By Jackie Edwards
Autism and bullying is an important topic to discuss. Why? Because children on the autism spectrum are easy targets for bullies—they’re bullied almost three times as often as other children. In order to help them deal with bullies, it’s important to take their autism into account.
What makes dealing with bullying so difficult for autistic children is that they might not realize it’s happening to them. The Resource Center for Autism at Indiana University Bloomington states that autistic children battle to read body language in others. They might, therefore, take bullying comments literally, or even think a kid who’s bullying them is actually just teasing them in a benign way.
How t0 Define Bullying
To protect your children, it’s important to teach them about what bullying is. Bullying can be defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior that is often repetitive. It can include spreading rumors, making threats, attacking someone physically or verbally, or excluding someone from social activities.
A study from the Interactive Autism Network found that the three most common ways autistic kids were bullied were verbal, such as being teased or picked on; being ignored or left out; and being called bad names. Almost a third of autistic kids have also been victims of physical bullying.
Establish A Plan
Give your children a plan to follow if they feel they’ve been bullied, such as to go to a trusted teacher or friend when they find themselves in an uncomfortable, or even confusing situation. It’s also good to encourage them to hang around students they like, as there’s power in numbers. Sadly, bullies tend to pick on unpopular kids or those who are isolated.
Help Them Get a Handle On Their Feelings
One of the most important things children can do is try to control their emotions when bullied. If they show hurt or anger, this makes them a greater target because bullies thrive on getting a reaction. Autistic children tend to express anxiety and even aggression, which can make the bullying worse. Give them tips on how to control their emotions, such as by practicing relaxation exercises like deep breathing or visualizing positive situations
Boost Their Confidence
You want your child to face the bullies. A good tip is for them to respond to belittling remarks with assertiveness instead of aggression, such as ” that’s just your opinion ” or ” bullying isn’t cool.”
It’s important to give your children a chance to express their emotions to you later, though, because the bullying doesn’t go away the minute they walk away from the mean kids. Kids with an autism spectrum disorder probably already feel isolated from peers as it is, so bullying can make them feel worse. They need to be able to communicate themselves to you in a safe, non-judgmental space, to feel strong.
For some kids who struggle with bullying, they might react by resorting to bullying tactics themselves. According to Forbes, almost 20 percent of autistic kids bully others. This can happen unintentionally, however. If they feel they’re not being heard, they might take other children’s toys or yell at them to listen, for instance. Understand that children with autism don’t control their thoughts or behaviors very well, so it’s hard for them to see what they’re doing wrong. It’s therefore important to teach kids about empathy so that they don’t go from being bullied to becoming bullies without even realizing it.
- Be empathetic! By trying to understand your children’s feelings, they’ll be more responsive to what you teach them. When you model empathetic behavior, this also makes it more likely that your children will do the same with their peers.
- Play it out. It’s a good idea to role play different situations they might encounter with peers, such as with dolls or even acting out situations as a family, and discuss what people might feel during such encounters. This enables children to see others’ perspectives, even the bully’s. If they see why the bully is treating them in such a horrible way, it can help them to understand them and better deal with the situation, which can help to break the bullying cycle.
Bullying can be a common, stressful experience for children with autism spectrum disorder. By implementing strategies to help your kids as well as teaching them about bullying, you can help them cope with bullies and prevent them from being a target in future.
*Now a writer, Jackie Edwards is also a full time mom to two girls, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. Jackie is also diagnosed with Aspergers. When she’s not writing, she volunteers for a number of local mental health charities and also has a menagerie of pets to look after
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