Jacob’s Self-Advocacy Story

Jacob broke the surface of the water, grateful for another lungful of air, desperately flailing at the arms and hands which kept pushing him under. He heard the bell ring and the coach’s whistle. “Everybody out of the pool!” He made it to the side of the pool and clung weakly to the stairs, still shaking.  Everyone else was headed for the showers, but he was still shaking and gasping. “Out of the pool, Jacob, that means you!”

Jacob blinked up at him. “They were trying to kill me,” he gasped out. “Didn’t you see?”

“Don’t be such a drama queen! I saw a bunch of guys goofing off, roughhousing. No one was trying to kill you!” He rolled his eyes and sighed, impatient. “Shake it off, Jacob! Just be one of the guys. If you make a big deal out of a little horseplay they’ll never stop.”

They’ll never stop.

Those words echoed in Jacob’s head as he slowly dragged himself out of the water and found his towel, dripping wet and useless to him. If he was slow enough maybe they would all be gone when he got there. He’d be tardy, but that was better than the alternative. Jacob counted to himself how many days were left of the swimming unit in P.E. It wasn’t just depressing it was terrifying. How could a teacher ignore when four boys continued to hold another boy underwater, dunking him again and again? Even if they weren’t trying to kill him, they were hardly paying attention to how long he was under or how long he could hold his breath.

Jacob was still shaky when he finally made his way out of the locker room and went to the office for a tardy slip to class. His counselor’s office door was open, and he decided to stick his head in and see if she had time to talk. She did, and Jacob poured out the story of being tortured, held under water until his lungs felt like they would explode, every single day. The coach saw it but didn’t see anything wrong with it. He wanted to transfer out of swimming.

Jacob’s counselor pulled up his schedule on her computer, but said that there really wasn’t any other class he could transfer to at this point in the school year. He was going to have to stick it out. She did tell him to write a letter to the coach about what was going on and how he felt about it, and to bring it to her first. She said she wanted him to be the one to advocate for himself, but that she would have his back and be there for him.

No Escape; Self-Advocate

Jacob thought long and hard about how he could communicate his feelings to the coach. That guy had clearly never been bullied a day in his life, he probably was the bully when he was in high school.  How could he ever understand what Jacob was feeling? Finally he sat down at his laptop and began to write. The next day he brought the letter in to his counselor, she read it, and then she arranged a meeting between Jacob, the coach, and the vice principal. She asked Jacob if he wanted his parents there, but as an 18-year-old he was an adult and they wouldn’t call them unless he wanted them to. He decided he wouldn’t ask them to take a day off of work, he would do it himself.

Jacob wrote a letter.

At the time of the meeting, Jacob sat in the office with the three adults, feeling small and very nervous. The vice principal asked him if he had something he wanted to share about what happened in the pool, and he nodded and looked down at the paper he held. Would they think he was a coward, or a whiner, or a crybaby? He decided to just read what he had written without saying anything else. He read:

Dear Coach,

I want you to imagine a scenario for me. Imagine you are walking down the hallway after school on your way to a staff meeting. Suddenly, four men, teachers you work with, jump out and grab you. They quickly place a plastic bag over your head and hold it down, laughing at how funny you look as you scramble to pull it off. The four of them together are too strong for you and they keep the bag on your head, cutting off all oxygen, until you feel like you are about to pass out. Finally they take the bag off and slap you on the back, saying, “Man, you should have seen your face! That was hilarious!” They walk off, waving the plastic bag at you, saying, “See you tomorrow!” As you struggle to get your breath back, you notice the principal was watching the whole thing. When you ask about making a complaint, he tells you to stop being so overly dramatic. After all, they were just joking, and they took the bag off your face soon enough, didn’t they? Just be a good sport about it and don’t make trouble.

Now you understand that you will be subjected to the same treatment every day, and that no one will protect you. What will you do? How will you go back to work day after day, knowing that you will be smothered on a daily basis, and that you can only hope that they don’t miscalculate how long you can hold your breath?

Coach, this is how I feel every day when four guys hold me under water, and you just stand there and watch. Every day you let them torture me and you say they’re just joking around. This is not a joke to me. This is literally life and death.

I’m asking you: do you believe I deserve this? Is it okay with you that this happens to me day after day after day? If it’s not okay with you, then what will you do to protect me?

The room was quiet.

The room was quiet after Jacob finished reading. He was afraid to look up, afraid of what their reactions might be. Finally the coach cleared his throat.

“Jacob, I want to apologize to you.” His face was red and grim, and it was obvious this wasn’t easy for him. “I am sorry, I truly am. I had no idea what it was like for you, I just thought all of you guys were horsing around together. I guess I didn’t notice that it was always you that was being dunked, four against one.  That’s not fair, and it’s not going to happen again at my pool. You can count on that!”

“Thank you,” Jacob murmured. Then he had a scary thought and looked up at his counselor. She seemed to be thinking the same thing, and she spoke up.

“Coach, you probably remember from our bullying prevention training that if you reprimand the four boys about their treatment of Jacob, they are highly likely to retaliate in other settings, when you won’t be there to protect him. How can you stop the behavior without calling attention to Jacob?”

“Leave that to me, I’ll be careful. Jacob, you can count on me.”

The next day the coach told everyone that there would be a change in their schedule. Instead of free play at the end of the class, they would have free style laps before being dismissed to the showers,  so that he could observe and make notes for their grades. Everybody groaned about the change, but no one realized his reason for the change except Jacob. The coach never made eye contact with him, a big relief, and Jacob never said anything, but he was grateful.

Self-Advocacy Worked for Jacob

For Jacob, realizing that the issue was important enough to risk standing up to a teacher, talking to his counselor and getting encouragement from her, and communicating his thoughts in writing rather than trying to talk about it, all helped him engage in successful self-advocacy. He was proud of himself for standing up for what was right even though he was scared.

Jacob’s stories originally appeared in the first edition of Wendela Whitcomb Marsh’s book, Independent Living with Autism: Your Roadmap to Success. (Revised as Independent Living While Autistic: Your Roadmap to Success, Book One of the Adulting While Autistic series.) Jacob is a fictional character, not based on anyone, so any similarities to real people are coincidental.



Got Questions?
Send a Message!

By submitting this form via this web portal, you acknowledge and accept the risks of communicating your health information via this unencrypted email and electronic messaging and wish to continue despite those risks. By clicking "Yes, I want to submit this form" you agree to hold Brighter Vision harmless for unauthorized use, disclosure, or access of your protected health information sent via this electronic means.