Bullying in schools is an ugly reality for kids and often a worst nightmare for parents. Kids tend to pick on the peers they find to be the most vulnerable of targets. Unfortunately, kids on the spectrum usually fall into this category and are at a significantly higher risk than other children of experiencing bullying.
Bullying can come in the form of teasing, manipulating, spreading rumors, intimidation, stealing, or physical aggression. Due to some of the language and social deficits kids on the spectrum face, it is common of them not to know if what they are experiencing is bullying or not.
This disconnect can cause extra challenges for parents of kids with autism when bullying may be occurring. A lack of communication skills on the end of the child will require the parent to be watchful for signs of bullying.
Some common signs to look out for are behavioral signs such as apprehensiveness to go to school or a drop in grades, emotional signs such as mood swings, anger, anxiety, or increased crying, and physical signs such as unexplained injuries or unexplained broken or missing items.
It is important to take the initiative to start the conversation if bullying is suspected. Make it clear what treatment is acceptable and unacceptable toward him or her. Ask about details of what goes on at school and their feelings towards school. The descriptive answers should give you insight into how he or she is treated at school.
If you discover bullying to be happening, there are a number of steps you can take to intervene. Communicate with the school administration about what you believe to be taking place. Do your research beforehand on what your state’s laws are regarding bullying, as each state’s laws about this are different. Each school should have policies in place to handle bullying that line up with state law. Assert your rights and insist on the enactment of policies which should already be in place to protect students.
Along with communicating to school officials, teaching self-advocacy to your child is essential. Be clear about which situations they could find themselves in, when he or she should stand up for themselves, and how to defend themselves assertively. You should also let him or her know when to turn to teachers or staff at school to help intervene.
Bullying can have detrimental effects on your child’s self-esteem, mental health, and overall sense of safety. Be watchful for signs of bullying and don’t hesitate to speak up if you suspect your child is being mistreated in any way.