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9 In 10 Kids With Autism Bullied At School

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Nine in 10 Massachusetts parents of kids with autism say their child has been a victim of bullying at school, a new survey finds. In over half of the cases, the bullying included being hit, kicked or chased.

The results come from an online survey conducted by Massachusetts Advocates for Children of nearly 400 parents of children with autism across the state. Findings indicate that 88 percent of children with autism have been bullied at school ranging from verbal abuse to physical contact.

Though widespread, parents indicated that schools were doing too little to address the bullying. Just one in five parents said they learned about the bullying their child experienced from the school. And, in two out of three cases, the bullying lasted for several months with most parents saying their child’s school didn’t do enough to respond.

“Children with autism spectrum disorder are especially vulnerable targets because of the nature of their disability,” says Julia Landau, senior autism center director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children. “Children on the spectrum are often viewed as atypical or different by their peers, and are generally unable to understand bullying incidents and protect themselves like other students due to the nature of ASD, which impacts communication, social and behavioral skills.”

A bill being considered in the Massachusetts legislature would address this problem by requiring individualized education plan (IEP) teams to address bullying faced by students with autism.

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Comments (9 Responses)

  1. twinkie1cat says:

    Any child who is the slightest bit different is likely to be bullied and those with autism are just standing there with a big sign that says “Bully Me” unless their disability is obvious and severe so that they become a “mascot”. (Gay kids often get by that way.) That is why a totally blind child is rarely bullied, but one who is just visually impaired is.

    Values must be taught from pre-k on that only behavior is unacceptable, not the person and that it is our duty to be our brother’s brother and not pick at someone for something they cannot change. The schools need to transform into places where individual differences are ok.

    At the same time, autistic students need to be told, “Yeah, you are not popular and probably will never be, but being popular is really not important.” They must be taught to excel at something so they will be admired, to develop whatever social skills they can and to just go on with life. They also need to learn to advocate for themselves in a non-obnoxious way and to develop empathy. Inclusion classes may not be the best place to learn these skills because they are things the typical child acquires naturally. A lengthy daily period of self contained class can ensure that, if capable, they keep up academically and is where they can work on practicing appropriate behavior. They should not be on display when learning them. You never want to put inappropriate behavior on display to regular education kids. Don’t highlight differences, but don’t hide them either. Just work with them and help the person be functional. It is all you can do.

    So there is a three pronged attack on bullying.

    1. Create a culture of acceptance
    2. Equip the disabled child to advocate for himself
    3. Help the disabled child develop skills that will help him function more appropriately.

  2. macdoodle says:

    This article is interesting and concerning, but leaves me with more questions than answers

    How many other kids get bullied ? Is it also 80%?
    Is it only kids in special ed programs?

    Is there a more appropriate problem to be addressed?

    THE PROBLEM seems TO BE BULLYING is way up,
    NOT one specific type of victim.

    IF KIDS with AUTISM are being bullied so are others, right?

    I wouldn’t imagine the child bullies know enough to zero in on ONE TYPE of disability or victim.

  3. Jfrostone says:

    9 In 10 Kids With Autism Bullied At School

    This article did not surprise me.

    But, as a parent of a child on the spectrum,and having experienced, through my child, the bullying going on in our schools; legislation to include remedies/action to bullying being included in IEP’s is only the beginning to getting bullying under control.

    I’m appaled to read twinkie1cat’s comment. He/she couldn’t be further off base.

    He/she writes: “At the same time, autistic students need to be told, “Yeah, you are not popular and probably will never be, but being popular is really not important.” They must be taught to excel at something so they will be admired, to develop whatever social skills they can and to just go on with life. They also need to learn to advocate for themselves in a non-obnoxious way and to develop empathy. Inclusion classes may not be the best place to learn these skills because they are things the typical child acquires naturally. A lengthy daily period of self contained class can ensure that, if capable, they keep up academically and is where they can work on practicing appropriate behavior. They should not be on display when learning them. You never want to put inappropriate behavior on display to regular education kids. Don’t highlight differences, but don’t hide them either. Just work with them and help the person be functional. It is all you can do.”

    This comment is frustrating…infuriating…and it is exactly why there are bullies that thrive in our school systems.

    Bullying is the result of children (and even adults) not having a compassionate and empathetic view of those they deem “different”. It isn’t about the differences the one being bullied has….

    The answer lies in how well we teach ALL children (and adults) to accept differences and to have compassion and true understanding. Separating any child with a disability from the general population “until they learn appropriate behavior” is not the answer. Disabilty education and awareness is vital and plays a huge role in combatting bullying. Additional IEP legislation may help, but Disability education and awareness campaigns that are mandatory in schools and after-school programs would probably be more beneficial. Lessons that include role-playing and research on disabilities (in a health class) could also lead to less bullying.

