To find out that your child is being bullied can feel like a heavy weight on your heart. Sadly, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have a high rate of being bullied (NATTAP, n.d.). The good news is that your child does not need to go through these experiences alone, and that with the combination of you and the rest of your child’s support network, they can have the love and care they need in order to stay strong despite the bullying they may face.
Below are a few recognizable signs that may suggest your child is being bullied (NATTAP, n.d.).
- Lowered self-esteem
- Heightened anxiety
- Concentration is difficult
- School avoidance
- Decreasing grades
Although these are all possible signs you might see in your child, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your child is being bullied if he/she is showing these signs. There may be other reasons as to why your child is displaying these behaviors. If you are concerned about signs you are recognizing with your child, seek out further information, both from those who may have been around to see the bullying (e.g., teachers, caregivers) and from those who have professional advice (e.g., psychologists, psychiatrists, or counselors).
Recognizing your child has been experiencing bullying is a critical step, but there is still more you can do. Here are a few suggestions for ideas you may find are the right fit for your child.
- Find a counselor / group counseling
It can help a child if he/she has someone to talk with about their life and their struggles, especially if that person is knowledgeable about ASD. With group counseling, children can better understand that they aren’t the only ones who have these struggles, and it can help them build their support network with others their age (Donnelly, 2013).
- Make reading, drawing, and journaling available
For children with ASD who are being bullied, it does help to know that they’re not the only ones struggling. If counseling is unavailable, another great resource can come in the form of books. There are many books that tell the stories of children with autism who have dealt with issues such as bullying, and many of the authors of these books either have autism themselves or have children with autism (Donnelly, 2013). Below are some examples of books that your child might find helpful.
- Recommended for younger children
- The Superhero Brain: Explaining Autism to Empower Kids by Christel Land
- Recommended for elementary and middle school ages
- Nathan’s Autism Spectrum Superpowers by Lori Yarborough
- Recommended for preteens and teens
- The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida
- Same But Different: Teen Life on the Autism Express by Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete, and RJ Peete
Additionally, making drawing and journaling available to children as resources can help them to express themselves and how they feel (Donnelly, 2013). For many children, being able to tell how they feel is a big first step in feeling better. If your child is non-vocal, or unable to write, there are alternative ways for them to share how they feel such as drawing or pretend play.
- Help them identify their strengths and interests
Your child may be having their weaker areas pointed out to them by their bullies. Help point out their strengths (Donnelly, 2013). If they love history, see if there’s a club they can join at school. If they love books, inquire about them volunteering at the local library. Let them see that they can shine and that they have areas they can be their best selves, despite what their bullies might cause them to think (Donnelly, 2013).
- Engage in music, dance, and theatre
Just like it is with neurotypical children, children with ASD have strengths and interests in a wide variety of areas. For example, music has the potential to play just as an important role in their lives as it does for the lives of their neurotypical peers (Donnelly, 2013). A child may really enjoy playing an instrument, or might love to sing. They might have an interest in dancing, in performing on a stage, or even just watching performances (Donnelly, 2013). The important thing is to make these activities available to your child, so that you can help increase their chances at finding their strengths and interests.
- Discuss their diagnosis
When children with ASD can understand that they are different than their peers, their anxiety levels can rise as a result. If they can be given age appropriate information explaining the differences, they can understand that there’s nothing “wrong” with them, and some of that anxiety can be decreased (Donnelly, 2013).
- Healthy eating, proper sleep, and exercise
The mental and physical health of everyone benefits with increases in these areas, children included (Donnelly, 2013). You can encourage your child to eat healthier, sleep for the hours a child their age needs, and to do physical activity that is appropriate for their ability range.
Children with ASD may have a higher chance of being bullied than their neurotypical peers do, but if they are bullied, there are ways they can be helped through it and be better informed about who they are as a result. There are many possible signs that you can watch for in order to spot bullying, and there are many strategies available that can help your child build their inner strength, express themselves, and better connect with the world around them.
Donnelly, J. A. (2013). Healing from bullying for the individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism Advocate, 26-29. https://www.autism-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Healing-from-Bullying-for-the-individual-with-Autism-Spectrum-Disorder.pdf
Network of Autism Training and Technical Assistance Programs (NATTAP). (n.d.). Bullying and students on the Autism Spectrum. Retrieved from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/bullying-and-students-on-the-autism spectrum