A study by the University of Manchester has uncovered that children with autism are two to three times more likely to be bullied than other children.
Despite greater awareness, bullying remains problematic and while much has been done to battle the problem, there are additional steps that need to be taken to ensure children with special needs are protected.
Neil Ingham, of The National Autistic Society [of the United Kingdom] (NAS) said: “Bullying can have a devastating impact on the life of a young person with autism and our research has found that playground bullying can lead to mental health problems and setbacks in a child’s education and can potentially damage their outcomes later in life.”
“We are hearing more and more from concerned parents who are unsure how to help their child cope with bullying and how they can approach their child’s school.”
Pennyslvania mother, Julie Pacaro, believes the first step to helping children with autism avoid bullying is to help them identify it, “So often, our kids think that if someone says they’re being your friend, they are – even if they do things to hurt you or ridicule you.” She developed a worksheet for children with autism to help them define when they are being bullied and when someone is a real friend. “The worksheet is intended to help autistic kids (it’s geared primarily to the higher functioning ones) begin to generalize across incidents to discern when someone is being a friend and when they are being a bully.”
NAS Cymru has now published advice for parents of children with autism who are worried about bullying in school.
Some of the advice to parents includes:
- Encouraging schools to have a zero-tolerance bullying policy.
- Helping your child to draw or write what happens if they are unable to communicate verbally.
- Buddying schemes at school for children with autism to learn how to develop friendships.
- Asking the school what structured activities your child could take part in during breaks.
- Practicing talking to bullies and helping your child understand body language and eye contact, both their own and that of the bully.
Mr Ingham added: “We hope this advice will go some way towards helping parents of young people with autism to support their child have a fulfilling and rewarding time in school.”