Autism and Bullying
Bullying has been proven by numerous studies to be a serious problem. Harassment of children with
disabilities has increased nationally. The effects of bullying children with autism can be extremely
distressing. Children with autism are vulnerable to bullying because while they look typical, they act
differently and it’s difficult for them to speak up or seek help. A National Autistic Society research study
shows that over 40% of children with autism have been bullied at school both in mainstream and special
schools.

Autism a social and communication disorder can be very isolating many children with come upon negative
reactions to distinctive behaviors associated with the condition. Understanding and relating to other people is
hard for children with autism, who often don’t understand social rules and, as a result, act in ways which
seem unusual or odd. Many have unique or specific interests on certain topics and may not realize that
others don’t share their enthusiasm. Some may also have difficulties with eye contact and physical
coordination, or have sensory difficulties, such as an under or over sensitivity to certain smells or noises. All
this can greatly affect their ability to be accepted by their peer group and can make them more at risk of
being bullied.

Many children with autism may not have a circle of friends around them or may prefer solitary time during
breaks, making them easy targets for bullies. Problems handling difficult situations may also get children
with autism into trouble, because they may be easily provoked by bullies. Autistic children may not always
be able to identify when they have been bullied, especially when the bullying is more subtle. Children with
autism often have difficulty understanding non-verbal behavior and interpreting facial expressions and body
language, so they may trust another child who appears to be friendly, they’re naive to malice.

Children with autism may find it hard to distinguish between accidental physical contact and deliberate
actions and so, unable to determine the severity of incidents, and may overreact and report everything to a
teacher. Peers can sometimes interpret this behavior as a “tattle teller”, which may cause further bullying.  

What is Bullying?

Bullying is the most common form of violence. Bullying consists of a series of repeated, deliberately cruel
actions between the same children who are in the same bully and victim roles. Bullies tend to focus on peers
who seem pas¬sive, anxious, quiet, weak, shy, sad, helpless, sensitive, or different in some way.

Examples of bullying behaviors:
Saying hurtful and unpleasant things, making fun of others, using mean and hurtful nicknames, completely
overlooking someone, deliberately excluding someone from a group of friends, hitting, kicking, pulling hair,
or pushing, telling lies, spreading false rumors, sending mean notes, or trying to get other students to dislike
another person.

Bullying is something that can be painful to the child emotionally and/or physically:
•        Bullying hurts if the child is physically attacked/assaulted or abused.
•        Bullying hurts if the child is called names, teased, or verbally abused.

More about bullying:
•        Bullying is done on purpose.
•        Bullying is not done by accident.
•        Bullying happens more than once.
•        Bullying is wrong.
•        Bullying makes another person feel sad.

When a child is bullied they may feel:
•        Sick
•        Pain
•        Worried or stressed
•        Frustrated
•        Isolated
•        School refusal
•        Loss of appetite
•        Difficulty sleeping
•        Vulnerable
•        Scared
•        Self-harm
•        Aggressive towards others
•        Helpless
•        Worthless
•        Low self-esteem

Bullying may also affect the child’s social skills, relationships and mental health.
Children with autism struggle with understanding and expressing their emotions. This can lead to the child
experiencing difficulties in communicating incidents to parents and teachers which increases their feelings of
frustration and isolation.

Bullying can also seriously interrupt a child’s education. The long-term damages to a child’s self-esteem and
future social interactions are very serious. A whole school approach is very important be sure all school anti-
bullying strategies are consistent. The message at schools must be clear that bullying is inexcusable. Training
and resources in autism can help teaching staff identify and support children with the disorder who are being
bullied, even when the child themselves may not realize or is unwilling to report it.

Unfortunately, bullying does not stay within childhood for people with autism: 56% of adults with autism say
they have been bullied or harassed since the age of 18. The impact of bullying for people with autism can be
devastating and can continue into adult life.

Raising awareness and helping people understand autism and the personal, social and educational challenges
that exist is vital. Acceptance of autism from an early age is the first step to promoting the social inclusion
of people with autism and ensuring they can enjoy the same human rights and liberty as the rest of society.
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