If you have a child with autism, it probably won’t come as a shock to hear that children with special needs are more vulnerable to bullying than their neurotypical peers. An inability to recognize and understand social cues, difficulties with socialization, repetitive behaviors, and sensory sensitivities make children with ASD an easy target, and the long-term effects can be devastating.
How to Prevent Bullying of Kids with Autism
According to the 2012 IAN (Interactive Autism Network) research report, a total of 63% of 1,167 children with ASD, ages 6 to 15, had been bullied at some point in their lives, and with the prevalence of autism diagnoses on the raise each year, one can only assume that number continues to increase.
Of course, bullying happens in many different ways. From physical abuse and property destruction, to verbal threats and deliberate exclusion, bullying isn’t always visible to the naked eye, which is why it is so important for parents and teachers to look for warning signs and find ways to intervene when needed.
A child who is repeatedly bullied will undoubtedly develop long-lasting insecurities and low self-esteem, and the feelings of stress and anxiety they develop in response to being tormented at school may make children avoid social situations and become withdrawn and depressed.
So, what is a parent to do?
How can we stop bullying in its tracks and prevent it from happening again?
Sadly, the answer isn’t that simple.
While there are certainly ways to stop bullying, the behavior doesn’t typically dissipate overnight, and you may need to try a combination of several different tactics before you see an improvement.
9 Strategies to Teach You How to Prevent Bullying of Kids with Autism
Recognize warning signs. One of the first steps to helping a child who is being bullied is to pay attention. While the warning signs may not be as obvious at first, look for changes in your child’s behavior that might indicate something is wrong. Here are some things to consider:
- Does your child try to find ways to get out of going to school?
- Is her clothing dishelved when she gets home?
- Have some of her possessions mysteriously gone missing?
- Does she seem more quiet or distant?
- Is she more anxious, stressed, or depressed than usual?
- Has she lost an interest in the things that used to bring her joy?
- Does she avoid social situations more than usual?
Talk to your child. If you suspect your child is being bullied, talk to her about it. Ask her direct questions or use creative tactics to try to get her to open up about the way she is being treated at school. A one-on-one conversation in a safe environment may work for some kids, but others may be more willing to provide details if they are distracted with a toy or activity. Do what works best for your child and try to keep reactions to a minimum. The more emotions you show in response to the things she’s telling you, the less likely she’ll be to open up to you in the future.
Talk to the school. Whether your child has told you directly that she’s being bullied, or you sense something is amiss given some of her behavioral changes, don’t be afraid to talk to your child’s school. Ask her teacher if she’s noticed anything and seek advice from the school guidance counsellor, but be careful not to create a situation that will make the bullying worse. While younger bullies might stop their behavior if they are reprimanded, older kids will likely torment your child even more if they catch mom and dad trying to intervene.
Educate! One of my favorite ways to prevent bullying in school is to go straight to the source – our children! There are so many fun anti-bullying activities for kids floating around the internet these days, and I feel they should be incorporated into our children’s curriculum to help raise awareness about bullying and provide kids with the coping skills they need to speak up when they are being treated unfairly. Talk to your child’s teachers, ask them what their education policy is with regards to bullying, and don’t be afraid to get involved! Volunteer in your child’s classroom and offer to organize age-appropriate anti-bullying activities. I’ve found 15 fabulous ideas, which I’ve included at the end of this post!
Put together an action plan. Bullying tends to be worse during recess and lunch, so try to come up with a plan to help make those times easier for your child. Can she help out in the library or office? Does the school have a buddy system where older kids look out for those who are being bullied? Would the school consider adding additional teacher aides on the playground so nothing is missed and a bully can be caught ‘in the act’? Can your child come home for lunch? Brainstorm ideas and give them a try! The more your child sees you trying to help, the more supported she’ll feel.
Write a social story. Social Stories can be helpful in getting your child to feel less alone when she is being bullied. Understanding that other children are bullied too, and knowing how to react when someone is bullying her will make her more like to open about to you about what’s going on at school. It’ll also give her the tools she needs to stick up for herself when it happens again. Here are 21 templates and apps to help you write social stories for your child.
Build up your child’s self-esteem. If your child is being bullied at school, it is extremely important that you provide a safe environment where she can be herself, and that you find ways to build up her self-esteem. While your role is to be your child’s parent first and foremost, recognize when she needs you to be her friend. Bullying can be extremely isolating, and knowing she has a supportive parent to come home to each day can go a long way in making her feel loved, safe, and secure. Remind her about her strengths, encourage her to join extracurricular activities she enjoys with like-minded kids, remove her from situations in which she isn’t treated fairly, and model positive self-esteem yourself.
Seek professional help. As much as we want to solve our children’s problems ourselves, sometimes it’s better to seek the help of a professional. Your child might feel more comfortable opening up to a therapist about some of the struggles she’s having with her peers, and she may come away feeling more validated and in control knowing someone else is in her corner.
Don’t be afraid to take action. If you’ve tried everything in your power to get the kids in your child’s school to stop bullying her without success, don’t be afraid to take action. Speak to the bully’s parents, escalate the issue to the school board, and consider moving your child to a new school.
15 Anti-Bullying Activities for Kids
Toothpaste Anti-Bullying Activity | Mrs. O Knows
Compliment Circles: Creating A Kind & Respectful Classroom | Our Elementary Lives
Random Acts of Kindness Board | Confessions of a School Counsellor
Behavior Craftivity | The Learning Tree
Erased Meanness Activity | ‘YourKids’ Teacher
The Recess Queen | Teachers Pay Teachers
Wrinkled Hearts: Bully Prevention Lesson | Squarehead Teachers
Anti-Bullying Pledge | Education World
Empathy Game: A Tool to Teach Kids to be Considerate | Moments a Day
Bullying Activities Role Plays and Poster Set | Teachers Pay Teachers
The Crumpled Paper Lesson | Babble
Bully or Buddy Worksheet | We Are Teachers
A (Paper) Chain of Kindness | Sugar Spice and Glitter
Find a Friend BINGO | Teacher Karma
Apply Anti-Bullying Activity | The Telegraph
Bullying can significantly impair a child’s self-esteem, leading to life-long insecurities and struggles with anxiety and depression, and it is up to you as a parent to pay attention and intervene when necessary. Does moving to a new school seem drastic? Perhaps. But if it means protecting your child from a life riddled with feelings of worthlessness, why wouldn’t you consider it?
Randi Weingarten once said, ‘You can’t be against bullying without actually doing something about it’, and while my hope is that you can stop your child’s bullies in their tracks, don’t be afraid to be the change your child needs.
Listen to what she doesn’t say, stick up for her, and make it your mission in life to protect her self-worth.
She deserves it.
And so do you.
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