Photo source: Katy Perry by Samantha Sekula (flickr)
There exist several forms of bullying – physical, emotional, verbal, educational, and property destruction. Nowadays, cyberbullying is also on the rise.
While social media networks are a great way to connect and interact with others, they can also be used in harmful ways to humiliate others. Research shows that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are bullied far more often than others due to their lack of language and social skills. In fact, more than 60% of children who are bullied have autism. Unfortunately, their lack of proper social communication makes them highly vulnerable to bullying, as bullies are masters of manipulation.
A recent survey performed by Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing found that:
- 65% of children with autism had been bullied, in some form, by peers within the last year
- 50% of children with autism were scared to go to school or communicate with certain peers
- 47% of children with autism had been hit by peers or siblings
- 12% of children with autism had hardly been invited to a birthday party in the last 3 years
- 9% of children with autism were hit or got hurt in their private areas
- 6% of children with autism never got picked for school teams or activities
- 3% of children with autism ate lunch alone every day
It is no secret that bullying occurs in most areas at school, such as the school bus, cafeteria, locker rooms, and hallways. There are three common forms of bullying that a child with autism faces on a daily basis. This includes:
- Exploitative bullying – When a child’s condition is subject to mockery in front of others
- Manipulative bullying – When a child is forced in something or controlled on a physical or emotional level
- Conditional friendship – When a child’s friendship with a peer or a group comes at the expense of being bullied from time to time
It is not uncommon to hear or read about stories of children – with and without disabilities – being bullied. Across the country, stories about bullying have captured the media’s attention as children strive to cope bullying and its impact on them, their families, friends, and surroundings.
A young Katy Perry fan shares her wish
Zoe, a 12-year-old fan of Katy Perry, was surprised by her stepmother and father with tickets to see her favorite singer. “I was crying because I was so excited. I’ve never been to a concert before and Katy Perry is my idol” she said. Zoe received the surprise of a lifetime when she was invited on stage at her concert in Kansas City. “I was just freaking out, I was actually up there next to Katy Perry” she said. Perry asked Zoe to make a wish – “I wish for my 17-year-old sister with autism to stop getting bullied by the kids at her school,” said Zoe. Perry, touched by Zoe’s wish, promised to visit Zoe’s sister’s school in Wichita, Kansas.
The two hugged and Perry led the audience to start chanting “no more bullying!”. Zoe hopes that people around the world will hear her message on bullying. “I just wanted to make her happy and give her my wish. I could have wished for anything. I could have wished to do anything” she said.
The impact of bullying
Zoe's sister's story is not unique. The impact of bullying can lead to lower self-esteem, depression, anxiety, withdrawal from society, fear, suicidal thoughts, and suicide. Some of the signs are apparent, yet other times, victims of bullying hide their emotions. The issue comes from being able to interpret what is truly happening. The most common signs of bullying include the following:
- Frequent and unexplained bruises, cuts, or burns
- Frequent disappearance of items such as phones, money, etc.
- Mood swings
- Lack in self-esteem
- Inability to concentrate
- Fear of communication
- Increased obsessional behavior
- Decreased progression in schoolwork and other progress factors
- Reluctance to go to school or interact with others
While a few of these signs, such as losing a phone, may be brought on by carelessness and so on, some of them may be worth keeping a closer eye on.
Take these steps with your children or your loved ones to prevent bullying or cope with its effects:
- Talk to your child about bullying – Many children with autism cannot identify good vs. bad words, expressions, situations - or rather the nature of bullying. For this reason, help them to be able to identify name-calling by alerting them of key words, nicknames, and situations that are considered mean or bad. Help him or her understand the appropriate response for each one.
- Educate your child on behavior that is considered socially acceptable – Teach your child socially acceptable behavior that will help him or her make and keep friends. For instance, learning to share is a good quality for your child to possess so that they can interact / play cooperatively.
- Encourage your child to participate in a school activity or club – Several schools have many clubs that children can join to develop their social skills and relationships. If your child finds one appealing, help him or her sign up. This will give them the opportunity to interact with other children who have interests similar to their own.
- Spend some time at your child’s school – Make it a point to spend some time at your child’s school so that you can determine when and where your child is and whether they are safe. This will help you to understand how they are socially interacting with others and whether any of their social skills require improvement.
- Insist on more supervision and awareness at school – Supervision at school is crucial during times when children are most likely to be bullied. Talk to your child’s school about including more staff members on hallway patrol – research shows that more adults patrolling the hallways results in fewer behavioral problems among students. Moreover, teach students at your child’s school about your child’s challenges with autism or hire a professional educator to talk about disabilities and what they entail for the purpose of raising awareness and understanding.
- Host regular get-togethers – Get a group of children from your child’s school to join in on fun get-togethers. This will help your child to make friends and participate in certain activities that will keep them engaged and socializing.
- Seek support whenever necessary – Inform your child that bullying is not his or her fault nor is it their responsibility to solve. Know when to seek support from family, friends, your child’s school or a support group to discuss similar concerns and issues. Being able to recognize issues relating to bullying can greatly impact your approach to addressing them and to minimizing bullying behaviors.
“For autistic individuals to succeed in this world, they need to find their strengths and the people that will help them get to their hopes and dreams. In order to do so, ability to make and keep friends is a must. Amongst those friends, there must be mentors to show them the way. A supportive environment where they can learn from their mistakes is what we as a society needs to create for them” - Bill Wong, Autistic Occupational Therapist