My name is Stephen Asher. I am 20 years old and I lost some of my sight at the very young age of two. I was born prematurely at 26 weeks and was unfortunately fed a high concentration of oxygen whilst in the incubator. It was the amount that I needed to breathe but what the ophthalmologist said was also the cause for my partial sight loss.
My sight condition doesn’t have a name but, the way I explain it is that my sight is very blurry and I can see a lot of floaters and shadows. I now wear contact lenses and pretty much have 20/20 vision with them.
As well as my eyesight, I’ve also recently been diagnosed with autism. I now feel a sense of relief. Many things that I didn’t quite understand when growing up now make sense to me. I always felt different in comparison to other kids my age and now I know why.
I was always treated differently in school because of my sight and so, didn’t enjoy my time in primary or high school. It began from the age of 12 and I was frequently bullied from then on. At the time my glasses were quite thick, which didn’t help. I would be picked on in or outside of the classroom and I felt like the teachers wouldn’t do anything to help or stop it.
I can recall far too many times when I was called terrible words such as: “the blind boy”, “four eyes” and “the freak”. The list was endless. I was pushed into walls during PE lessons, stationery was thrown at me in class, and kids would talk behind my back and of course, to my face.
There were certain times when it got unbearable. For example, when I was in high school and had just finished my cane training with RNIB. It was the first time I had ever taken my cane into school. When my teacher left the class for a moment, one of the students decided to grab my cane, throw it around the classroom and then hit me with it. I was tripped up by this same student in the corridor on the same day.
When my mum complained, teachers would make excuses for the bullies and say things like: “They didn’t mean it”, “I didn’t see anything” “Stephen can sometimes make things up”, or my personal favourite, “It’s just kids expressing themselves”.
Being bullied made me feel alone and cared about by no-one. I had such a loving and supporting family but felt socially isolated. I was too clouded by anger and sadness to see who was there.
When I look back, I realise how strong I am, how strong I was and how much perseverance I still have. I’ve learned that whoever is targeting you is doing so due to insecurities of their own, insecurities so great they use you to cope with their flaws.
With one of the bullies, I found out that his home life wasn’t the best and his parents weren’t the most nurturing, so I believe he used his pent up anger about his life on me.
Most of all, the experience has taught me that no matter how bad it gets, it does get better. I cannot stress this enough. As bad or as lonely as you feel, it won’t always be that way.
The bullying stopped as I got older but looking back, I would advise my 12-year-old self that this will not last and in just eight years time, you will have the best life you could possibly have. You may still struggle with friends but you will make some genuine, worthwhile ones.
To any young person currently going through this, I would say that I am proof that life gets better. I thought my life would be a constant cycle of bullying and judgement but since high school, my confidence has grown incredibly! This is because of my perseverance and maturity.
Someone once said to me: “I bet if you could take all those years away, you would” but my answer was no, I wouldn’t. As horrible as the bullying was, it didn’t break or weaken me. It only made me stronger.
In your teenage years, you’re going through certain moods; I was very quiet and didn’t let anyone help me if they tried to. I should have let more people in and you should too.
I’ve been going to youth groups from a very young age – this definitely helps as you’re able to speak to people who won’t judge you.
Since 2016, I have been working voluntarily as an administrative assistant with RNIB Scotland and as of June 2017, at Hillside Crescent as a receptionist. One of the things that I love is the customer interaction - they always make me smile. I’ve learnt to take myself out of difficult situations and into better ones like this. In future, I hope to have a full-time paid job at the RNIB reception.
I can’t express how much better my life is and how content I am. I couldn’t be happier.