A distressing statistic is that as many as 94% of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) reported their child experienced bullying in school. Children on the autism spectrum are particularly vulnerable to bullying. Nowadays, bullying has expanded beyond the classroom and playground to infect online spaces, maintaining ongoing pressure that makes it harder to walk away.
The common phrase “it takes a village” also applies to autism bullying. Since it affects children, the most vulnerable among us, with potential implications on parents, learning and playing environments, and other children, autism bullying is very much a community issue. Community issues require community solutions. If addressing autism bullying, many parties need to be involved and informed about behaviors and expectations.
When autism bullying occurs, it is a serious concern. Victims of bullying are more likely to consider drastic actions such as self-harm or inflicting harm on others in retaliation. The emotional damage and sense of siege felt by a bullied child can hurt their self-esteem, worldview, and school performance.
Here at ABA Centers of Florida, we care about keeping your child healthy and happy, so we’ve compiled a guide for what to do if your neurodivergent child faces these challenges.
1. Recognize Autism Bullying and Its Causes
Children bully for various reasons: frustration, mimicry, trouble at home, or the simple fact that they think it will get them attention. These are the prime years of socialization, where kids push and pull against social norms and figure out the concepts of fairness, kindness, and acceptance. Study after study has shown that children with a diagnosed condition are more frequent targets of bullying. Autism spectrum disorder is no exception.
Kids on the spectrum exhibit certain behaviors that make them stand out socially, rendering them a target for their peers. People on the spectrum have difficulty navigating emotions and the minutia of interpersonal expectations. Their difficulty with social cues means they won’t conform to what their peers like. They may also struggle to understand if they offended someone, opening them up to retaliation.
Finally, since they have trouble relating, they may spend much time alone and be socially isolated, which makes them stand out. Repeated autism bullying may cause depression, anxiety, or other concerning behavior in your child, so it is essential to recognize and address it.
2. Openly Discuss Autism Bullying
Keeping up a healthy, non-judgmental dialogue with your child is crucial. If your child does not feel comfortable talking about their life to you, or you don’t prod occasionally, you won’t find out about autism bullying. Ask them how they are doing in school, about their friends and classmates. An easier way to address the issue is to ask them point blank on whom they like and don’t like at school and explore why. Maintaining communication with your child’s teachers can also help you determine if any action is required.
In our day and age, a lot of bullying occurs through the internet. If your child exhibits depressive behavior, it might be wise to monitor their online activity and determine if that is the cause. Keep an eye open for mean comments on social media; they are signs of a more significant problem.
3. Deal Directly with Autism Bullying
If you discover your child is facing bullying, your response should be two-fold. The first thing would be to contact the relevant parties. These will usually be school personnel responsible for acting swiftly and consistently. Explain the situation and your child’s condition, and they will take steps to address the bullying, such as separating the bully and your child. The bully, at this point, will be told how their behavior is harmful and given the ability to make amends. Most schools have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, meaning the administration will convey the severity of the situation to the bully and their parents.
The second part of the response will be to discuss it with your child. Every kid must learn how to handle a bully at some point. Introduce some strategies and phrases that can mitigate the effects of autism bullying. You can teach your child to kindly and politely stand up to their bully, to excuse themselves from the situation, or to go straight to an authority figure.
5. Get Ahead of Autism Bullying
Sometimes bullying happens in retaliation, as there is mutual antagonism between kids brought on by arguments or back-and-forth comments. Depending on the context, it might be necessary to talk to your child about personal boundaries and expectations. Let them know to avoid making comments about people’s appearance or intelligence. This adaptation can help prevent future problems. If your child has severe problems with impulse control, it will help to contact a therapist.
Something else you may request from the administrators is to talk to bystanders about bullying. Bullying is a social phenomenon, and there is strength in numbers, so friends and classmates can learn to de-escalate or not to join along. Not only will this help your child’s current situation, but it will also contribute to autism awareness and stop the cycle from repeating.
Your child has a support system at school. They may have friends, caretakers, or teachers that are sensitive to their condition. An inclusive, welcoming environment can go a long way to making autism bullying unwelcome.
ABA Therapy Can Help Someone Struggling with Autism and Bullying
Applied Behavior Analysis therapy (ABA) is the gold standard for autism care. It teaches kids on the spectrum valuable life skills, including effective methods of communication. There are positive and purposeful behaviors your kid can learn that will help them mitigate autism bullying, such as responding gracefully to insults and explaining what autism is.
ABA works on the principles like positive reinforcement, rewarding good behaviors so they become second nature. Eye contact, maintaining a conversation, recognizing emotions in the faces of others, and asking questions are examples of how ABA therapy can help your child grow.
ABA Centers of Florida and Autism Bullying
At ABA centers of Florida, we understand the challenges your family faces. Bullying can be traumatic, and our therapists and professionals have the necessary compassion and awareness to help your loved one. No matter where on the spectrum your child is, we have what they need to grow and work toward a happy life.