Autism And Bullying

This week has been Anti Bullying Week in schools here in the United Kingdom. I therefore figured it would be timely to write a blog about autism and bullying. I have touched on bullying in other blog posts but it is such a huge issue that I felt it also deserves a blog post of its own.

In the recent publication by the National Autistic Society “B is for bullied”, estimates are that over 40% of children on the autistic spectrum have been bullied at school. My guess is that that estimate accounts for pretty much every child on the spectrum who was educated in a mainstream environment but I can’t be sure. The report details ways in which children with autism are excluded and belittled and the dreadful effects this can have on them, including attempting and committing suicide. It makes tragic but honest reading. I cannot do hyperlinks on my IPad for some reason so, if you are interested in reading the publication, Google autism and bullying National Autistic Society and it is the first link on the search results page. Of course, those statistics are only for the UK-worldwide, thousands of autistic people are bullied daily and, sadly for many, it’s not just a childhood experience.

There are a few reasons why I believe people on the spectrum are more vulnerable to bullying. Firstly, a lot of people with autism struggle to regulate their emotions and their responses to other people and thus give huge reactions when being taunted which bullies love to see. This seems to be common in people on the spectrum and I still struggle with this as an adult. For children, it is much, much worse because most of them have not yet learned that the reaction is what bullies look for. Secondly, it goes without saying that social awkwardness and social anxiety is a huge facet of our makeup and bullies love to target people who are different . Many children with autism have very unique and niche interests which can provoke bullying from other children and, sadly, sometimes adults too. Some people with autism have motor stims such as hand flapping or rocking which other people often fail to understand and instead mock. Some people with autism can be unaware of when they have said something hurtful so will unintentionally offend a classmate or a work colleague and then have all of that person’s friends turn against them.

Those are some of the reasons why people with autism are more vulnerable to bullying but what we really need to do is create an environment where these children feel safe and happy. The National Autistic Society is introducing an Autism Awareness week where children in schools across the UK, both primary and secondary, will learn about what the condition means in a practical, day to day sense. This is a good start and I hope that those children who feel able to will be able to speak out about their own experiences living with autism. People need to know that autism is not scary-it’s simply a neurological variant. Although people come across people with autism and Aspergers in their everyday lives, true awareness is still too low in my opinion. Schools also need consistent anti bullying programmes. I have read so many stories from parents on Facebook groups about children with autism who are targeted for years and, when they finally snap and retaliate, they are the ones who get into trouble. Violence is never the answer but bullying needs to be stopped before it gets to the point where violence occurs. In the ideal world, there would be no bullying at all but, sadly, in this world, it does happen so we need to be proactive in dealing with it. Some people with autism feel that the bullying is all they deserve-they need to be taught that it’s wrong and that they are entitled to be happy. A lot of people with autism, no matter what age or ability they are, struggle to communicate verbally, particularly in times of stress, so they need to be encouraged to report bullying in a different format such as letter writing if they are able to do so.

Some people sadly believe that bullying is “character building” and that it teaches the victim strength and determination to succeed. This is not true. Bullying often causes a lifetime of low self esteem, low self respect and mental health problems. The statistics are everywhere you look nd I have met many people in autism groups online who are living proof of that. Then of course there are the tragic cases where the bullying damages someone to such an extent that they commit suicide. Kennedy LeRoy, Gareth Oates and Maxwell Webb are just three cases I took from a Google search. There are hundreds more cases that never reach the news. Of course people without autism get bullied too and I am not dismissing their experiences. All bullying is wrong. People, please educate your kids about difference. If people start accepting and embracing difference during childhood, hopefully as adults they won’t feel the need to belittle those with a different outlook on life.

 

 

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