Hardly a day goes that we don’t see a story in the media about bullying, especially with regard to how children and teens are treating each other, and this increased awareness has resulted in a sort of hyper-vigilance about the problem all across our society. Now another aspect of the issue has rightfully entered the public conversation: bullying children with autism. A recent study conducted by the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) revealed that 63% of children with autism have been bullied at some point in their life.The study also concluded that the immediate results of the bullying behavior included emotional trauma and/or actual physical injuries. Click here to read the IAN report.
Bullying individuals with autism is obviously a problem. Much less obvious are the solutions. Perhaps working to increase awareness and education around the symptoms of autism would be a good place to start. In some recent cases, as reported in the media, the young bullies—with the support of their parents—seemed to feel their intimidating behavior toward peers with autism was justified, that the victims had “brought the bullying on themselves.”
In hearing and reading more about these cases, I began to realize that much of what many of the bullies viewed as annoying behaviors were actually symptoms of autism, driven by the condition and not the will of the child. But it’s easy to see that without education on the subject, an uncompassionate eye could easily misinterpret these symptoms as voluntary behavior.
But education takes time. What can we do today to discourage the bullying of children with Autism?
Speak! As adults, we can speak with our typical functioning children. The number one way to shut down bullying is for a peer to intervene and stand up for the person being bullied. The conversation can begin by explaining autism and some of the social behaviors that go along with it.
Act! It is also critical for adults to look proactively for signs of bullying and take action when those signs appear. In some recent cases, the adults turned a blind eye. They intuited something was happening, but they didn’t take the initiative to look deeper and investigate after the initial clues.
Don’t wait! A bullied child can’t wait another day for you to act.
Below is a trailer for a new movie related to this topic: