Children who are different from their peers are prime targets for bullies. This puts children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) directly in the line of fire. A 2012 survey by the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) found 63% of ASD kids aged six to 15 reported having been bullied at least once. Sometimes children with ASD aren’t aware they’re experiencing bullying, and nonverbal children aren’t able to communicate these incidents. So how do parents protect their autistic child from being bullied?
When an Autistic Child is Bullied
Sam Farmer is an autism spectrum community contributor and the author of the book A Long Walk Down a Winding Road: Small Steps, Challenges, and Triumphs Through an Autistic Lens. “Teach your child that it’s not their fault when they’re bullied,” he advises. “Self-esteem and the inner strength needed to rise above bullying go hand in hand.”
Because of the high probability of an ASD child experiencing bullying, parents should be proactive. Be clear with your child about what kind of behaviors are appropriate and what’s not okay.
Explaining Why Bullies Bully
A positive step towards helping an ASD child deal with bullying is explaining the ins and outs of this type of behavior and the person who exhibits it. Farmer advises, “Your child is more likely to be able to rise above bullying if he or she can come to understand that bullies need help, may have been bullied earlier in life, and are probably contending with hardships that lead to their bullying behaviors.”
Farmer continues, “Make it clear that anyone who’s dependent upon bringing down others in order to feel whole themselves is weaker rather than stronger.”
Along with presenting the possible rationale behind bullying, Farmer encourages parents to, “Teach your child that no one deserves to be bullied and that bullies are neither smarter nor stronger than you.”
Bullying in School
Talk to the teachers and staff at your child’s school about its bullying policy. Push for an environment that has zero-tolerance for bullying.
Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center reminds parents of ASD students that “every child receiving special education is entitled to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE), and bullying can sometimes become an obstacle to receiving that education.” Steps they recommend taking:
• Identify an adult in the school who the child can report to or go to for assistance.
• Determine how school staff will document and report incidents.
• Allow the child to leave class early to avoid hallway incidents.
• Hold separate in-services for school staff and classroom peers to help them understand a child’s disability.
• Educate peers about school district policies on bullying behavior.
• Ask school staff to reassurance the student that he or she has a “right to be safe” and that the bullying is not his or her fault.
• Request shadow by school staff of the student being bullied. Shadowing could be done in hallways,
classrooms, and playgrounds.
Some parents have found that doing a presentation to their child’s classmates about ASD has promoted greater acceptance. “I found that children rose to the occasion when they understood the reasons for my son’s challenges,” a mother told the Bully Free World website. “When there’s an obvious difference, and no one is talking about it, children become confused and think there must be something ‘bad’ about it. When the children understood that the disability was not bad – just different – many were eager to help him.”
If bullying does occur at school, parents should inform school officials about it right away.
Parents of children with ASD who are dealing with bullying problems should become familiar with their child’s legal rights. There are anti-bullying laws, and your state may have specific laws related to bullying children with special needs.
It’s vital for parents to be advocates for all children who are experiencing bullying. If your child shares that a child with ASD, as well as any other child, is being bullied, you have a responsibility to bring it to the school’s attention.
Autistic Child Bullied: Sources
Autism Speaks: 7 Steps to Take Against Bullying
StopBullying.gov: Laws, Policies and Regulations
Sam Farmer, author of A Long Walk Down a Winding Road: Small Steps, Challenges, and Triumphs Through an Autistic Lens
Pacer National Prevention Center
Bully Free World
StopBullying.Gov: Legal Rights by State