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    Parents Guide to Bullying for Children with Autism

    Topics: About Autism, Inclusive Education, Advice for Parents and Caregivers, Parents

    Parents Guide to Bullying for Children with Autism

    What is bullying?

    Stopbullying.gov defines bullying as:

    “Unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children. It involves a real or perceived power imbalance and the behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

    There are three types of bullying: verbal, social, and physical. All three types of bullying can have serious, long-lasting effects on children. Therefore, it is important to teach children the appropriate strategies to deal with a bullying situation should they ever encounter one.

    Bullying and Autism

    For a number of reasons, children with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than their peers. Current research suggests that Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are three times more likely to be bullied and left out than their same-aged peers (Twyman et al., 2010). Many people feel that this number is actually much higher, as autism is characterized by an inability to read social cues. In order to report that you are being bullied, you need to first understand that you are being bullied. Students with autism are not always aware that their peers are targeting them.  


    Why is bullying such a serious issue?

    Children who are bullied are more likely to experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Many of the symptoms associated with these issues can even persist into adulthood. Additionally, many students who are bullied experience decreased academic achievement and are more likely to miss school.


    What can parents do:

    1. Be Proactive: Prepare the school

    • Have a discussion with the teachers and administration at your child’s school. Make sure you are all on the same page when it comes to preventing bullying. Find out what policies your child’s school has for dealing with bullying.
    2. Include preventative goals on your child’s IEP
    • Social skills goals can be particularly important in giving your child the tools he or she needs to self-advocate against potential bullies.
    • Be aware of what your child’s social support group looks like. If he or she is having a challenging time connecting with peers, peer support can be written into his or her IEP. This can be something as simple as identifying a peer that would be able to accompany your child during class transitions throughout the day.

    father-talking-to-child.jpg3. Prepare your child
    • Teach your child about bullying. It is important that he or she knows about friendships and how real friends should behave.
    • Introduce your child to key supports in the school – teachers, counselors, principals, front office personnel, and school resource officers – whom they can go to for help if they ever feel they are being bullied.
    • Let them know that many children experience bullying and that it is never the victim’s fault. Nobody deserves to be bullied or harassed. Reassure them that bullying is always wrong and must be reported if it occurs.
    4. Monitor
    • Maintain active communication with the staff at your child’s school and check in with them periodically to see how things are going during the school day.
    • Talk to your child often and ask them questions about school. Do your friends have special names for you? Who are your best friends at school? What is your least favorite class? Why is that class your least favorite? Who do you sit with at lunch?
    5. Know your rights – and use them!
    • Talk to your child’s teacher to see if he or she may be able to assist in resolving the issue.
    • Put your concerns in writing and contact the school principal – if the bullying persists you may file a complaint if your child is being bullied. Keep a written record of all communication with the school.
    • Ask the school district to convene an IEP meeting - remind the staff that your child is not able to make progress on his or her IEP goals due to bullying.
    • Children with disabilities are a protected class of students. Bullying children with disabilities is considered harassment and carries certain penalties by law. For more information, see our free, printable guide!



    Stop Bullying on the Spot. https://www.stopbullying.gov/respond/on-the-spot/index.html

    Education@usdoj.gov, B. E. How To File A Complaint. Retrieved October 18, 2016, from http://www.justice.gov/crt/complaint/#three

    National Autism Association - Autism Safety Initiative - Our mission is providing resources, education, advocacy, awareness and support - Bullying - 5 Things Parents Can Do. (n.d.). http://www.autismsafety.org/bullying-tips.php

    Szalavitz, M., & Szalavitz, M. (n.d.). Why Autistic Kids Make Easy Targets for School Bullies | TIME.com. Retrieved October 18, 2016, from http://healthland.time.com/2012/09/05/why-autistic-kids-make-easy-targets-for-school-bullies/


    Courtney Chase

    Written by Courtney Chase

    Courtney Chase is a graduate student at Lesley University studying clinical mental health counseling with a specialization in school adjustment counseling. She is currently interning as a school counselor at Atlantic Middle School in Quincy, MA. Her primary role as a school adjustment counselor is to help facilitate the academic and social success of each unique learner. She helps each student identify individualized goals and strategies for success and promotes the realization of these goals by supporting the student through his or her educational journey.


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