Camping inside is suitable for Abby Mahoney and her younger brother Aidan. The tent is a place for them to play.
In about 10 minutes, we watched as Abby created animation on Post-it notes. Her talent seems endless, but unfortunately it hasn't been celebrated among many of her peers.
Abby was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when she was 8 years old. She is on the high end of the autism spectrum, above her grade level in academics, but slower to develop social skills.
In fourth grade, she says bullying became the norm in her school.
"I would raise my hands every five minutes and talk to a teacher about it," said Abby Mahoney.
Her mom took the tent to the classroom. It was where Abby could go when she felt frustrated. But soon signs were posted on the tent saying 'For Sale.'”
"I didn't actually want to beat those boys up. I'm so geeky, I wanted to take them to court," she said.
Abby gets upset when she hears her mom talk about those times, so she chatted with us from Kennedy Krieger, where a study is underway to look at how bullying impacts children with autism.
Patricia Mahoney knew her daughter was different around age three.
"Pre-school, say they were doing like a letter of the week, and Abby wanted to bring a rabbit when the letter of the week was "L" because rabbits belong to the scientific taxonomy order called lagomorphs," said Patricia Mahoney, Abby’s mom.
Abby says classmates taunted that knowledge to the point it made the school environment pretty much intolerable.
"I try to ignore it, but then it's like well, of course it's a distraction trying to learn and then deal with someone teasing you," said Abby Mahoney.
By age 10, Abby had enough. Her mom decided to home school her for the next few years.
The experience led Mahoney to participate in a survey launched at Kennedy Krieger, measuring how bullying impacts children with autism.
"That will provide some hard evidence for parents who are going into a principal's office and trying to say this is not just this little thing that happened here with my kid. This is something that is a pattern that is happening everywhere. These children are especially vulnerable," said Connie Anderson, Community Scientific Liaison of Interactive Autism Network with Kennedy Krieger.
More about the survey
The survey can be filled out online. Researchers want to know the answer to such questions as "how bullying affects children with autism spectrum disorders."
And it asks questions about siblings, like Abby's six-year-old brother, who is not on the spectrum.
Abby is in a new school now. She doesn't believe there are any limits to her future.
Her creativity comes out through her music and her ability to draw, skills that are no longer shut down by bullies.
"If someone is making you feel hurt, uncomfortable, or insulted or in any other way bullying you, there's no bad tattling. Tell an adult," said Abby Mahoney.
To join the Interactive Autism Network and take part in the bullying survey, click here
Participants will also have access to the answers from other parents, allowing them to compare their experiences.
Researchers are looking for information from autistic kids between the ages of 6 and 15 whether or not they have been bullied.
The survey will be available online until February.
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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