Bullying – What Your Child with Autism Needs to Know


bullyingBeing a friend and being a bully are two very different things.

Can your child tell them apart?

Learning the difference between a friend and a bully can be difficult for the autism brain to comprehend but not impossible. It is vitally important because children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are especially vulnerable to mistreatment from a bully. Research shows that children with special needs such as autism are two to three times more likely to be bullied than kids that are not autistic.

Why is that?

I can think of various reasons – under-developed social skills, difficulty communicating, and inadequate supervision all play a part. But the one factor I want to focus on in this article is an inaccurate understanding of friendship.

Many children, on or off the autism spectrum, lack an accurate understanding of what constitutes a true friendship. This is a very important piece that is often overlooked and puts any child at high risk of being bullied.

Children who really understand the concept of friendship will not easily be duped into a manipulative or abusive relationship. Protect your child on the autism spectrum from being bullied by helping him develop a clear picture of what constitutes a healthy friendship. Implementing these strategies will also reduce your child’s social anxiety and enhance her ability to make friends. All in all, these seven tips will make school a more pleasant experience.

– Assess your child’s definition. Never assume your child’s definition of a friend is accurate. Teaching your child what a healthy relationship looks like is a great way to prevent her from becoming a target. Once she comprehends what a wholesome relationship consists of, it makes it easier for her to identify bullies. True friends never try to manipulate, degrade or abuse others.

– Create a clear definition. Spend lots of time describing what a real friend is like – what they look like, act like, talk like, and how they treat you. Make a distinction between a best friend, playmate and acquaintance. It’s never too early to begin shaping your child’s perception of friendship.

– Use the word often. Make the word friend a daily part of your vocabulary, and take every opportunity to describe what a friend is and does. Opportunities to do this are everywhere. You can discuss your own friendships, those you see on TV/in movies, or anywhere you observe friendships in daily life. 

– Discuss the recipe for friendship. Having similar interests, feeling comfortable and safe, are important ingredients necessary to create a friendship. Ask your child to consider what they want to give and receive from a friendship. If your child has no idea, brainstorm friendship traits together.

– Define bullies. Unfortunately it’s not always easy to identify a bully. Some are easy to detect because they are mean and nasty from the very start and some have a well-known reputation. Others are what are called good con-artists. These individuals are harder to detect because they often disguise their attempts to relate with others in a false form of friendship. Once they use their charm to gain a child’s trust they begin to manipulate them for their own personal gain.

– Remain alert and know your child’s friends. Having an ongoing and open conversation with your child about so called ‘friends’/classmates is important to establish early on. Talk to your child’s teacher as well asking her to be watchful and communicate what she observes. Assessing the dynamics of your child’s relationships and keeping track of how each one develops as time passes is useful information to have. That way you will be able to spot a red flag when you see one. Then you can give your child the support and skills to deal with the situation before it becomes a bigger issue.

– Educate yourself. It’s very important to inform yourself about the policies and procedures your child’s school has in place for dealing with bullies. Then create a simple step by step flow-chart (visual is best) for your child so he can be prepared to act accordingly if he begins to be bothered by a bully. Role playing or actually practicing these steps will help your child even more.

Protecting your child from bullying requires a proactive approach. Never wait for your child to be abused by a bully before taking action. Begin early to bully-proof your child because the confidence you build over the years will never be wasted. Your guidance will benefit your child in all other social situations throughout his life. Find someone knowledgeable about bullying to help you create a customized plan and begin instructing your child today.

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