October is National Bullying Prevention Month. What started as a week by PACER National Bullying Prevention Center in 2006 has expanded into a national, full month campaign to unite communities in raising awareness and preventing bullying with such prominent partners as Disney, Facebook, and Instagram signing on.
While bullying is considered an epidemic in schools across the nation for all students, students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are especially susceptible. Behavior that is perceived as “different” and “weird” by peers combined with deficits in ability to read social cues and facial expressions make individuals with ASD a greater target. In fact, a recent study suggests that 63% of individuals with ASD have experienced bullying, a rate almost triple of individuals not on the spectrum.
As a parent, what can you do to help prevent your child from being bullied and respond if they are?
Start the Conversation
Because of the child’s misinterpretation of peer’s tone and intent, they might not even be aware that they are being bullied. Bullying takes the form of verbal aggressions, social exclusion, and even physical assault. Helping your child recognize what bullying is will help them to be able to report it and get help.
Develop a Plan
Work with your child to develop and practice a plan to respond to bullying. Involve your child’s school in this plan, identifying safe places and safe people to go to. Depending on their cognitive abilities, some experts suggest putting the plan on a card that can be kept in a backpack or wallet.
Recognize the Signs
Your child may be unwilling or unable to communicate that they are being bullied. Watch for signs such as drop in grades, avoidance of school, physical illness from stress or more obvious indicators, such as property being stolen or unexplained scratches or bruises.
Work with their School
Many schools are onboard with developing bullying-free safe environments and have plans and programs in place. Contact your school to learn about what they are already doing and what you can do to help. If your child has an IEP, bullying can even have legal consequences. Depending on the nature of the bullying, having a playground, hallway, or lunchroom “buddy” can help. Research shows that bullying is cut in half when peers are involved and can advocate for the child.
Bullying can have severe consequences ranging from failure in school academics, depression, physical illness, and sadly an increased risk of suicide. It is the responsibility of all of us as a community – students, teachers, parents, legislators, and media – to do our part to raise awareness and develop tolerant, inclusive environments where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.