What do you know about the bullying of Aspergers (high functioning autistic) children in schools? Here are the facts:
1. Although there is no consistent evidence that bullying overall is increasing, one area of growing concern is cyber-bullying, especially among older children.
2. Being bullied at school typically has negative effects on the physical and psychological well-being of those kids who are frequently and severely targeted.
3. Bullying can be categorized as physical, verbal and gestural.
4. Bullying has been reported as occurring in every school and kindergarten or day-care environment in which it has been investigated.
5. Aspergers kids typically report being bullied less often as they get older, although being victimized tends to increase when they enter secondary school.
6. Gender differences have been found indicating that Aspergers boys are bullied physically more often than Aspergers girls. Female bullies are generally more often involved in indirect forms of aggression (e.g., excluding others, rumor spreading, manipulating of situations to hurt those they do not like).
7. There are differences in the nature and frequency of victimization reported by Aspergers kids according to age. Generally, bullying among younger kids is proportionately more physical; with older kids, indirect and more subtle forms of bullying tend to occur more often.
Bullying usually has three common features:
- it is a deliberate, hurtful behavior
- it is difficult for those being bullied to defend themselves
- it is repeated
There are three main types of bullying:
- indirect / emotional; spreading nasty stories, excluding from groups
- physical; hitting, kicking, taking belongings
- verbal; name-calling, insulting, racist remarks
- Are often attention seekers.
- Bully because they believe they are popular and have the support of the others.
- Find out how the teacher reacts to minor transgressions of the rules and wait to see if the ‘victim’ will complain.
- If there are no consequences to the bad behavior, if the victim does not complain, and if the peer group silently or even actively colludes, the bully will continue with the behavior.
- Keep bullying because they incorrectly think the behavior is exciting and makes them popular.
- Will establish their power base by testing the response of the less powerful members of the group, watching how they react when small things happen.
- Are desperate to ‘fit in’.
- Blame themselves and believe it is their own fault.
- Don’t have the support of the teacher or classmates who find them unappealing.
- Rarely seek help.
- Lack the confidence to seek help.
- Often have poor social skills.
Bullying commonly begins when an Aspergers youngster is (a) ‘picked on’ by another youngster or by a group of kids, (b) is unable to resist, and (c) lacks the support of others. It will continue if the kids doing the bullying have little or no sympathy for the peer they are hurting, and especially if they are getting some pleasure out of what they are doing – and if nobody stops them.
Bullying takes place mostly outside the school building at free play, recess or lunchtime. It may also happen on the way to or from the school, and especially on the school bus if there is not adequate supervision.
Bullying may sometimes occur in the classroom. Here it is usually of a more subtle, non-physical kind (e.g., cruel teasing, making faces at someone, repeatedly making unkind and sarcastic comments).
If the bullying is severe and prolonged, and the targeted youngster is unable to overcome the problem or get help, the following can happen:
- For years to come, the youngster may distrust others and find it impossible to make friends.
- He or she may lose friends and become isolated.
- School work may suffer.
- The youngster may become seriously depressed, disturbed or ill.
- The youngster may lose confidence and self-esteem.
- The youngster may refuse to go to preschool or school.
- The youngster may seek revenge, and in extreme cases, may use a weapon to get even.
How Parents Can Help—
1. Don't talk to the parents of the bullies. Parents become defensive when their youngster is accused of bullying, and the conversation will generally not be a productive one. Let the school administrators manage the communication with the parents.
2. Explore with the Aspergers youngster what leads up to the bullying. Very occasionally a youngster may be provoking others by annoying or irritating them, and can learn not to do so.
3. Find out what has been happening and how the youngster has been reacting and feeling.
4. Children are almost always reluctant to have a parent intervene, because they fear the social stigma of having their mothers/fathers fight their battles. However, it is up to you to intervene on your youngster's behalf with school administrators to ensure your youngster's physical and emotional well-being.
5. It never helps to say it’s the youngster’s problem and that he or she must simply stand up to the bullies, whatever the situation. Sometimes this course of action is impractical, especially if a group is involved. Nor does it help the youngster to be over-protective, for example, by saying: ‘Never mind. I will look after you. You don’t have to go to school’.
6. Maintain open communication with your kids. Talk to them every day about details small and large. How did their classes go? What do they have for homework that night? Who'd they sit with at lunch? Who'd they play with at recess? Listen carefully and be responsive to show interest. Your children will know if you're distracted or just going through the motions, so pay attention.
7. Make a realistic assessment of the seriousness of the bullying and plan accordingly.
8. Be observant and notice changes in mood and behavior. For instance, an Aspergers youngster may cry more easily, become irritable or experience difficulty sleeping. Younger kids may find it difficult to explain what is wrong. Talking it over with a youngster’s teacher may lead to a better understanding of what is happening. Simply listening sympathetically helps. Such support can reduce the pain and misery.
9. Some children in middle school or junior high would actually rather endure the bullying than have a parent intervene on their behalf just to avoid the social stigma of having mom or dad fight their battles. Leaving your youngster on his own to deal with bullying could result in a decline in academic performance, depression and, in extreme cases, suicide. You are the parent. Support your youngster lovingly, but do take the bully by the horns.
