Bullying can take many forms, but whether it is physical or psychological, bullying involves an imbalance of power. Students with autism spectrum disorders often lack social cognition and ability to take someone elses perspective making them prime targets for bullies, especially in early adolescence. The impact of bullying can be profound and debilitating. A growing problem nationwide in schools and other public places, bullying is a serious matter and adults must remain alert and intervene if they believe their child is being victimized.
Types of Bullying
Forms of Bullying
Who is involved in bullying situations
Signs of Bullying
Research on Bullying
Research shows children with disabilities are two to three times more likely be bullied than their non-disabled peers. Children on the spectrum are even more vulnerable due to differences in communication skills, motor skills and social cognition. A move to inclusive instructional settings can be a double-edged sword as students struggle to truly belong with their peers. Its important for adults to help students learn how to deal with bullies while they are young. They need to gain these vital self-advocacy skills to avoid situations with adult bullying when offenses and consequences can be much more serious.
But studies show the responsibility shouldnt just lie with the victim. Successful practices are those that create environments of respect and tolerance throughout schools. Bullying must become unacceptable in the school culture so that instances are rare rather than common. Adults must learn how to recognize the signs of bullying, whats worked and hasnt worked in school settings, and how to advocate for their children.
A 2009 survey on bullying revealed the following:
Source: Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing (2009)
What is SEL?
Social and emotional learning (SEL) assists children in developing fundamental skills to effectively handle school, relationships, and personal development. High-quality SEL programs implemented in Illinois led to significant improvements in students social and emotional skills, in attitudes about self and others, and in classroom behavior. Programs were also associated with substantial decreases in conduct problems and emotional distress such as anxiety and depressionall of which are part of the bullying phenomenon.
What Doesn't Work
A student portfolio is a great way to introduce your child to the
team. Heres some great guidelines for developing a portfolio
that helps others see past the disability and promotes good
Bullying: a guide for parents
A child with autism can be at more risk of being bullied than their peers. However, they may not be able to communicate this to you. In this section, we explain the term bullying, the signs to look out for if your child is being bullied, but cannot communicate it to you, and how it might affect your child.
As well as perhaps being bullied at school, your child may experience cyberbullying - a new form of bullying via the internet and mobile phones.
We tell you what you can do about the bullying - whether it is bullying in the school playground or 'cyberbullying' - from talking to your child's school about the bullying and trying a range of approaches to help you help your child. We also tell you how to take your complaint further, if you are not satisfied the school has done enough to stop your child being bullied.
What is bullying?
The Department for Children, Schools and Families (formerly the Department for Education and Skills) defines bullying as being:
Bullying falls into three main categories:
As well as bullying during school, new ways of communicating such as the internet and mobile phones now enable bullies to bully others in different ways and out of school hours.
Cyberbullying includes bullying via text messages, emails and chat forums, websites and instant messaging. The media recently reported how bullies set up pretend profiles of a child and encouraged other classmates to leave hurtful messages. Another form of bullying called 'happy slapping' has also been reported in which a mobile phone video recording of an innocent person being hit or bullied is sent around to their friends (DfES, 2005).
In a recent study, one in five pupils was bullied via the internet or mobile phone. However, a third of these pupils never told anyone (Anti-Bullying Alliance, 2006). This means that bullying is now no longer left at the school gates, but can continue into the evening and weekends as well.
Children with special educational needs or additional support needs (the term used in Scotland) are three times more likely to be bullied than their peers (ChildLine, 1995, in Communication, 1997). Children with special needs are also more likely to be a bully themselves (National Children's Bureau, 2000). Bullying is not limited just to mainstream schools. According to one study, children in specialist placements can also be at risk of being bullied or of becoming a bully themselves (Torrence, 2000).
Bullying and children with autism
Children with autism can be at more risk of being bullied. One study of 400 children with Asperger syndrome found that the children were at least four times more likely to be bullied than their peers (Attwood, 2005). This is often because the different ways in which children with autism communicate and interact can become more apparent to their peer group, especially as they get older. Because children with autism find it hard to read facial expressions and body language, they can't tell when someone is being friendly or if they are trying to hurt them. They also find it hard to put themselves in someone else's shoes and therefore don't understand another child's intentions.
Cumine, Leach and Stevenson (1998) state that children with autism may appear to be naïve and trusting, unable to discriminate between friendly approaches and those approaches which are intended to wind them up.
Gray (2000) describes how in one of her classes, a child with autism was offered two quarters in return for a dollar (double the money offered). The child with autism thought that this classmate wanted to be friends. Some children with autism will try to fit into their peer group by doing things other children suggest when bullies suggest things. It can often be something that can hurt the child with autism or get them into trouble with school staff.
A child with autism is an easy target in the playground as they often prefer to play alone in the playground. As a result, other children find it easy to pick on them as they do not have a support structure around them. Other children may also pick on children with autism if they see them doing 'odd' things such as hand flapping or making inappropriate comments.
Being a bully
Children with autism can also become a bully themselves. Some children will become aggressive when a game is not being played the way they want and will try to take control of the situation. They may also become frustrated at being left out in the playground and try to make children become friends with them (Gray, 2000).
How to tell if your child is being bullied
The difficulty for you, as a parent, is that it is not always easy to tell if your child is being bullied. Because of problems with understanding others intentions, children with autism may not always realise they are being bullied (Attwood, 2005). Communication difficulties can also make it difficult for them to tell you or school staff about an incident. As a result, you may need to look for other clues as to whether or not your child is being bullied. ChildLine suggests looking for the following as potential signs of being bullied:
A child with autism may also show sudden changes in behaviour,
which may be due to bullying at school. This may include increased
anxiety, increased difficulty in sleeping or outbursts at home
(Attwood, 2005). Some children with autism may mimic the acts of
bullies at home by bullying their siblings because they don't
understand that such behaviour is unacceptable (Attwood, 2005). To
them, they are simply acting out what their peers are doing.