead to more people being friends with the bullied child. In addition, the author contests that bullied kids will seek out new friends and new social activities.

Again, the author is wrong. A bullied child will feel isolated from his or her peers, not drawn to new peers. When social interactions – already a situation that makes those with autism nervous – becomes associated with all of the negatives of bullying, a child with autism is more likely to withdraw within himself or herself and not try to make new friends.

Overall Well-Being

The author contests that teachers looking out for bullying can supervise and intervene better.

Like some previous arguments, the author is both right and wrong. Alert teachers can supervise, intervene, and prevent future bullying. However, this being said, this doesn’t mean that bullying can take the credit for the higher rate of intervention. If a rash of muggings caused people to take self defense courses, the muggers wouldn’t get thanks for any benefits that the self defense courses provided.

Healthy Relationships

The author thinks that bullied kids will learn valuable skills that they can apply to sibling rivalry, "stranger danger," or other threats.

My bullying experience led to anything BUT healthy relationships. When I was bullied, I became so paranoid that I thought that anyone laughing was laughing AT me. This didn’t help me deal with confrontation, it taught me to withdraw further into myself to better protect myself. A child with autism who is bullied might also think that – as horrible as they felt when they were bullied – this is how people treat each other. Without intending to be mean, the child might become a bully himself simply because he’s modeling his social behavior off the wrong people.

Increased Life Skills

The author claims that the bullied child will become a better citizen and act nicely towards others.

When I was growing up, my mother has a poem on the refrigerator called Children Learn What They Live. In short, if a child is raised encountering a behavior, they will think of that behavior as normal and emulate it. A child raised being tormented will learn that fear is the norm. Even if the child winds up being kind so that others aren’t bullied, this didn’t excuse the bullying. It’s more a testament to the child’s reaction to the bullying and not something to thank the bullies over.


The author contends that bullied children get self-confidence and improve their self esteem.

I don’t know what bullied child (if any) she looked at, but I certainly didn’t learn self esteem from being bullied. On the contrary, I learned that I was nothing but the target for everyone’s abuse, I was powerless to change this, and I should withdraw from the world as much as possible. It was only when I went to college – escaping the bullying I suffered in high school – that I started to learn that I was a good person who could have good friends and could contribute to social situations without people mistreating me.

While it is true that people’s reactions to bullying can lead to positive events, this didn’t mean that bullying is a great thing that should be celebrated. Any positive outcome from reactions to bullying are thanks to the people who help out the child being bullied. The bully and his or her actions are not to be credited with any of this. For as much positive that people can make out of the bad situations that is bullying, much more good would come to pass is there was no bullying in the first place.

Anxiety Is A Bully

NewYears_LunarbaboonOn New Year’s Eve, we indulged in something that has become a tradition in our household: Junk Food Dinner.  We cook up some hors d’oeuvres and have chips and dip.  The boys love the chance to eat foods that we rarely otherwise eat as we ring in the new year.  NHL even made it to midnight for the first time.  (JSL fell asleep earlier but woke up 5 minutes after midnight.)  After the ball dropped and the boys were tucked into bed, we climbed into bed ourselves hoping for a good night’s sleep and the ability to sleep in the next day.

I woke up a couple of hours later, though, feeling off.  The first thing that I could tell was wrong was that my nose felt clogged up.  This began to make me anxious that I wouldn’t be able to breathe.  Ever since my surgery, I’ve found that a clogged nose is quickly followed by anxiety attacks of this nature.  During the day, I can stave them off by distracting myself with various activities.  During the night-time, though, there is less to do.  The house is quieter and the anxiety looms larger.  This also brought back memories of my post-surgery anxiety attack when I couldn’t fall asleep nearly the entire night.  Add in that I started to feel nauseous and my anxiety of not being able to breathe was joined by the anxiety of possibly throwing up and I was a nervous wreck.  Even my own skin seemed to feel wrong.

The next day, I was feeling better.  However, as nighttime got closer, I could feel my anxiety climbing.  The night before had had an anxiety attack that kept me awake.  Obviously, tonight was going to be no different.  Obviously, tonight I was going to lie awake, getting in and out of bed and pacing around with my mind racing with worst-case-scenarios.  Obviously, I was doomed to have anxiety attacks every night.  Right?

That’s when I realized that my anxiety was being a bully.

Years ago, when I was safely away from the bullying I suffered in high school, I realized that bullies try to dictate reality.  You’re not allowed to go to someone for help because the bully dictates that this conflict is between you and him.  He can gather his friends together to taunt you as well, though, because that’s allowed (by him).  Any attempt by you to seek assistance reduces your position – or so he says.

Similarly, this anxiety was framing the argument.  I was approaching the night when, during the previous night I had had an anxiety attack.  Therefore, my anxiety bully proclaimed, there was a 100% chance of an anxiety attack this night.  And the next night.  And the one after that.  The anxiety bully told me that I was incapable of going to sleep and staying asleep the entire night.

