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
- 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.