    Twinkie1cat voices “Just work with them and help the person be functional. It is all you can do.”

    I believe what we all have to do is deal with the real problems-like finding cures, being better role models, educating ourselves to further our insight and understanding, committing to being a better person and making a difference in our world, making sure that those with disabilities get treatment they need (and in a timely manner) and improving our school systems. Stop labeling and stigmatizing. Start understanding and truly do something that makes a difference-donate time or money to causes, volunteer to aide a child with a disability, volunteer to help parents of a disabled child, mentor, lobby for better laws and healthcare, protect the most vulnerable, take the time to teach all children virtues and morals….I can go on for hours! There are many ways and to many degrees we can all help. It shouldn’t be left to “It is all you can do”. That sounds so hopeless! These children are functional. Functional to their individual capacity. They shouldn’t be crucified for that. And they definitely should not be bullied. Children are works of art in progress! We truly need to all work together to change and be changed.

  4. Rick von Berne says:

    As an education advocate, I counsel parents of disabled students who find themselves the victim of physical and verbal attacks to address the issue as a criminal assault and demand that the school take action against the instigator.

    The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry notes that, ‘Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as their school performance. Some victims of bullying have even attempted suicide rather than continue to endure such harassment and punishment.’ Some have been successful.

    http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/bullying

    They continue with, Children and adolescents who bully thrive on controlling or dominating others. They have often been the victims of physical abuse or bullying themselves. Bullies may also be depressed, angry or upset about events at school or at home. Children targeted by bullies also tend to fit a particular profile. Bullies often choose children who are passive, easily intimidated, or have few friends. Victims may also be smaller or younger, and have a harder time defending themselves.

    Unfortunately, the schools ignore this reality and apply the same rules to victim and victimizer alike, often enforcing zero tolerance policies when they witness only the retaliation and punish only the recipient of endless harassment when they attempt to defend themselves.

    The usual suggestions include,

    * Don’t encourage your child to fight back. Instead, suggest that he or she try walking away to avoid the bully, or that they seek help from a teacher, coach, or other adult.
    * Help your child practice what to say to the bully so he or she will be prepared the next time.
    * Help your child practice being assertive. The simple act of insisting that the bully leave him alone may have a surprising effect. Explain to your child that the bully’s true goal is to get a response.
    * Encourage your child to be with friends when traveling back and forth from school, during shopping trips, or on other outings. Bullies are less likely to pick on a child in a group.

    These efforts may help some of the non-disabled children, but they fail miserably when the victim is developmentally disabled.

    * Walking away indicates victory for the instigator, empowering them to do it again.
    * Without adequate social skills, the victims actions will likely enrage their tormentor, as will attempts to end it by becoming assertive. The aggressors goal is to achieve power and feel good about themself by dominating others.
    * Many of the kids who are victimized do not have friends.

    It is a common belief that most bullying occurs on playgrounds, in lunchrooms, and bathrooms, on school buses or in unsupervised halls, but the acts often occur in class, when the educators are not looking. Alerted to the incident by the sounds of conflict, they see only the retaliation and the victim is suspended and/or punished.

    If the assaults dont stop after seeking assistance from the child’s teacher or the school guidance counselor, its time to demand that the school administrators use every means possible to protect your child. They can copy programs used by other schools and communities to help combat bullying and increase adult supervision. If that does not end the torment, it may be necessary to demand that they video monitor the classrooms and places where the attacks occur to establish who is the instigator and victim..

    The schools often offer to change the victims placement, to separate them from their attacker, but this rewards the wrongdoer and penalizes the victim. The aggressor should immediately be removed from ANY situation where they may come into contact with their victim.

    Were these activities perpetrated upon adults by adults, the crimes involved would include, assault, assault and battery if physical force is used, harassment, stalking and terrorism, if multiple victims are involved. Being minors does not remove them from the protection of or prosecution by the legal system. If the incidents continue, notify the police and file a complaint against the attacker. You can also request an Order of Protection from the court that will establish rules about how far apart the attacker will have to stay from the victim, which the school will have to enforce.

    Should your school continue to offer psycho-babble and fail to take appropriate action, the US Dept of Education has the Office of Civil Rights, which has lawyers and investigators who will compel the district to do what is necessary to protect the rights of the victims.

  5. aguthrie says:

    This article and everyone’s comments are of interest to me on several levels: as the sister, cousin and aunt of a persons with various cognitive disabilities, as a person who has been very involved in issues related to siblings of kids and adults with disabilities, a person with a career in services to persons with DD- and most pertinent to bullying in schools- a volunteer with a disability awareness program that stages events in area elementary schools.
    I agree wholeheartedly with what the last person said:
    “…..Disability education and awareness campaigns that are mandatory in schools and after-school programs would probably be more beneficial. Lessons that include role-playing and research on disabilities (in a health class) could also lead to less bullying.”

