Helping Your Child with Autism Diffuse a Bully Situation on His Own

BullyingBullyingEditor’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.

Studies have shown that bullies target others to gain a feeling of power. Studies also show that more girls than boys are bullies. More often than not, when a child is the victim of bullying, he doesn’t want one of his parents to step in and handle the situation.

Of course, whether or not you do will depend on the age of the child and the severity of the bullying. But since there will always be bullies in the world, even into adulthood, equipping your child with the right tools to handle bullies is one of the best actions you can take. That is much easier said than done for those with autism.

You want your child to have the emotional ability to be able to stand up for himself and learn good conflict resolution skills. Bullying does work to tear down the self-esteem of the victim, so as a parent, you want to make sure that your child understands that at the heart of it, bullying has nothing to do with him.

Reassure him that he’s well loved and that you’re proud of him. Offer a non-judgmental ear so that he doesn’t keep emotions bottled up. Talk to your child about his feelings about the situation and let your support for him be clearly seen.

Often, bullies will pick on other kids because they want to see a reaction. They want to see anger or reduce the victim to tears. Children on the spectrum often feel overwhelmed and it is easy to trigger an emotional reaction.  Spending time on tools and techniques to help your child to maintain self-control is one of the more valuable social skills your child needs.

Depending on the level of bullying, avoiding the confrontation is one way to handle the situation. If there are ways to avoid the bully such as taking another route to class, have him do that.

Talking to a bully rarely ends the bullying so this is not usually a successful strategy.  Bullies want to make their victims feel small.  Show your child that while walking away from a bully is often the best defense. Sometimes the bully refuses to give up and if that’s the case, that it’s okay not to back down. However, given that many children on the spectrum have difficulties with basic social skills engaging with the bully is best to be avoided. Autistic children can often be gloated into responding in an aggressive manner which will not help their situation.

If your child has tried avoiding the confrontation and has tried other forms of conflict resolution, make sure he knows to seek out an adult for help. He should first tell his teacher and if that doesn’t help, you will need to intervene. Go to the guidance counselor or the principal. If the complaints are not taken seriously then you should go to the school superintendent.

Editor’s note:  For simplicity, we are using a male gender in the article but girls as just as easily to be victims of bullying as boys.
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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