Everyone has had some experience with bullying. Whether they are the bullier or the bullied, bullying has an impact on everyone involved.
According to the Department of Education, “factors such as physical vulnerability, social skills challenges, or intolerant environments may increase the risk of bullying. Students who are targets of bullying are more likely to experience lower academic achievement, higher truancy rates, feelings of alienation, poor peer relationships, loneliness, and depression. We must do everything we can to ensure that our schools are safe and positive learning environments—where all students can learn.”
In an article about bullying in regards to those children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Forrest, etal, found that people on the autism spectrum (ASD) are especially susceptible to bullying victimization because:
- They are different
- They are “not optimally tuned in to social situations”
- They are resistant to changes
I have found that because the disorder is on a spectrum, people may not believe the diagnosis of high-functioning autism, and may become frustrated with the individual on the autism spectrum. And in turn, bullying occurs due to the factors mentioned by Forrest.
Causes of Disbelief
“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” - Dr. Stephen Shore
According to Autism Speaks, “We know that there is:
- not one autism but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
- Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges.
- The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged.
- Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.”
In other words, just because someone does not fit what you have seen in popular culture as an “autistic person,” does not mean that the person is not autistic. For instance, not every autistic person is like Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man. Raymond Babbitt is a person who is a savant, but he does not represent all people with autism.
When people do not believe someone with ASD has ASD, this may become problematical for the person with ASD. Here are some reactions that may be hurtful to someone on the spectrum:
- “You can’t have autism! You don’t seem like you have it.”
- Rolling eyes, laughing, or making snide remarks (or bullying) when someone with ASD makes mistakes.
- Not providing reasonable accommodations for someone with ASD when they make a request.
- Avoidance of the person with ASD.
- Getting angry or frustrated with the person who has ASD does not help the situation, and instead heightens the person’s anxiety and ultimately makes the situation worse.
What can the person with ASD do to help themselves avoid these kinds of reactions?
Asking for accommodations is the best answer for adults with ASD who need assistance with a social situation.
Finding behavioral therapy as an adult is difficult, as most therapy is geared for children. It is best to ask your neurologist or the doctor who diagnosed you for advice.
Behavioral therapy is often the best solution and should start at a young age.
According to Forrest, etal, two issues increase the frequency of bullying victimization in children with ASD: not being “tuned in” to social situations and being resistant to change.
“Special attention can be given in the context of a child’s behavioral therapy plan,” according to Forrest. Behavioral therapy can be geared to assist children to be aware of their social surroundings.
Here are a few lessons that may help a child to be more aware of their social surroundings:
- How to play games and be a good sport.
- Helping a child to control perseveration.
- Practice social thinking in their peer groups.
- Learning about feelings through facial and body expression.
- Helping a child to distinguish between small, medium, and large problems.
- Peer mentoring.
Socialthinking lesson plans like “Superflex” and “Rock Brain” assist children in developing flexible thinking by associating flexibility as being positive and “super-heroic.” These lessons are fun and memorable.
The best solution to aid not only children with ASD, but all children with bullying is to have school-wide anti-bullying programs.
In order for anti-bullying programs to be successful, school administration must fully support the program.
The attitude that administration should have is one of zero tolerance for bullying.
The anti-bullying programs that are successful in the school environment include:
- Annual school-wide anti-bullying assemblies.
- Monthly “asset building” programs like Project Cornerstone’s ABC Program, which trains volunteers to read to children about how to overcome bullies.
- Advocacy programs (both for self and for peers) that train children how to stand up for themselves or others.
- Community-wide programs that help train adults in the community how to intervene in bullying situations.
- Supporting the Upstander program. Don’t be a bystander when there is a bullying situation, be an upstander! Stand up for those who are being bullied.
Ultimately, the anti-bullying mindset has to be the approach for administration, teachers, parents, staff, and children.
The whole community must become upstanders for those who are different.
If everyone supports the upstander approach, the bullying mindset will be reduced and eventually will be considered unacceptable, which is the best outcome!