Autism Support Network reports that 160,000 children miss school every day because they’re afraid of being bullied. A recent Interactive Autism Network survey found that:
• 63 percent of children in grades 1 through 10 (ages 6 to 15) report having been bullied
• 43 percent of ASD children who attended regular public schools report being bullied
• 61 percent of children with Asperger’s syndrome reported being bullied
• 28 percent of children with autism and 37 percent of children with other ASDs reported being bullied
What makes dealing with or addressing the bullying more difficult with children on the autism spectrum is, particularly, their inability to read social cues and to always verbalize what has happened and what they’re feeling inside.
Their natural obsessive tendencies also make it extremely hard for them to let go of those feelings and facilitate healing, and can interfere with ignoring or dismissing hurtful comments.
Some ASD children will fight back and may be punished for fighting back. Others may just retreat into a protective shell and not react at all. Meanwhile, the feelings build up inside affecting other areas of school and home life.
So, what can parents do to help their ASD child and teachers effectively settle the bullying situation?
The Role Parents Can Play Against Bullying
First of all, remember that you are your child’s own best advocate, and that children — regardless of their age — should never be expected or encouraged to settle the issue themselves. ASD children, by their very nature, don’t have the emotional and life-wisdom resources to deal with this issue by themselves.
The fact that they have an ASD makes them even more vulnerable to being bullied, and to the effects of being bullied, than neurotypical children. They need the support of adults.
Adults — parents, teachers, educational assistants, caregivers — need to know how to communicate effectively with children with ASDs. They need to speak the children's language.
Children with ASDs communicate with different words or different frames of reference than neurotypical children, and they need to know you understand what they’re saying and what they’re feeling, even if they don’t come right out and say it.
Part of figuring things out is done through deduction from what they’re not telling, their behavior or facial expressions, as well as what they say or express through writing or drawing.
They can’t always put words to what they’re feeling and it’s a huge relief to them when someone figures it out and explains it to them.
Also remember that what may work with a neurotypical child in terms of talking and resolving and explaining, may not work with a child on the autism spectrum.
What Can Parents Do?
1. Talk to your Child
This may happen face-to-face, but may also take the form of journaling or drawing or a question box. Make sure you keep a diary of the incidents, who was involved, how the situation was resolved or is being resolved. (1)
2. Talk to the School
When you talk to your child’s teacher and other educators involved (e.g., principal, vice-principal, educational assistants) be as specific as possible and as calm as possible. A situation that involves bullying is obviously very emotionally charged and it’s important to be rational and proactive.
After the meeting, send everyone concerned a letter outlining what was discussed and agreed to. This way everyone can measure how the situation is being handled. (1)
Make sure that anti-bullying methods or precautions are included in your child’s individualized education program (IEP). (2)
3. Make a Map
Make “a map of your child’s world and identifying the areas where your child feels most and least vulnerable. This could include ... the school as well as the route your child takes to and from school. It can then be used to identify areas that the school needs to be aware of.” (1)
4. Social Skills and Communication Training
Social skills and communication training may help your child learn to recognize when someone is being nice or nasty, which helps teach them how to read social cues or interpret language their peers use.
This can take the form of referring to a favorite television program to demonstrate to your child when someone is being nice or nasty. Another way is to have your child sort out pictures and photographs of people into nice and nasty piles. (1)
5. Role Play
Have your child act out a bullying scenario with you so that when that situation crops up again, your child will know how to react and what to do.
TheBullyProject.com has a list of Parent Resources and a Special Needs Toolkit here.
For a list of state anti-bullying laws and policies, check out www.stopbullying.gov.
1. What you can do. The National Autistic Society. Web. Apr 10, 2013.
2. Parent Resources. National Bullying Prevention Center. Web. Apr 10, 2013.
3. Policies & Laws. StopBullying.gov. Web. Apr 10, 2013.
4. Why Autistic Children are Bullied More – And Bully In Return. Walton, Alice G. Forbes.com. Web. Apr 10, 2013.
5. Asperger syndrome and bullying. Heinrichs, Rebekah, M.S.N., M.S. Ed. Autism Support Network. Web. Apr 10, 2013.
6. IAN Research Report: Bullying and Children with ASD. Anderson, Connie, Ph.D. Interactive Autism Network. Web. Apr 10, 2013.
Reviewed April 17, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith