HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Being the Target of Teasing, Bullying and Peer-Rejection: Preparing Your Child for the Inevitable

A new school year is underway, and unfortunately some parents will soon learn that their child with High-Functioning Autism – or Asperger’s – is being teased and/or bullied by one of the other students. In some cases, school officials don’t seem to address the problem adequately, thus the “special needs” child is left to fend for himself/herself. Here’s a recent email from a very concerned mother on the matter:

 “My 12-year-old son has been a target of bullying since the 4th grade. He is fully mainstreamed because he is academically "high functioning". I send him to school for the socialization. However, I am questioning that, because he is only learning that his peers are "not o.k.". He hates school, and is being treated for anxiety and depression. Bullying is constant and "below the radar", being mostly relational. I feel that I send him into a war zone each day. School officials try to address targeted incidents, but are mostly ineffective. Any suggestions on how I can help my son?”

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s to be the target of teasing, bullying, and peer-rejection in the school environment. This happens for several reasons, for example:
  • Low-frustration tolerance can lead to meltdowns for the HFA or Asperger’s student, and children who “meltdown” in school may be viewed as “odd” by the other classmates
  • The HFA child’s interests may be boring to his peers, so it’s hard for him to find other kids with similar interests
  • Due to having a low social IQ, the child may let things build up …then retaliate without an awareness of what the consequences will be
  • The child processes information at a different pace than expected, therefore, he may appear “space-out” or “disconnected” – then when he does respond, it is too late 
  • He appears different than his “typical” peers
  • The child may have motor difficulties, so participating in athletics is difficult – even games at recess may be a challenge
  • The child can’t tell the difference between good-natured teasing versus someone being mean, or he is oblivious to an act of bullying
  • He may not even be aware that he is being teased (i.e., he may assume that this is how he is supposed to be treated)
  • Because of built-up frustration, the child may over-react to most provocations, thus the bully knows he can always push the “special needs” student’s buttons at will
  • The child may have difficulty with multi-tasking and interpreting other’s intentions

In selecting the appropriate strategies to deal with the offender(s), you will need to determine the specific strengths and weaknesses your HFA son has socially. The best strategies will fit your son’s situation, age, skills, temperament, and the seriousness of the bullying incidents.

Teaching your son the skills described below takes time and effort. The behaviors must be modeled and practiced if he is going to be successful. The payoffs are significant though. Payoffs include safety, self-confidence, resiliency, ability to handle difficult or frightening situations, and the ability to master and to change challenging situations.

Always teach more than one strategy to combat teasing and bullying so that your son always has a second one to try if the first doesn’t work out (3 to 5 well-mastered strategies from the list below works best).

How to help kids with HFA and Asperger’s handle teasing, bullying, and peer-rejection:

1. Teach your son how to report bullying. Bullies can’t bully for long if they are getting caught. The beginning of getting a bully to stop has to start with an authority figure. So, each time someone bullies your son, he should tell a grown-up.

2. Ask your son to picture himself as a ball, and the words that the bully is saying are bouncing off -- or he can pretend that there is a shield or bubble around him so that the words can’t get through. Teach your son that he can refuse to listen to the insults, protecting himself with an imaginary bubble or an invisible protective shield. Some children can imagine themselves as a super-power figure that is safe from insults and mockery.

3. Teach your son by modeling “talking to yourself.” This is a silent “pep-talk” strategy. Help your son practice self-talk such as, “I don’t like this, but I can handle it” … “I don’t believe what this kid is saying about me” … “I have a lot of talents” …and so on. This strategy requires an ability to concentrate when under a lot of stress.

4. Have your son “buddy-up” for safety. Two or more friends standing at their lockers are less likely to be picked on than a child who is all alone. Remind your son to use the buddy system when on the school bus, in the bathroom, or wherever bullies may lurk.

5. “Reframing” is a technique that changes your son’s perception about the negative statement. He can turn the insult into a comment. For example, if your son is being teased about wearing glasses, he could say something like, “Thanks for noticing my glasses” … “That’s cool that you noticed me” …and so on.

6. “Positive thinking” is a technique for the youngster who is less reactive and feels okay about himself. Explain to your son that he has the power to choose how to act when someone is teasing or bullying. He can decide that it isn’t worth the trouble to get upset, or he can decide that there is no way that the bully is going to win by seeing him upset. Help your son see that he doesn’t have to let the other person have power. The person who has the power is the one who stays in control.

7. Teach your son to talk about something else to distract or divert the focus of the peer’s negative comments. Your son can make a short comment about a nearby game or activity, a class, or what is going to be served for lunch.