10. Sometimes it is wise to discuss with the youngster what places it might be best to avoid, and, on occasions, whom to stay close to in threatening situations.
11. Suggest to the youngster things to do when he or she is picked on. Sometimes by acting assertively or not over-reacting, the bullying can be stopped. It is always much better if kids, with a bit of good advice, can do something to help themselves.
12. Take complaints seriously, whether they be stories of physical bullying or verbal or psychological bullying. If your youngster is telling you about problems she has at school, you can bet that there is plenty that she hasn't told you about. By the time a youngster reveals her pain to you, the bullying has almost always been going on for a prolonged period.
How the School Can Help—
Early intervention and effective discipline and boundaries truly are the best way to stop bullying, but mothers/fathers of the victims cannot change the bully’s home environment. Some things can be done at the school level, however. Here are some tips for teachers:
1. Get the kid’s parents involved in a bullying program. If parents of the bullies and the victims are not aware of what is going on at school, then the whole bullying program will not be effective. Stopping bullying in school takes teamwork and concentrated effort on everyone’s part. Bullying also should be discussed during parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings. Parental awareness is key.
2. Hand out questionnaires to all children and educators and discuss if bullying is occurring. Define exactly what constitutes bullying at school. The questionnaire is a wonderful tool that allows the school to see how widespread bullying is and what forms it is taking. It is a good way to start to address the problem.
3. In the classroom setting, all educators should work with the children on bullying. Oftentimes even the teacher is being bullied in the classroom and a program should be set up that implements teaching about bullying. Kids understand modeling behaviors and role-play and acting out bullying situations is a very effective tool. Have children role-play a bullying situation. Rules that involve bullying behaviors should be clearly posted. Schools also could ask local mental health professionals to speak to children about bullying behaviors and how it directly affects the victims.
4. Most school programs that address bullying use a multi-faceted approach to the problem. This usually involves counseling of some sort, either by peers, a school counselor, educators, or the principal.
5. Schools need to make sure there is enough adult supervision at school to lessen and prevent bullying.
Aspergers students who have to endure bullying usually suffer from low self-esteem, and their ability to learn and be successful at school is dramatically lessened. Schools and parents must educate kids about bullying behaviors. It will help all kids feel safe and secure at school. Kids who bully need to be taught empathy for others’ feelings in order to change their behaviors – and the school must adopt a zero-tolerance policy regarding bullying of all children, with or without Aspergers.
Question: Hi. I go to the 8th grade. I have Aspergers and get picked on a lot. I have been bullied since kindergarten. How can I get the other kids to leave me alone?
Answer: Here’s what you do if someone is picking on you:
1. As much as you can, avoid the bullies. You can't go into hiding or skip class, of course. But if you can take a different route and avoid him, do it.
2. Don't hit, kick, or push back to deal with the bullies. Fighting back just satisfies them – and it's dangerous too. Someone could get hurt. You're also likely to get in trouble. It's best to stay with safe people and get help from an adult.
3. It’s very important to tell an adult. Find someone you trust and go and tell them what is happening to you. Teachers at school can all help to stop the bully. Sometimes bullies stop as soon as a teacher finds out because they're afraid that they will be punished. Bullying is wrong and it helps if everyone who gets bullied or sees someone being bullied speaks up.
4. Try your best to ignore the bullies. Pretend you don't hear them and walk away quickly to a safe place. Bullies want a big reaction to their teasing and meanness. Acting as if you don't notice and don't care is like giving no reaction at all, and this just might stop a bully's behavior.
5. Try distracting yourself (counting backwards from 100, spelling the word 'turtle' backwards, etc.) to keep your mind occupied until you are out of the situation and somewhere safe where you can show your feelings.
6. Pretend to feel really brave and confident. Tell the bully "No! Stop it!" in a loud voice. Then walk away, or run if you have to.
7. Two is better than one if you're trying to avoid being bullied. Make a plan to walk with a friend or two on the way to school or recess or lunch or wherever you think you might meet the bully.
8. When you're scared of another person, you're probably not feeling very brave. But sometimes just acting brave is enough to stop a bully. How does a brave person look and act? Stand tall and you'll send the message: "Don't mess with me."
9. Kids also can stand up for each other by telling a bully to stop teasing or scaring someone else, and then walk away together. If a bully wants you to do something that you don't want to do — say "no!" and walk away. If you do what a bully says to do, they will likely keep bullying you. Bullies tend to bully kids who don't stick up for themselves.
