How to Deal with the Bullying of Your Child on the Autism Spectrum

"My son with high functioning autism just revealed to me that he has been bullied by one particular peer since the start of the school year. I guess he didn't mentioned it before because he didn't realize until recently that this other student was actually doing something 'wrong' and hurtful (go figure). What would be the best way to address this issue? I don't want him going through an entire school year under this kind of pressure!"

Children with ASD or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) often exhibit behaviors that are peculiar enough to hold the attention of kids who do not have the best interests of the "special needs" child in mind. Besides simple teasing, bullying of young people on the autism spectrum can happen in situations in which they have little ability to protect themselves.

Fortunately, if such bullying happens in school, it can be managed more easily (provided your son divulges that it is going on). Most schools are cracking down on bullying and are treating such behavior as assault and punishable by legal means. You have every right to speak with the principal, teacher or counselor in order to ask their help in controlling the bully. Some schools have behavioral support staff whose job is to get to the bottom of behavior issues and crack down on bullies.

In the meantime, teach your son to walk away from the bully, preferably before the bully gets started with another round of abuse. Help him learn to recognize those situations that may lead to bullying (e.g., after school, on the playground, during lunch, etc.), and teach him to be more vigilant and stay near adults in such circumstances.

Sometimes, just having another friend around may reduce the incidence of bullying. If your son has problems making friends on his own, facilitate friendships with mature, understanding kids who can both be a friend to your son and can help out if bullies try to tease or hurt him. Facilitating friendships may mean inviting a child over for a meal or for some games or television. It may mean taking the two of them to a movie or on a shopping trip.

Bullies are a fact of life for many (if not most) children with HFA. The more you can do as a parent to intervene with the help of other adults (and other students), and the more you can teach your son methods of self-preservation that don’t include fighting back, the better able he can be in dealing with this difficult situation.


•    Anonymous said... A lot of times the "bullies" are just regular kids that are reacting in the usual ways to the ASD reactions to being overstimulated & overcrowded. For example - Z tends to touch/bother the kid in front of her when in line, so the teacher always moves her to the front. The other kids think that's not fair, so at lunch and recess they make a point not to allow Z to play with them, and they say hurtful things to Z.  Z repeats over and over that she likes cats, and says peanut butter at the most random/inappropriate times. This makes other children uncomfortable around her. The class clown makes the other kids laugh by making snide comments about Z. Laughter helps make them feel more comfortable, even if it comes at the expense of the one they laugh at. In a wholly NT society, the group shunning of such behavior would make the child doing it stop and think about how doing things differently and being called "teacher's pet" is a bad way and they would most likely stop and conform to the norm. But for an ASD child this is extremely difficult to grasp, and not only that, it is completely wrong to expect an ASD child to "act normal". Teachers can try to combat this by educating the children about the child's condition, but it is hard for them to understand (and teachers themselves barely understand half the time) and it is tiring, takes up a ton of time, and they get extremely frustrated with Z because she is a distraction more often than not. It's not Z's fault she's a distraction, she is simply reacting to the pressure of being in a classroom with florescent lights, 20+ children all talking/moving at once, and the torture of having to sit still in one place for too long. The way the school handled our situation was to put her in a smaller class with other kids with behavioral issues, i.e., the Alternative School. The social stigma surrounding going to the Alternative School means that neighborhood kids who used to play with Z now will not, because their mommies and daddies say that only bad kids go to the Alternative School. So the shunning goes on and on and on. At least at the Alternative School, there are fewer kids in the classroom (7 children instead of 20+). She gets more one on one time with the teacher and has a chance to actually learn.
•    Anonymous said... Absolutely NOT too late. A lot of times Aspies dont realize it is bullying because they are so used to not fitting in..
•    Anonymous said... I fear this happens more than we know.
•    Anonymous said... It took two years before I realised how bad the bullying was at my daughter's first school. Not until she was suicidal at 9 years old. the school denied the problem, telling me she was making it up. So much bullying goes under a teacher's notice. I now home school, after three schools and a constant attack on her self-worth and the stress of coping with crowds and noise and lack of proper support. For the first time she is now making friends and keeping them, feeling safe around teens now she is not having to deal with them full time.
•    Anonymous said... It's never too late
•    Anonymous said... it's never too late to mention this to the teachers... and help the other child realize he is wrong with his behavior too!
•    Anonymous said... my daughter has had probelms at school with one girl who also has her own probelms as she is in care this girl is alot older and has so far laughed at my child who has aspergers , locked her in a room , pulled a chair from under her so she hurt herself , my child has always forgiven her as she wants to be friends and be part of the group , last week though this girl bent her hands back and really hurt her , she has been excluded now and as she leaves school this year , the school only allowing the girl in when her personal tutor in , and only half days, since she been gone my daughter has really been happy , and is fitting in with the other kids in her small inclusion group , and all her tics have gone as shes not got the anxiety from the last few months with this girl, i would confront the teacher and talk it though good luck x
•    Anonymous said... Never too late. My eldest has just been on a camp and my husband went as well and a few of girls from my son's class mentioned that there are a couple of kids giving my youngest a hard time. He has not told us nor has he reacted. Told his teacher when I took him to school Thursday as my son told me 1 child which was no surprise and by that afternoon it had been dealt with and his teacher is going to ask the girls who else is doing it so they can be dealt with. I am very lucky at the school we are at as there are a lot of kids, mainly girls who watch out and report bullying of my 2 boys when they see it, and school do something without having to catch the bullies in the act. Our last school we had issues for 2 years and always got the excuse we have to catch them at it, it was verbal so very hard to catch, we took our kids out of that school.
•    Anonymous said... That is very true! Or they get so used to being bullied that they assume everyone is doing it and they give up!
•    Anonymous said... This sounds so familiar and terrible. I don't understand how children can be so cruel, but mostly I don't understand how schools that say that understand and want to help don't really do anything proactive. And the understanding they give lasts for one incident only. My boy is in yr 8 and has been strangled, beaten up and held down by 3 boys, dragged along the ground. And so many other little tormenting things in he class room. He's been suspended 4 times since starting high school because there view is if my boy were able to take no for an answer and not try to interact with others they wouldn't resort to hurting him to get their point across. So in part they feel he's responsible for the kids hurting him so he gets suspended. Go figure!!!!

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