The Majority of Children with Autism Are Bullied—Do You Know How to Help?
Children with autism face unique social and education challenges that require attentive support. 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism. Autism affects all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Autism spectrum disorder encompasses a wide range of challenges with repetitive behaviors as well as social and communication skills.
For students with Autism, school can be daunting, as they are faced with social interactions and not feeling accepted. Coupled with that, children with Autism are at higher risk for being victimized or bullied by peers. Nearly two-thirds of children with autism between the ages of 6 and 15 have been bullied—over twice the rate of children without autism. 65% of parents report that their child had been victimized and 50% report being scared by their peers (Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing (2009)).
These pressures can lead to refusal to attend school, anxiety or depression, and an overall decline in academic performance. This is borne out in the high school graduation rates for students with disabilities, which is only 67.1% (U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics), compared to an overall 84% graduation rate.
Clinical experts from the Watson Institute have five tips on combating bullying among all students, especially those with autism:
- Highlight individual strengths. Parents and teachers can be proactive by teaching children that it’s natural to expect others to be just like us, but the things that make us different are often the very things that make us special. Make a habit of complimenting students on their strengths—including in front of their peers.
- Widen perspectives. Teaching children to see things from more than one perspective is a key part of developing empathy. Help children connect beyond surface circumstances to underlying emotions. If a child makes fun of a student for not being good at something, ask them to reflect on something that is hard for them.
- Praise kindness. Children risk being teased or bullied themselves when they reach out to a student who is being bullied. It takes courage for students to act. Turn this perceived liability into an asset by applauding acts of kindness. This can be done individually, (“I saw how you stood up for Kyle and I’m really proud of you.”) and corporately, through public recognition or incentive programs.
- Get involved. If a bullying situation has developed, adult intervention is usually required. Leaving students to “work it out themselves” will often exacerbate or prolong a negative situation. Involve students and parents in addressing the situation. Approach the conversation with a problem-solving, not a punitive attitude.
- Provide support. Children can feel a range of emotions—from fear to shame and many more—when they’ve been the victim of bullying. Don’t assume because a child is no longer actively being bullied, that the situation is resolved. Make space for them to talk about their feelings and provide any additional support they need.
ABOUT THE WATSON INSTITUTE
The Watson Institute is organization providing special education programming as well as outpatient mental health services such as social skills groups, therapy, and evaluations for children ages 3 to 21. www.thewatsoninstitute.org.