Bullying and Autism

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This is part of our Autism Aware series, where we discuss important statistics about autism

Join us on October 25th for practical tips for parents on Bullying and Autism

We first encountered “bullying” with our son when he was three. He went from happily walking into his autism day treatment program to full meltdown at the mere mention of leaving in the morning. We were baffled, but quickly learned that he had become a target of another boy who expressed his interest in and affection for our son through physical aggression. Weeks later the issue was resolved, both boys having learned important life skills for navigating relationships in the future. And these skills (as well as others he’s picked up through years of relationship-based therapies) have served him well.

Yet the skills my son learned at three in a supported environment will not safeguard him forever. And this stark reality – 63% of children with autism are bullied – wakes me up at night. See, it’s precisely kids with my son’s particular mix of talents and challenges that are targeted most by bullies, according to the 2012 survey by the Kennedy Kreiger Institute. We enjoy full inclusion at his public school where he’s academically very successful with supports. He’s interested in people, wants to connect, but is sorely lacking in the social skills required to navigate the increasingly treacherous waters of peer groups.

The data addressing this issue gives us a wealth of knowledge about which kids are targeted, how they are harassed and why.

  • 61% of children with Asperger’s are currently being bullied, a rate almost double that of children with other diagnoses on the autism spectrum
  • Children with autism who attended public schools were 50% more likely to be bullied than those in private schools or special education settings
  • While bullying occurred at every grade level, the highest rates were in fifth and eighth grade – 42 to 49% of children with autism in those grades said they were bullied
  • 57% of children with autism who want to interact with others but have a hard time making friends are bullied, compared to only 25% of children who prefer to play alone and 34% of children who will play, but only if approached
  • 73% reported being teased, picked on or made fun of; 51% reported being ignored or left out of things; 47% reported being called bad names; nearly 30% reported being hit, pushed, slapped or kicked
  • 53% of parents reported that bullies purposefully “trigger” their child with autism into meltdowns or aggression as their dominate bullying tactic

The authors of this report from the Interactive Autism Network hope that this study will raise awareness about the impact of bullying on the autism population, as well as guide parents and educators to develop bullying policies with the most effective interventions for all children.

I hope so too. As I watched the debate swirling around the Safe and Supportive Schools Act in Minnesota, I couldn’t help thinking that good bullying policies that are uniform and enforced across the state will help children like my son. I’m looking forward to seeing how our schools might be transformed by the careful adoption of policies that take into account the subtle ways in which children with autism are vulnerable to this level of bullying.

But I also crave proactive things that I can do for my son. It seems as if we address bullying only after it has happened. And as a parent of a fourth grader with autism in the public schools, I feel like I’m chained to a chair in the waiting room for The Inevitable. Gathering my wits and a few tools, I gear up to sweep in post-trauma, pick up the pieces of my child, and try to make him whole again. I’m painfully aware that bullies can strip him of everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve – confidence, ease, skills and pride. It’s chilling and, like so many things living with autism, makes me feel helpless.

This statistic – a child with autism is three times more likely to be bullied than their typical siblings – is a nightmare for parents and a call to action for the autism support community.

If you want to discover what you can do, as a parent, to protect your child from bullying, attend our October 25th Lecture Series!

Explore more in this series – We Saw This Coming and Autism Aware

Author: Shannon

Shannon parents a son on the spectrum, lives in MN and writes to stay sane. She is passionate about connecting families to the services that will transform their lives. Read her full bio here.

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