10. Feel good about yourself. A lot of kids get bullied. It doesn’t just happen to you.
My son Jonathan is 11 years old and in the sixth grade. He was diagnosised with Asperger's last year. But, school has been a traumatic, difficult, terrible journey since kindergarten. Until last year we thought Jonathan was just Jonathan, and was surprised there was a diagnosis for his "personality". He has been bullied severely in the school system. At first, we thought it was kids being kids in kindergarten. But, by third grade we knew there was something that made bullies come running to pick on him. The counselor said, if he would just be like the other kids this wouldn't happen. The principal and teachers denied seeing any bullying happening to Jonathan and took the attitude that if they didn't see it, it didn't happen. Jonathan would come home with bruises on him sometimes, but the principal and teachers would say that the fighting was caused by both Jonathan and what ever bully it was that day. The thing is my son has the most forgiving heart I have ever seen, and would stick out his hand to the bully to shake hands and forgive him before they left the principals office. He cannot bear the thought of anyone being upset with him. He always blames himself for the bullying, saying if I had done such and such or would be such and such, the bullies wouldn't say or do mean things. He, also, has a way of plastering on a smile when he is stressed or upset. He is almost expressionless with a smile on his face if that makes sense. We let the school "experts" talk us into thinking it wasn't so bad, kids will be kids, and that Jonathan is making a molehill out of a mountain. Jonathan was always punished alongside the bully. This was almost more painful to him than the "bullying incident". It really bothered his sense of justice, and he would obsess over it for days, until the next bullying episode would happen. We had endless meetings and it wasn't until I caught my son undressing in the third grade and saw that he had layers and layers of socks on and numerous pairs of underwear on, that it home how serious the situation was. I said "Jonathan why on earth are you dressed that way?" My heart just broke when he said "It doesn't hurt as bad when they hit and kick me." We moved him to a different school that very day!
At the new school, the bullying continued with a whole new group of kids. But, the principal did something different. She would listen to Jonathan's side, the bully's side AND she would bring in witnesses. The witnesses without fail would confirm Jonathan's take on the incident, time after time. Jonathan became know for his honesty. The principal said that Jonathan's explanations were huge and filled with long winded speeches on how he was right and how the bully was wrong and he would get off topic on moral issues or health issues, but if you listened long enough, you got the story. She also said that Jonathan (even though she could not explain why) attracted every bully in the school. This principal always took strong action against the bully. We thought that it wasn't a perfect situation because bullies were still picking on him, but we thought it was better that at least the bullies had swift punishment and Jonathan wasn't being punished for being bullied.
Then, last year, Jonathan had what the psychiatrist said was a mental breakdown. He became suicidal and actually tried to suffocate himself with a pillow. He developed bipolar symptoms. My child was unrecognizable as my child. It was the most painful, horrible, terrible thing for him to go through. It was so scary for me and my husband, and very hard and confusing for our other kids. Three doctors wanted to hospitalize him in a mental hospital. We refused because we would not be allowed to stay with him at a facility, and he was absolutely terrified of this idea (plus I could not bear to leave him with total strangers). We dedicated ourselves to a 24/7 suicidal watch for months and still to this day I feel that I am on this watch, even though he isn't suicidal. Jonathan has besides his pediatrician, a psychiatrist, a psychologist who specializes in Asperger's, three therapists that do pragmatic speech and occupational therapy, and a tutor for school. He was taken out of school (5th grade) from October last year to last of April. He returned to school, and to our surprise and everlasting gratefulness, a handful of classmates that embraced him and have become protective of Jonathan. He takes daily medication and is in a lot of therapy. He stills struggles with depression.
We were excited about the sixth grade for Jonathan. Finally, he had friends! Protective ones at that, who stopped others from bullying him. He had friends! I still love saying that. Finally, he was going to have a good year in elementary school, after 6 years of suffering (K-5).
But, no this is not happening!! Why? He does get picked on by kids, but his friends step in and stop it so Jonathan has been able to handle it. He is being bullied by a teacher and this he cannot handle. I am still shocked a teacher would do this!!!! He is afraid of this teacher. My son is not afraid of anyone. He loves all people! Even people who he should not love, like the bullies. He is very affectionate if he is the one initiating the affection. He is always hugging everyone in these long bear hugs, even total strangers he just met. He has no fear of strangers, of anyone. For him to say he is afraid of a teacher, clangs the alarm bells in my head! I have documented incidents. The thing about it is, most of it is he said, she said and is verbal and is intimidation. We went to the teacher about it. Then, the principal about it. Nothing is being done. Jonathan sees his Asperger psychologist every other week for therapy, and now she says ties must be cut with this teacher because of the severe mental anguish being caused.
The principal says Jonathan can either change schools or he can go back into homebound schooling. The doctors say Jonathan needs to be around his peers for the socialization and needs to be in school (i would homeschool in a minute if I thought this was in his best interests). I refuse to change his schools when he finally has protective friends. I will not put him through the bullying he endured all over again at a new school. The principal said he is no longer welcome at the school until this is resolved. Now bear in mind, Jonathan is an honor roll student and not a discipline problem (per letter written by his homeroom teacher to one of Jonathan's doctors). The matter is not settled. My son is out of school as of the moment. We are going over the principal's head. If that doesn't work, Jonathan's amazing doctor is going to bring in an advocate to help us and start some legal proceedings.
What do you think about all of this? Do you have any advice? My biggest regret is that we did not know enough at the beginning and we did not change Jonathan's first school immediately!
Jonathan's diagnosises are: Asperger's, Bipolar, OCD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to the severe bullying he has already endured in the schools, and ADHD.
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