It says a lot that, despite all the great strides made in autism advocacy, a lot of the same movements had many controversial starts due to tragic incidents of bullying. In just 2015, a systematic review had found that 44% of children with autism reported being bullied.
Of course, such terrible experiences aren’t just exclusive to children and their schools. Discrimination against autistics can be found even in the adult workplace as well as in our mainstream entertainment and internet culture. And while there have been a lot of strong changes for the better, many parents of autistic kids still live in fear of such bullying incidents.
These parents are not to blame either. Reporting these experiences draws a high degree of unwanted attention to all parties involved: the school, the community, the affected families and their friends etc.
This can all be quite distressing to autistics themselves. It is difficult enough when normal occurrences can still cause them to melt down. How much more during times when unfamiliar faces start showing up to resolve the issue, or when more people in their schools start acting differently towards them?
Thus, it is important for parents and educators to firmly establish a set action plan that address clear problems of bullying with less negative effects on autistics themselves. Below are some of the best practices that can help.
1. Constant communication between community, school and home.
Without a doubt, it can certainly be much easier to connect with your local autism communities than before. Families should learn to leverage this as much as possible so that they can reach out to organisations that can provide them proper resources. (Some of these resources can even include certain forms of legal recourse, or means to support the cases of victims.)
That said, it may be a different story when communicating with schools. There must be a clear policy that requires the school to contact you if your child has ever been reported in a bullying incident. Furthermore, schools are generally required by law to have a thorough system of reporting even the mildest bullying incidents should they occur.
2. Teaching children with ASD to self-advocate and not be afraid to seek help.
While it is always important to help autistic children communicate, this can be even more crucial if you want to teach them how to discuss topics of bullying. A good first step is to always let a child know that they can say if something is bothering them.
For less verbal autistics, that can mean having communication tools meant to express feelings of anger or sadness. And for those who can speak, it can help to really use programs that help their minds integrate sounds. This helps them get comfortable with the idea of talking to parents about bullying, and why they have every right to ask help if someone has been victimising them.
3. Providing special spaces for autistics to retreat after incidents.
Bullying incidents can be especially traumatic for autistics and it is important that they have some place they can retreat to in order to calm down. Make sure that any anti-bullying strategy allows for this (in one form or another).
It can be as simple as allowing the bullied child to return home. Alternatively, special needs departments can have rooms equipped with tools like sensory toys to help them manage their emotions. And in all cases, make sure that these children are given as much time and room to reintegrate themselves without further stress. (That means they have to minimise contact with other people besides parents.)
With autistics being 63% more likely to be bullied, the best strategy for their families is still awareness, prevention and strong advocacy in mind. Do not be afraid to keep fighting the good fight!
“Want to learn more about how better listening leads to a better life? Get a consultation with us today!”