    I am involved in a disability awareness program here in Seattle. We are struggling to keep our all volunteer program alive and running. It is hugely popular with schools and we have been booked (for a modest fee) to present our 2 day activity-based event in close to 50 schools over the last 8-9 years. Most volunteers adults who experience a type of disability so that the kids (and teachers) are having direct interactions with a “disabled person” who, while engaging the students in educational activities, also informs them lets them know how they negotiate daily life as well allowing the kids to know about the rich lives they lead despite their challenges.
    We get rave reviews from teachers and the kids themselves. We often have kids with disabilities in the groups we see- sometimes more ‘invisible’ learning disabilities, or others that are more visible. Kids also are anxious- even proud- to let us know that they have a disability or that a friend/sibling or other family member does – something that in other settings they may be less apt to disclose.

    Through this and other things, I have become all too aware of the little effort that is made in public schools to support students with differences. School communities need to become more aware and ready to understand disability and ‘why that kid acts/learns differently’.
    Bullying seems to be on the radar and appears to be a required topic in many districts- but I don’t think disability and how it makes kids particularly vulnerable due to the ignorance of others is considered in these programs. Kids may need more specific education than “be nice to everyone’ diversity training.

    My question: does anyone know of other efforts or programs that have been developed to provide awareness and education to school communities? We are considering writing up a replication guide to market to help ensure schools have access to this information. The program has been adapted by local PTAs and other groups affiliated with schools already with our guidance.

    Thanks for your thoughts-

  6. Rick von Berne says:

    Mac –

    How many other kids get bullied ? Is it also 80%?
    Is it only kids in special ed programs?

    Bullying is a common experience for many children and adolescents. Surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10% are bullied on a regular basis.

    Is there a more appropriate problem to be addressed?

    Getting the schools to understand the severity of the problem and take action to stop it.

    THE PROBLEM seems TO BE BULLYING is way up,
    NOT one specific type of victim.

    With greater awareness of people with disabilities and their issues, the frequency of attacks on students has received more exposure. It was always there, but it’s one of those ‘hidden’ problems that everyone avoids.

    IF KIDS with AUTISM are being bullied so are others, right?

    Kids with autism spectrum disorders have social skill delays, so they respond and act differently from their ‘normal’ or neuro-typical peers, making them stand out. They don’t know how to respond and their tormentor can abuse them at will with little fear of retaliation or of being caught manipulating their fellow student. The ASD will often not even see them coming, while the other kids learn to avoid confrontations.

    I wouldn’t imagine the child bullies know enough to zero in on ONE TYPE of disability or victim.

    Mac, it’s like a pack of wild animals circling a flock to choose dinner. They sense weakness and can single out their quarry, seeking someone they can use as a foil to build their self-image. The more domination and pain they can inflict, the greater their reward.

  7. Julie says:

    Hi  I live in Palm Bay, Fla.
    Last Friday a terrible incident of bullying & violence happened in our town!
    A 15 yr. Old Autistic child was beaten and tortured and verbally assaulted at a open area bus stop right between a fire station and a church for GOD’S sake!!
    He ran to get away and was narrowly missed by a truck & a motorcycle!!
    They had been tormenting & bullying him for a long Period of time. All of which he was unable to defend himself !!
    Turns out the 3 bullies were African American boys older ones and the autistic boy was white!!!
    It has been upgraded to a hate crime by our police chief & battery and assault charges as well as stalking charges were filed.
    The boy had been stalked for a long time so there is a long history of this child getting beaten & stalked and bullied by these 3 !!!
    I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS SIDE OF A BULLY’S HUMAN NATURE!!
    WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY DO HUMANS DO THIS TO EACH OTHER AS CHILDREN A D TEENS . I was bullied in school for years til one day I beat all of them up.
    They never bothered me again and I was asked to guard and protect other victims.
    This is a troubled youth town. We have an area called the compound where there were roads and driveways were made but contracts fell through so for almost 3 miles in all directions there is nothing!
    A most creepy place & many many teens go hang out there and do
    H o r r I b l e things to each other even rapes and killings a d car wrecks and burn g of God knows what and witchcraft and occult type events occur out there !!!!
    Stolen cars stripped down and sold piece by piece for $$$
    Shootings stabbings drugs and rapes and victims from all over!!!
    This younger generation of these type need to go to boot camp and military and get theur butts kicked royally!!!
    Why do kids do this to the less fortunate?

  8. Trevor Evans says:

    I think that these kids should not be bully and they should be in groups. Many case showed that if you are in a group a bully should not come near he or she. If there is a teacher nesr by he or she could ask that teacher to see if he or she could walk that student to their class.

  9. Leti says:

    Children with disabilities shouldn’t be bullied or discriminated because their are not different from us , they are capable of anything and they should be treated just like a human being deserves it.

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