8. See if your son can make friends with one of the bigger guys in the school (some 8th graders, for example, may stand nearly 6 foot tall). Bullies are reluctant to go after someone who has backup. Bullies usually pick out the weakest student they can find, and there is strength in numbers. So, your son may be able to stop a bully by having a tall friend on hand most of the time.

9. Show your son how to use humor, laugh about the teasing, and make it playful. A witty one-liner can be enough to make the teaser stop. Laughing can turn a hurtful situation into a funny one. For example, your son could use clever comebacks like, “Thanks, I love compliments”… “Hard to believe, isn’t it?”… “Old clothes are in, didn’t you know?”… “You made my day” … “Tell me something I don’t already know” …and so on.

10. Teach your son to compliment the bully by saying something like, “Wow, you’re better than me, I’m still learning” … “You’re good at this, how about helping me?”…and so on.

11. Teach your son to agree with everything that the bully is saying. Say something like, “Yes that’s true”… “I see what you mean” … “Makes sense to me.”

12. “I feel” statements work best when the HFA or Asperger’s child uses it within earshot of a grown-up. If it is used when there is no help around, it can invite more teasing. Your son should practice checking to see that an adult is within earshot, making eye contact, speaking clearly, using a polite tone of voice, and saying, “When you ___ I feel ___ because ___ so please stop” (e.g., “When you keep calling me stupid, I feel sad, because I thought you were my friend …so please stop”).

13. Teach your son a script to say over and over until the teasing stops (because it’s no longer fun for the teaser). For example, “This is getting very boring” … “Stop it” … “Don’t you have anything else to do.” The script needs to be assertive.

14. Teach several relaxation techniques (e.g., deep breathing, counting backwards, thinking of a pleasant scene, etc.). Relaxation methods do not work in stressful situations unless they are practiced in situations that are not stressful. Practice with your son several times a day, making a game of the methods, or calling them “daily exercises.”

15. Help your HFA child to improve his self-esteem. Bullies usually pick on kids who have low self-esteem. They look for those who are weak, isolated, that feel alone, and have few friends. There is less chance of them being caught that way. If your son works on his self-esteem, he will be less of a target.

16. Teach your son to comment on what the teaser is doing (e.g., "You’re kicking my chair" … "You’re standing on my foot"). This requires an accompanying nonverbal gesture (e.g., raised eyebrows).

17. Teach your son the importance of showing no emotion during the incident. Anger and tears usually make teasing and bullying worse. Staying in control is very difficult for many children on the autism spectrum. It requires active and intense effort. Your son must have adequate emotional control to pull this off. For this technique to work, he needs to be careful not to look at -- or respond to -- the bully. It is important that the bully does not see that your son is upset or afraid. Control of emotions needs to be taught first. This takes lots of practice, especially for children who are emotionally reactive, timid or impulsive.

18. Teach your HFA son to ask questions, which are designed to neutralize what is being said by the bully. For example, “Why are you so interesting in my glasses?” … “Why would you care that I didn’t comb my hair today?” … “Are you always a joker, or are you just making a special effort with me?” …and so on. An innocent expression works well with this strategy.

19. Practice assertive body language with your son. Find pictures in magazines in which the person looks powerless, and ones in which the models appear assertive. Point out body posture and facial expressions. Act-out assertive postures (e.g., standing tall, looking directly at the other person, tightening the jaw and arms, relaxing the rest of the body, etc.).

20. DO NOT confront the student who is doing the bullying. Why? Because: (a) your son may become friends with the bully next week (you know how children are – mortal enemies one minute, inseparable buddies the next), (b) the bully’s parents may view the situation much differently than you do, (c) it makes your son even more powerless (e.g., the teaser may say something like, “Your ‘mommy’ is trying to save you”), and (d) it makes it difficult for the kids to “make up.”

21. Make sure that your son understands that reporting something that is cruel or hurtful is not “tattling,” rather it’s “standing up for your rights.” If your son has issues around tattling, and the situation is not immediately dangerous, suggest that he warn the bully that he will tell if the bullying doesn’t stop. Once warned, it is more acceptable to tell.

22. Teach your son to leave assertively. This technique is for situations when the bully is in your son’s face. Teach your son to say things like, “I’m leaving” … “I have more important things to do” … “Go bother someone else” … “I’m out of here” … “See you later!” … “Leave me alone” … “I don’t have to listen to this” … “Quit bugging me” …and so on. Teach your son to use one of these statements, and then to walk away quickly. Be sure that your son understands that this technique may not work all the time. If it doesn’t work, a different technique needs to be used immediately. Thus, when practicing, teach several techniques at the same time.

23. Show your son how to confront the bully. “Confrontational” statements are designed to stop bullies in their tracks. For examples, “I didn’t do anything to you, why are you bugging me?” … “That’s not funny at all” … “I don’t like this” … “Could you please stop?” … “Cool it.” The nonverbal behavior used with this strategy is important. Practice standing tall, using direct eye-contact and setting a firm expression.

24. Help your son learn how to deal with whispers. Teach your son to ask, “Do you have something to say about me?” when peers are whispering and laughing. Assertive body language and an exaggerated facial expression works well here.

25. Just shrug. A quick technique is to shrug your shoulders and walk away.

26. If your child admits to being bullied, take action. Tell him that you'll do everything in your power to help, for example: (a) find out how bullying is addressed in the school's curriculum, as well as how staff members are obligated to respond to known or suspected bullying; (b) instead of finding blame, ask for help to solve the bullying problem, keep notes on these meetings, and remember that it can take time for educators and administrators to investigate bullying in a fair and factual way; (c) start with the teacher who knows your child well, ask whether your child’s classroom behavior has changed or if there are any other warning signs, and consult a school dean, counselor or other school contact; and (d) write down the details (e.g., the date, who was involved, what specifically happened, etc.) and record the facts as objectively as possible.

27. Teach your child to “put on a brave face.” If your son lets the bullies know that he is afraid of them, it is like giving them power. If he gives them a little power, he will find that the bullying gets worse. So, he can put on a brave face, and never show his fear.

28. Help your son understand when it is dangerous to try to manage the bully (e.g., when the bully is older or much stronger, or when the bullying takes place in isolated areas with no one around).

29. You should not assume that your son’s teachers don't want to get the bullying problems in the school resolved. Most do! However, a wide range of need combined with limited resources often create the potential for conflict between what reasonably can be provided versus the parent wanting what she believes is "best" for her child. Do everything possible to establish a positive, partnership-based approach and team together with staff. Also, understand that the school’s Principal is a key player. You must have the loyalty, support, faith, and cooperation of the Principal in order to advocate effectively.

30. Help your child understand the difference between teasing, harassment and bullying. When teasing is excessive – it’s harassment. When harassment continues over time – it’s bullying.

31. You may have to simply remove the bait. If it's lunch money or gadgets that the school bully is after, you can help neutralize the situation by encouraging your son to pack a lunch or go to school gadget-free.

32. Another good strategy is to simply say, “So?!” …in response to teasing. This technique must be executed with appropriate nonverbal communication. Thus, it needs practice. The nonverbal gestures could include a quick smile, a slight tip of the head, or a slight shrug of the shoulder before walking away.

33. Simply avoiding the bully is an important strategy for some situations. Remind your son to go a different way, and to stay near other children or grown-ups. This is a safety strategy for teasing verging on bullying, and for the child who does not yet have the skills or confidence to use the strategies that he is learning.

The mental torment that HFA and Asperger’s victims feel is genuine. But possibly because a lot of us have experienced some kind of schoolyard cruelty and lived to tell the tale, peer-harassment is still generally written off as a “soft” type of abuse - one that leaves no apparent injuries and that most victims simply overcome.

Dealing with teasing and bullying erodes a youngster's confidence. To help restore it, encourage your child to spend time with friends who have a positive influence. Provide a listening ear about problematic situations, but encourage your child to tell you about the good parts of his day as well. Make sure your child knows you believe in him and that you'll do what you can to address any bullying that occurs.

More resources for parents of children and teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism:

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism



COMMENTS:

Anonymous said... My 12 year old son goes to mainstream secondary school but it has an Autism unit attached to it where depending on ability, kids are either educated there full time or just access it at breaktimes and lunchtime to use the quiet areas or games consoles. He is high functioning so in mainstream for all his lessons and there were a few issues when he started, mainly with his sensory problems with noise and crowds. He now has passes to leave lessons a few minutes early to avoid the crowds and has his dinner early with other kids from the unit. It's not perfect but seems to working ok and he's made a few friends and doing very well academically. It would be great if there was some provision for kids with Aspergers to be taught together the same way other kids with special needs are as I'm sure they would do much better without all the noise and distractions.

