The Mean vs Your Kid

Day 20: Autism Awareness Blogathon

It would break my heart to see my child bullied. He’s little, light framed, vulnerable and trusting. Why would anyone want to hurt him? Did you know that research (Little 2002) showed that 90% of children with ASD are bullied? What a statistic!

Today I went to a dynamite one day conference which featured Prof. Tony Attwood & Dr Michelle Garnett from Minds and Hearts,  a clinic specialising in services to the autism community. Bullying wasn’t the only topic covered today but it is the topic I want to write about tonight.

Coincidentally, the other day I read an incredible gut-wrenching post by one of my fabulous bloggy pals about her experience of bullying in high school. I hope you go over to ProfMomEsq to read it. She nailed it when she called the whole experience The Mean.

We know our kids are easy targets and if your child is in a mainstream educational environment, then they might as well have a target pinned on the back of their shirt and ‘victim’ tattooed across their forehead.

When bullying enters the picture, all the years of good work we have done in integrating our kids dissolves away as they become even more socially isolated, depressed, unable to learn because of high levels of anxiety and lashing out aggressively when their limits are reached, often resulting in suspension or other penalties.

So we need to be vigilant for our children, but not vigilantes. We need to keep an eye out for the signs of bullying:

  • lost or damaged possessions
  • torn or dirty clothing
  • bruising or other injuries
  • heightened anxiety
  • interrupted sleep
  • school avoidance
  • unusual explosive responses
  • paranoia
  • changing of special interest areas to the protective (guns, weapons, violence & retribution)
  • mimicking bullying at home with siblings

Sadly, bullying is ingrained within our culture. It is not restricted to the school yard. Bullying rears it’s ugly head in the workplace, in our social lives and even in our own homes.

It’s incredibly depressing just thinking about it. What do we do? How can we change this situation? We’re already fighters, survivors, warriors. We haven’t sunk into the muddy trenches yet, even though sometimes we just allow ourselves to feel the weight of the battle wash over us. So yes, this is another fight we must get through. We must!

What a relief it was to get to the section of the presentation today when they finally gave us some good news. There is something we can do. There are strategies that can be introduced to reduce bullying.

Ideally, the whole school needs to get on board with a zero tolerance for bullying in policy AND it’s practical application. Staff education, consistent application and an agreed concept of justice and appropriate punishment are all vital ingredients. There are good books, workbooks and other resources available to assist with that including:

  • Gray’s Guide to Bullying, Carol Gray
  • No Fishing Allowed, Carol Gray, Judy Williams
  • Perfect Targets, Rebekah Heinrichs
  • Being Bullied, Nick Dubin

You can create a Map of Safe and Vulnerable Places for your school. This identifies the locations where bullying is most likely to occur – areas where there is limited or no supervision like hallways and bathrooms. It also shows the safe havens for our kids and this is where they need to be in their breaks. Places where there are other kids (witnesses!) and that are supervised.

Most importantly, all children in the school need to become aware that they have a responsibility. If they see bullying and don’t do anything about it – then what does that say? The ‘silent majority’ of kids do not bully or condone bullying, but they need to do more than that. Why? Because what made a child one of the 10% who didn’t get bullied? Friends.

Buddy systems, where a group of 3 – 4 kids who are willing to come on board, learn about autism, learn about your child in particular and be there to help out in a range of situations: a social buddy, an academic buddy, a sports buddy. Promote good examples of where someone has stood up to a bully as an act of heroism. Create the opportunities for disclosure and value it when it happens.

You also need to help your child learn how to recognise and respond to bullying. Ignoring the situation will only make it worse, so help them by practicing role plays where they have a script that is assertive, constructive and true to them. Practice self calming techniques. Do not let them believe that they are the abusive words used by bullies.

Create a Grievance Book where issues or incidences are recorded and copies provided to the Principal, the Teacher and also kept at home.

Create a Boasting Book to record your child’s successes in dealing with this issue.

Last but not least, involve them in a sport or marshal art where they are able to learn about defending themselves (but not attacking others).

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m emotionally exhausted after that!!

Note: I’ve used some of the information from the presentation today in this post – so acknowledgement to the wonderful work of Attwood & Garnett. 


6 thoughts on “The Mean vs Your Kid

  1. First, thank you Rose for the link back and for reading. Second, thank you for taking on this topic. What great suggestions, and I hope that schools and parents really work to implement them. I would add only this: sometimes, what makes the biggest difference in the life of a child who is bullied, tormented or who just feels unliked or misunderstood by her peers is the support of a trustworthy adult: a person who will give guidance, advice, love, hugs, kisses, sympathy, emotional shelter. Lacking that was what made me the most vulnerable, so know that your little guy already has a serious leg up against any future bullies who try to bring the Mean.

    • Thank you! I have to say that this conference session was initially incredibly depressing – the stories were so sad – and I didn’t really want to go there on my post. I wanted it to be about the things we can do. You are right about having an engaged, aware parent or trusted adult making a big difference. We have to help our kids learn to express what is happening for them because it is not always obvious and this language can be so difficult for NT’s let alone kids on the spectrum.

  2. Great post again, Rose!

    Patty and I have been extremely lucky that we’ve never had to deal with this issue with Sam. All the schools he’s attended in the public school system: pre-school, elementary, middle, high school, and his 18-21 transitional program, have all done an outstanding job in protecting such kids from bullies. I have to give them all credit for this!

    The biggest difficulty we’ve had in regard to problem behavior has actually come from school staff, not the children themselves. (I’ll save such stuff for a future posts.) Honestly, in my opinion school staff needs to be watched as much as [problem] children. Misunderstandings, miscommunications, and preconceived notions by staff can lead to very unexpected problems.

    You’re doing a great job, Rose!

    • I agree with you about staff – there’s been some real horror stories lately. Also, it’s important not to assume that because a child may attend special school that they are safe from bullying.
      I sure hope that I can look back on my boy’s years in the education system and say something similar to you.

  3. Rose you are an amazing mum and so gifted at passing on such meaningful and information to all of us with kids. So glad I have met you and I am really enjoying your blog!!xom

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