Tips to help kids with ASD avoid bullying

Boy being bullied in schoolBullying occurs at an alarming rate and, sadly, kids with Autism and Asperger’s are much more vulnerable targets to bullies. If left unchecked, there can be serious consequences for children that are chronically bullied. These risks include:

  • Withdrawing from school participation, lowered test scores and deteriorating GPA
  • Skipping class or dropping out of school
  • Suffering physical health issues
  • Retaliating through violent actions
  • Depression and anxiety that may continue through adulthood

Why kids with Autism are easy targets for bullies

Any child that is perceived as “different” by their peers is vulnerable to bullying. Kids with ASD may stand out to their classmates because they often have poor self-esteem, difficulty understanding voice, body language or facial expressions, cannot effectively communicate their feelings or thoughts and may unintentionally offend their peers. Unfortunately, any one of these issues makes them an easy target for bullying.

What parents can do to prevent bullying

The good news is that bystanders, friends, teachers and parents all have the ability to stop bullying. Research proves that over half of all bullying scenarios come to a stop when someone steps in and advocates for the bullying victim. So what can you do to help safeguard your child from being bullied? Here are some tips to stop bullying before it starts:

  • Coordinate after school play dates with kids your child goes to school with to help him/her make friends and develop relationships. Keep in mind that kids without autism might not know how to relate to those with autism at first, so structured activities can be helpful to get the ball rolling.
  • Have an open dialogue with your child about bullying and the proper way to treat others. Discuss examples of good and bad behaviors.
  • Make arrangements for your child to stay close to teachers or other school staff members during recess, lunch, bathroom breaks and other periods when your child may be particularly susceptible to bullying.
  • Discuss the possibility of a “buddy system” with your child’s teacher, to help him/her get to and from classes without incident.
  • There is strength in numbers, so encourage your child to stay with a group of people who he/she likes.

What parents can do to deal with bullying

Talk to children about bullying, because kids with autism have trouble interpreting social situations, they may not even realize they are being bullied. Make sure your child understands that if he/she feels uncomfortable, confused or threatened, it’s ok to tell an adult and it is not the same as tattling on another student. Have a meeting with school officials before there is an issue to address their bullying policy and the proper steps to take should bullying become a problem. Other strategies for dealing with bullying at school include:

  • Teaching your child phrases to help them cope with the situation, such as “Some people just don’t get it.”, “So not cool.”, “Leave me alone.”, “Whatever.” Make sure that your child understands that the key is not to engage the bully, but to halt further attacks. Instruct your child to then walk away, don’t look back and immediately inform an adult of what has happened.
  • Your child’s IEP can be extremely helpful. The IEP can address many special accommodations that are necessary to ensure your child’s educational success, including making sure there is always a supervisor in the locker room.
  • Teach your child how to make friends. Social interactions don’t come naturally to kids with ASD, so teach them behaviors to help them make and maintain friendships, such as asking questions, sharing, and personal, as well as, electronic etiquette.

Want more information on preventing, stopping and dealing with bullying? The Bully Project has accumulated a wealth of information for parents, educators and students and organized it into a special needs anti-bullying toolkit. Learn everything you need to know to prepare and take action against bullying at school, home and in your community here.

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