Bullying is a pervasive problem in private and public schools alike, and unfortunately children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are easy targets. 46 percent of all middle and high school aged children with ASD reported being bullied in 2011, while a staggering 70percent of autistic youths in mainstream schools were bullied. As we head back to school and for many, back to bullies, it’s time to review a few things we can do to help safeguard our autistic children against bullies.
As always, our first bit of advice: talk to your child. Help them understand what bullying means and why it’s wrong to mistreat others. Offer specific examples of appropriate interactions, but also help them know what kinds of behaviors to look out for in others. If someone pulls their hair, they may know it hurts, but them may not know if it’s bullying. Keep the lines of communication open so they can come to you with any questions.
Next, make a recess game plan with your child. Make sure they have been introduced to playground monitors, cafeteria aides, and other school staff so they can feel comfortable going to them if they are bullied. Tell them to always play where they can see a playground monitor and never to follow bigger kids or a group of kids away from adult supervision. Try making a detailed recess schedule (5mins on swings, 5 mins jumping rope…).
Make a plan for what they will do if they are bullied. If your child recognizes that they are being bullied and they know what to do next, it may help to reduce some of their terror and anxiety while it is happening. Make sure they know to report it immediately to their teacher and to you.
Talk to your child’s teacher, bus driver, cafeteria aides, anyone at the school who may be able to keep an eye out for your child. If they are aware of your child’s special needs, they will happily help keep him safe. Keep an open dialogue so they will report anything they see, but also so your child knows whom they can trust when they get into trouble.
Talk to other parents. Get to know the parents of other children with disabilities at your school, and make sure your children get acquainted. They may not become best friends, but they can help look out for each other. Many children who are bullied are too ashamed or afraid to report their abuse to a teacher, parent, or official. Help your kids help each other by knowing how to report bullying they see happening to someone else.
Every school has an anti-bullying policy, yet it seems that we hear of worse and worse cases of bullying every year. As school resources get stretched further and further, parents have to get involved more and more to protect their kids and safeguard their education.