Bullying is the use of force, threat or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. Bullying is never okay but students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are at greater risk and we teachers need to be on our guard and stop bullies targeting kids on the spectrum. Bullying is often repeated and habitual. Behaviour that is used to assert such domination can include verbal harassment or threat, physical assault and threat, and such acts may be directed repeatedly towards particular targets.
Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are more likely to be bullied than typically developing children due to the difference in communication abilities, motor skills, and social cognition. The reality is that students on the Autism spectrum are bullied more than students without or with other disabilities. In fact, of all the students who are bullied, 63% are on the Autism spectrum. Regardless of the outcome associated with bullying, it is a serious and pervasive problem that must be addressed in schools.
A student might:
- Have unexplained bruises, cuts and scratches
- Be hungry from food being stolen
- Go home with missing or damaged belongings
Teach students to recognize and understand bullying. Many students in general and students with ASD in particular, fail to realize that they are being bullied.
Set up a meeting with your student’s parent, the head of your department, and your school welfare coordinator. At the meeting, you can discuss the problems and issues that are affecting the student. By working with school staff, you can identify the time, activities, places and even people that affect the student and how to cope with them.
Try to get programs into your school that promotes awareness of ASD to all students, and what are the needs of students with ASD are. We need to develop our teaching Program to help children with ASD develop play and social skills. Social skills must be taught in order to minimize the risk of being bullied and stop bullies targeting kids with ASD.
- Supervised safe places for students playing and enjoyment
- Cooperative group of activities that includes children with ASD socially
- Safe lunchtime options for ASD such as ‘circle of friends’.
Behavioral and Psychological Signs
Behavioral signs are observed by the behavior and attitude of the child. It might include:
- Not wanting to go to school
- Being reluctant or frightened of walking or catching the bus
- Gradually doing poorly and lazily at school
Spend enough time with your targeted student. Be polite and calm with him/her. Many schools collect school-wide behavioral data. If there are times or areas of the school where bullying is more likely to occur, get together with other teachers and develop a staffing plan for adult supervision. Breaks, movement in between periods, bus rides or certain classes are more problematic, make a plan and work with other teachers on how to implement it to stop bullies targeting kids with ASD.
At times, detecting bullying is very difficult. Work with other teachers on strategies to detect bullying. A bully may harass a student by manipulating him to do things he does not want to do. The bully may tell the student with ASD, “I won’t be your friend anymore unless you steal this video game”. Educate every student in the class to know the difference between a friend and a bully, don’t just leave it to chance and expect that every student will know. (Sandison, R. 2016)
A student might seem unusually anxious, nervous, upset, unhappy, down, angry, withdrawn and secretive. If a concerned parent visits about these signs, you may need to gently remind the parent that these signs may not necessarily mean that the student is being bullied. They could be signs of other issues like depression, and withdrawal. If you and the parent/s are more concerned, consult a psychiatrist or practitioner.
We cannot prevent bullies targeting kids on the spectrum just by our individual efforts instead it requires a multidisciplinary approach. It includes parents, teacher, psychiatrist, psychologist, doctor and health worker and the community in general. All will be involved to provide a healthy environment for all children with disabilities in general and children with ASD in particular.
Cyberbullying is a relatively recent phenomenon. Research has found that students who are victims of cyberbullying were also targeted as victims of school bullying. Both types of victims tended to exhibit low levels of popularity and low self-concept. Some victims also exhibited their own bullying behavior, becoming bully-victims, perhaps in response to being bullied as a way of “fighting back” or “letting off steam”.
Establishing Connections with Kids is mandatory to stop bullies targeting kids on the spectrum. Connections with kids are the essential prerequisite for any growth and change an adult will be able to facilitate. A meaningful connection will help the student to share and discuss the entire problem being faced by him/her. Building a Circle of Friends for a student with ASD, connecting and building friendly relationships is a must. In this way, you as a teacher can start to solve the problem at school and inform the parent to show how you are trying to minimize the risk of his/her child from being bullied.
Types of Victims
There are two types of victims: Passive victims, who account for the largest numbers, and provocative victims. Passive victims tend to be weaker and smaller than bullies; therefore, they are usually unable to defend themselves. Many of them respond by giving in to bullies and frequently cry because they are targeted again and again. These students are very anxious and not surprisingly, these students tend to have poor self-esteem. However, Provocative victims are more difficult to identify and detect because of their non-observable behaviors. They represent a small number of percentages of the total number of victims. They may tease and irritate and not know when “enough is enough”. Many of these students have been diagnosed with ADHD.
Look for the Signs and Stop Bullies Targeting Kids on the Spectrum
- Not eating lunch
- Missing Belongings
- Torn clothing
- Depression and Illness
- Temper outburst
- Fear of going to school or attending party or event
- Fewer friends or no friend at all
- Mood shifts- happiness and aggression side by side
One thing should be kept in mind that students with ASD are children first. They need our love, and protection from bullies. They are the assets of our classroom, not liabilities. They are for acceptance, not rejection.
Edward, B. Mc. (2013). Bullying and Students with Disabilities. Strategies and Techniques to create a safe Learning Environment for All. Printed by The United States of America, Published by Crowin. 2013 P: 21-35
Espelage, D. L., & Swearer, S. M. (2008) Current perspectives on linking school bullying research to effective prevention strategies. School Violence and Primary Prevention, P:11, 335-353.
Matson, L. Johnny. (2017) Curricula for Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Published by Springer International Publishing AG 2017. P: 230-235
Sandison, R (2016). A Parents Guide to Autism. Published by spectruminclusion.com