Bullies are a significant part of our popular culture. From childhood movies to family sitcoms, it seems as if many of us have grown up with the idea that bullies are a part of life. But thankfully, the days when bullying was brushed off as a childhood rite of passage are gone. Research shows that children and teens who are bullied are at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, impaired academic performance, substance abuse and even violence.
Bullying is a serious problem in our schools and communities. It can affect all children. However, it’s of particular concern for children with autism who are especially vulnerable.
Make sure your child understands bullying
Bullying comes in many forms, including:
- Verbal or written abuse
- Statements or gossip
- Intentional social exclusion
- Physical assaults
Cyberbullying is using any form of technology—cell phone communications (texting or calling), computers and the internet (websites, chat, instant messaging, email, games and social media)—for bullying.
How to spot the signs of bullying
Just because children with autism may have more trouble communicating, it doesn’t mean they aren’t hurt by bullying. Since children with autism can have a difficult time expressing themselves, it’s important to know what to look for. The following are all signs that your child may be being bullied:
- Not eating or sleeping well
- Mood swings
- Feeling ill in the morning or not wanting to go to school
- Avoiding certain situations, like taking a bus to school
- Failing grades
- Coming home hungry or with missing belongings or clothes
- Continually “losing” money or starting to steal (some bullies demand money)
Talk to your child about bullying
Make sure your child knows he can talk to you about being bullied. Listen calmly, and let your child know he is not alone.
Tell him it’s the bully who’s behaving badly—not him. Explain that you will keep him safe, and work together to determine how to handle the bullying.
Teach your child to stop a bully
Tell your child that bullies target people who cry, get mad or easily give in to them. It’s important that your child not give in to a bully’s demands.
Teach your child to:
- Look directly at the bully.
- Stand tall.
- Stay calm.
- Walk away.
Encourage your child to make friends
Bullies often target kids who are loners, so encourage your child to make friends or spend time with groups.
This is sometimes uncomfortable for children with autism. Work to encourage your child to participate in activities with people who share his interests.
Intervene when necessary
Children deserve to feel safe when they’re at school or in the community. Most states have laws to protect children when bullied. Parents have legal rights when children with disabilities are the targets of bullying that interferes with their ability to benefit from education, a form of bullying known as disability harassment.
A great way to help your child develop confidence and happiness is by helping him make friends. Learn ways to help your child build lasting friendships.
We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of this article may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.