Anonymous said... My daughter did too, but the things she used would get my son expelled (beating one kid bloody) and she is not oriented socially at all and could care less if kids liked her, so she basically told them to F off or laughed at their idiocy, but my son does care about what kids think and I have wondered how it looks for a social kid to deal with this.
Anonymous said... Some teachers schools need to be more aware of this us as parents of these children stand up for our kids as we are the only ones they trust ..everyone needs someone ...even if they take their frustration out on us ...just not fair x
Anonymous said... Sounds exactly like what goes on with my daughter. She is 15 now and was mainstreamed until this last school year, which was her 9th grade yr. That school yr. attended a private school and was considered to academically on point and beyond. She is also high functioning, but still has trouble socially and emotionally, due to the fact of all the teasing and bullying that went on in previous yrs. That being said...we are back to square one and headed to back to her public school with extra support from an outside agency. She is not thrilled with this idea, simply because she is worried about the other kids and experiencing the same problems. We have an advocate representing her. We as parents are praying for other children to be a little more mature by high school, but we all know that won't be the case for all students, or are we sending her into a war zone as well. Teachers, and school officials all need a better handle on how things go for HFA children who are in need of extra support to stay mainstreamed. Well, here we go 10th grade. Hoping and praying for a descent yr. for my daughter.
Anonymous said... We just pulled our son out and he will now go to a much smaller charter school.
Anonymous said... I also have been bullied like this as an adult in a professional environment. I had to go through multiple investigations when I first started my job. Then all went away, but I did have a mini breakdown and still hardly trust anyone because of it. I wish we could say to our kids "it gets better" but it doesn't always get better. My daughter has gotten better, but she is in a flexible job, so if she doesn't like the people she changes work. But I am not and so I have to endure this person (going on 20 years) and they never get in trouble for the lies they spread. NEVER. If I had money, I'd sue them for defamation.
Anonymous said... i feel the same, but I'm getting triggered all over the place because you can't really protect your kid. Trying to figure out the line of when to pull because I would absolutely pull if needed, but where is that line? I was also bullied by teachers and if that happened, I'd be pulling him right away, but it is harder to know when with kids.
Anonymous said... I was bullied mercilessly at school and even now, over 20 years since I graduated high school there are ramifications. Pull your child out. Enrol them elsewhere, get them into counselling where the counsellor understands that there is HFA at play here and work like hell on their self esteem. If another school is not an option, look for online schools or homeschooling. As for socialising, if you think about it, school socialisation is about teaching 10 and 11 year olds to socialise with 10-11 year olds, and 5yos with 5yos. In homeschooling where socialisation is often criticised, kids are taught to be social with all ages. They learn to speak with younger and older children, their peers in either learning or age and also the adults with whom they interact. Food for thought.
Anonymous said... I was bullied severely as a child. I've also been through other traumas. But the bullying had the most effect on my life. I'm almost 40 and it still affects me. Do whatever you have to do to protect your children. Sure wish someone had protected me.
Anonymous said... I'm lucky mine can stick up for himself. He also sticks up for his older NT brother  ;)
Anonymous said... My daughter experiences this everyday. We've taught her lots of strategies but she is very smart and gets incredibly frustrated that she's the one that always had to think about and change her behaviour and the ones in the wrong don't. There needs to be a greater focus on accountability on those in the wrong. They are the ones who need to change.
Anonymous said... my daughter was bullied in school and in college and now out of college the new trick is to contact the police and accuse her of plotting to attack people it always happens near christmas to spoil our holidays she is so anxious now she is under a psycologist
Anonymous said... My son was bullied verbally, isolated from peers, and ignored by teachers. He was constantly on the defensive and reached a breaking point. It was a horrible experience and as a parent one of my biggest regrets. Don't make him go and find an alternative.
Anonymous said... My son's school was awful, he was in kindergarden and got punched in the face on more than one occasion. I informed the school to watch him at break times and even gave them the names of the kids that were bullying him. The very day I warned them he got punched in the face again, he is homeschooled now.
Anonymous said... online school - all the academics none of the bullying - find other social outlets with like minded kids
Anonymous said... our sons school is so ignorant there still putting he lacks concentration, he is better in some lessons not in others and the classic my son needs to listen more and join in with making friends hes leaving soon I feel for others going to my sons school no hope
Anonymous said... Private schools don't know how to deal with this either, unfortunately. It infuriates me!
Anonymous said... Pvt and public need more education on children with Aspie.
Anonymous said... School will be starting soon. Oh the horror!
* Anonymous said... Public schools don't know how to deal with our children that are aspie's. He is going into 5th grade and last yr in elementary, last yr in public school also. Him and his twin will be homeschooled or pvt school. I won't tolerate any bullying at all. He eas bullied the beginning if 4th grade by a 120lb kid and he is 56lbs. Ummm ni thats wint happen again. The principal heard from us about that issue. If he is bullied and explodes cause he is tired of it, he won't get in trouble by me.

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