Bullying affects everyone not only those on the autism spectrum

BullyingEditor’s Note: One of the mini themes in this month’s ASDigest is the subject of bullying. This week we take a look at various issues around bullying and autism.

Though a lot of bullying happens in schools, it’s not limited by location. You may know someone who has either been bullied, is related to someone who was bullied or witnessed a bullying incident.

Bullying takes shape in many ways and online social media has made it even easier to bully people. From name calling to ugly rumors to physical confrontations, the impact is the same.

This form of behavior demeans and emotionally wounds those impacted by it. Bullying is not limited by a certain age group. Headlines have shown that children as young as first grade are bullied as well as the elderly. However, a 2012 study published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine reported that 46.3% of young people with autism were victims of bullying. Another study done by the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) at the Kennedy Kreiger Institute raised that number to 63%.

The effects of bullying range from mild to severe and in some cases, those who are bullied take their own lives. Depression and thoughts of suicide are also higher for teens on the autism spectrum,

Dealing with the emotional aspect of bullying causes anxiety and an inability to do well at school. This can lead to poor grades. Fear is common in victims of bullying as are anger, mood swings and depression. The stress can cause health problems ranging from headaches to debilitating stomachaches and other symptoms. It can also lead to eating disorders or self-harm practices such as cutting.

The families of those who are bullied often experience feelings of anger, guilt and stress. The stress can be compounded if the bullying is happening in a school setting and the administrators refuse to acknowledge or act in the victim’s best interest.

People who witness acts of bullying also deal with feelings of guilt and often struggle with a sense of helplessness. They feel like they should have done or said something and will also experience a sense of shame.

The future of bullied kids, teens and adults can be impacted by the incident. Those on the spectrum will probably struggle even more with low self-esteem well into adulthood. They may also struggle in their ability to trust other people.

Bullying really has nothing to do with the victim. It’s a need for power and control within the bully. Those who bully others often do so because of a pack mentality, lack of social skills, problems at home, or because they’ve done it before and not had to face any repercussions from their actions.

Bullies who don’t have to face responsibility for their actions often end up in trouble with the law at some point. They may go on to become adult bullies.

If you have a child who has been bullied and it has lasted for awhile, it’s important to have him speak to a counselor who can help him sort through his emotions. If you have a child who has bullied others, it’s important that he’s also counseled in order to learn better coping skills and proper social interaction.

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