As parents, we often wonder how to protect our autistic children. This holds true from the time they are little until they grow older. But how do we protect autistic children from bullying? They likely seem to be easy targets.
Are Autistic Teenagers More Susceptible To Bullying?
Children with autism or similar special needs are likely viewed as an easy target for bullying. And, on the flip side, they may also appear to be the bully in a situation. But, why is that? And is it really always the case?
Or is there an underlying issue?
Often, it’s because of a lack of understanding for social situations and a lack of proper social skills. Now, that applies to both autistic children and neuro-typical children. But first, let’s take a look at the typical target of bullies:
- Lack of friends
- Poor social skills
- Physically weaker than others
- Academic difficulties
Right off, that may apply to many autistic children. And when you add in the additional difficulties with autistic children understanding social situations and what’s happening to them? They may not even realize right away that they are being bullied.
Types of Bullying that Parents Should Be Aware Of
Bullying, generally speaking, can be defined as follows:
- unwanted or aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power
- the behavior must be repeated or have the potential to be repeated over time
There are also several types of bullying that parent’s should be aware of:
- Verbal (teasing, threatening remarks)
- Physical (hitting, tripping, taking someone else’s belongings)
- Social (excluding someone from an activity, cyberbullying, public embarrassment or humiliation)
And, there are are several roles involved in the bullying process:
- The victim or target of the bullying
- The aggressor or the one who is doing the bullying
- The bystander or the witness to the acts of bullying but who does nothing or may even encourage the situation — there can be any number of reasons that someone may become a bystander, including not wanting to become a victim of bullying themselves.
While many may assume that autistic children are the victim or target, there are instances where they are in fact the aggressor in the situation. In those cases, their role may be because of manipulation, attention seeking, or peer recognition.
How Parents Can Help Autistic Children Who Are Being Bullied
If your child is the victim of bullying, here are a few things that you can do to help. And really, these tips apply to any child who is being bullied, not just autistic children.
- First and foremost, assure them that they are not at fault.
- Teach your child about bullying and the situations where it may occur
- Try to avoid negative connotations regarding teachers so they feel safe enough to bring it up with other adults
- Try to avoid confronting the parent of the bully, instead speak to school administration
- Have regular conversations about bullying
- If the bullying is because of a lack of social skills, make improving social skills an IEP goal for your child
- Come up with role playing situations or social stories to help your child understand what to do in a bullying situation
- Consider private counseling if it becomes necessary. This can help your child come up with additional strategies
- Figure out where the bullying is taking place. Is it at school, before school starts, after school?
- Figure out who is doing the bullying. This not only helps your child but potentially other future victims.
What Can Parents Do When Their Child Is the Bully?
In the event that your child is the aggressor or the bully in the situation, you will also want to do a few things. And while it may be difficult to get the full story from your child, here are a few things to consider:
- Is your child truly being maliciously aggressive or is there an underlying behavior involved?
- Does your child have a history of being physically aggressive towards others?
- Does your child have a Functional Behavioral Assessment in place?
- Are the bullying behaviors occurring frequently or at similar times during the day?
If the bullying is repeated or severe enough, your child may be suspended. When a child with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is suspended, however, parents can call an IEP meeting to discuss what happened and how the child’s IEP and behavioral plans might need to be changed to reduce the chances of another incident.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has rules about suspensions longer than 10 days. If the suspension is planned to be 10 days or longer, you need to call for a Manifestation Determination hearing.
How to Protect Your Autistic Teenager from Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying has become more prevalent as technology becomes more readily available. Cyberbullying occurs online or through text messages and emails. Examples include: mean
text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or social media, posting or sending embarrassing pictures or videos without consent, and creating fake profiles.
Cyberbullying can be particularly destructive as it can happen anonymously and can be distributed quickly to a wide audience. The fact that emails and texts cannot easily be deleted make its effects long lasting.
While you may not be able to 100% bully proof your child from cyberbullying, there are a few things that you can do. Yes, some of these probably seem more than a little invasive, but your primary goal is your child’s safety :
- Establish rules for technology use at home and for all devices
- If your child is on social media, make sure that you both understand how to use it and have access to it.
- It is important that the only people who know the passwords for these accounts are you and your child.
- Follow your child’s social media accounts and monitor them that way
- Track your child’s activity online
- Consider that online video games may also be a source of cyberbullying
- Keep an open line of communication
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