In truth, though, the bullies NEED to define the rules to protect themselves from behaviors that would stop them.  Seeking help doesn’t weaken the bullying victim.  It strengthens them.  Getting help when you need it can lead to the bully being forced to back off.  Similarly, the anxiety bully was purposefully focusing in on the nights when I had an anxiety attack and ignoring all of the nights when I went to sleep and slept fine.  It tried to keep my focus away from anything that might help me to increase its own power.

Thankfully, I was able to get to sleep just fine that night and proved my anxiety bully wrong.  Putting your anxieties in context can be tricky when in the midst of an anxiety attack.  It won’t help defeat every one you might have.  However, if you feel one coming on, remembering the times that everything went smoothly might aid in warding off anxiety’s bullying tactics.

NOTE: The image above is a portion of a web comic by Lunarbaboon.  He posted this comic the night I had an anxiety attack about fearing not being able to sleep due to an anxiety attack.  Besides drawing funny, insightful, and amazingly entertaining comics, he obviously has hidden a camera in my house somewhere to gather his material.  How else would his comics mirror my life so often?  In any event, he was gracious enough to grant me permission to use part of his comic in my post.  Go to his website and read a few dozen of his comics.  You won’t be disappointed.

Wil Wheaton On Dealing With Bullies

Wil Wheaton, geek extraordinaire, was recently at the Denver Comicon when he was asked by a girl whether he was ever called a "nerd" when he was a kid and, if so, how he responded.  His reply was perfect.

I felt I needed to post a comment to his blog entry about this, but soon wound up with over 400 words.  That’s when I decided to re-use my comment as a post about bullying.

I was tormented from elementary school through high school for being different.  I wasn’t as social as the other kids.  I liked things they didn’t like.  I didn’t like things they liked.  I was smarter than them.

In high school, I became the target of a group of kids.  Individually, they’d pass me in the hall with no problem.  In a group, though, they’d get brave.  They’d follow me from class to class shouting insults.  They’d block me from entering my classes so I’d need to push past them and endure their heckling just to go to class.  I loved school for the learning, but dreaded the torment that every other second of school would bring.

I made one mistake, though.  I kept it inside.  I decided that not showing them any emotions would mean less ammo for them to use against me.  I pushed the hurt inside and built mental walls around myself to keep everyone – even people who weren’t tormenting me – out.  I began to get paranoid.  I was sure that any laughter in my area was directed at me.

Eventually, I told the one person I considered a friend.  At first, he didn’t believe me but eventually he became concerned enough and decided I wasn’t exaggerating.  He talked with the group of kids and they stopped tormenting me.  Turns out they were "just having fun" and "didn’t realize it was hurting me."  Exactly what did they think tormenting me every day was going to do?  (Answer: They didn’t think because they found it "fun" and never considered consequences beyond them.)

It took me a long time to recover from that.  In some ways, perhaps, I still haven’t.  Even though my high school years ended 20+ years ago.

My advice would be to learn from my mistakes.  Don’t seal yourself up.  Open yourself up.  Find friends and family to talk to.  Find people online or in person who share your passions.  Don’t listen to your would-be tormentors.  As Wil said, in the end this has nothing to do with you.  This has everything to do with them.  They are too narrow minded, too hurt by others, or too scared of not fitting in.  They are trying to get rid of their pains by putting them on you.  Ignore them.  Don’t let them define the rules of your life as you being bullied into submission by them.  You are stronger than they are.  You are passionate about what you love and you should never change that to suit someone else.

Bully Bystander

The other day, NHL got in trouble at school.  He saw one kid bullying another kid and decided to get involved.  He walked up to the bully, confronted him, and tried to get him to stop.  Unfortunately, he got tripped by the bully for his efforts.

When he got home, B told him that he should have stayed out of it and gone to an adult instead.  I’ve got to say, though, that in a way I’m proud of NHL.  As someone who was bullied constantly growing up, I wish someone had stood up for me and told the bullies to back down.  At the time, I didn’t have the courage or self-confidence to do it myself.  It would have been nice to have someone help me when I needed it.  Instead, most people walked on their way and ignored the situation.

The problem with NHL directly confronting the bully, however, is two fold.  First of all, NHL has trouble understanding normal social situations.  Secondly, NHL is already a target for bullies.  Confronting a bully situation without it turning violent can be tricky.  Confronting a bully situation when people see you as someone to be bullied and when you struggle to come up with the correct reply can be near-impossible.

In addition, NHL’s misreading of social cues means that he can easily misinterpret a situation as bullying when it really isn’t.  If he intervenes in this case, he could not only anger everyone involved in the mistaken bullying situation, but he could wind up in trouble or being the person bullied because of his actions.

In the end, we told NHL to get an adult if he sees bullying from now on.  Sadly, I know that this might not solve any bullying incident.  Teachers might write off NHL’s complaints as being made up.  They might also decide, instead, to ignore the situation.  (Sadly, we’ve had personal experience with school officials trying to sweep bullying under the rug.)  Still, it seems like the best way for NHL to take action and not ignore any bullying he sees.

What do you tell your kids to do if they witness bullying?

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