It was a Wednesday afternoon and John, a 14 year old with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), was coming in for his third counseling session. He had shared little during his last two sessions and mostly sat and stared around my office. John and I had been working on rapport and by his third session, he had begun to feel comfortable with me and started telling me about his troubles at school, which mainly dealt with other peers. He started slowly, but eventually disclosed to me the bullying he was experiencing at his school on a daily basis. John spoke about other teens calling him names (I will not list them here as they are highly offensive), being laughed at, made fun of, being hit, pushed, tripped, and having false stories made up about him.
John has never told anyone in authority at his school that he is being bullied and he has told his parents very little about his situation. John does not fully understand what is meant by bullying and why other students are treating him badly. He does know it creates a great deal of anxiety for him, he does know that he excludes himself to avoid being hurt, and he does know that school is a place he does not want to be anymore.
John’s story is similar to the stories of many children with an ASD. It is not uncommon for children with ASD’s to become victims of bullying. It is also not uncommon for children with ASD’s to not tell teachers, or even their parents about bullying they are experiencing. It is difficult for children to understand what is happening and how to handle it. Some children with ASD’s may even believe that they deserve to be treated badly while others may not even realize they are being bullied. Bullies are not discriminating, and children with an ASD are too often easy targets for a bully’s emotional abuse.
Most children with an ASD can learn effective ways to handle bullies. Aggressive social skills training focused on dealing with bullies is a great and effective approach. Further, every school has an anti-bullying policy and those policies should be followed. If your child is in school and being bullied, it is important to report the issue to the school. Many schools will follow school policy and actively pursue eliminating the bullying. It is also important that children learn how to report bullying and become comfortable with reporting. Therapists, parents, and school personnel should establish a simple protocol for children to report bullying behaviors and actively encourage children to report.
Children with ASD’s have enough to handle without being exposed to bullying behaviors. We must acknowledge and eliminate bullying; it cannot be ignored and invalidated as something that just happens. Never give up fighting for a child’s right to be in a bully free environment. The following resources are available to help children and parents deal with and eliminate bullying:
Missouri School Violence Hotline www.schoolviolencehotline.com.
ABC: Anti Bullying Coalition http://antibullyingcoalition.blogspot.com.
Stop Bullying www.stopbullying.gov
Stomp Out Bullying www.stompoutbullying.com
Stop Cyber Bullying www.stopcyberbullying.com
Dr. Robert Jason Grant is a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Board Certified Counselor, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor, and a Certified Autism Specialist. Dr. Grant is a member of the American Counseling Association, American Mental Health Counselors Association, Association for Play Therapy, and the Autism Society of America. Visit Dr. Grant’s websites www.robertjasongrant.com and www.autplaytherapy.com, connect with him via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn or email at DrGrant@robertjasongrant.com.