If your autistic child says to you that they are experiencing bullying or harassment at school, it is important that you take what they are saying seriously.
Autistic people are more vulnerable to experiencing instances of bullying or harassment than many other social groups, regardless of their age or gender. This is for various reasons, including:
- communication difficulties
- individual mannerisms that some may believe to be “odd” or “eccentric”
- challenges in making and holding down friendships, leaving them more isolated, and
- limited social reading skills, making it difficult to spot signs of bullying or exploitation in the first place.
Listen to your autistic child calmly and patiently if they say to you they are being bullied. Make a note of everything they tell you, including names and the kinds of behaviour they have been a target of. Reassure them that it is not their fault and that they have not brought it on themselves. You may feel emotional during this but remember your child will be feeling vulnerable and may mistake signs of upset as being directed toward them. If this happens, emphasize that you are not upset or angry with them, but at the situation.
Once you have done so, contact your child’s teacher and/or principal as soon as you can. When you have done so, remain calm whilst explaining the situation from your child’s perspective. Again, you may be feeling emotional during this time, but remember, this is not an argument. It is a discussion intended to secure your child’s best interests. Make sure that you also listen to the teacher’s and/or principal’s perspective. They may have seen more of what is going between your child and their bully at school and may have more information about what’s happening.
The National Autistic Society in the UK have produced a comprehensive guide for parents on bullying, which helps you deal with situations where a child is being bullied or vice versa. This guide can be found here:
For more information on how bullying can occur in an Irish context, check our interview with Neil Kenny