I must admit, the title of this article is a bit clickbaity. Bullying can’t be prevented, not entirely, but it can be mitigated. First though, we need to explore what bullying is, and the unique ways autistic people experience it.
What Is Bullying?
The Oxford Dictionary defines bullying as: “The use of strength or power to frighten or hurt weaker people.”
I don’t like this definition in regards to autistics. We aren’t bullied because we’re weak. We’re bullied because we’re different. We make weird stimming noises. We don’t socialize like neurotypical children. We’re obsessed with topics that seem strange to others.
To add another layer of frustration, autistic children often have trouble figuring out why we’re being targeted. Here is a place we differ from neurotypical children. Neurotypical kids get mercilessly bullied for being overweight, for existing as a minority, for being openly LGBTQ+, but at least those are concrete reasons.
The ire autistic children receive from their peers tends to be wild and unbound by logic. In other words, people hate us, but they can’t articulate why.
What Can Be Done?
Okay, now that I’ve rained on everyone’s parade, let’s look at some ways we can reduce bullying of autistic children.
You’re likely doing this already, but teachers and school administrators the world over are notoriously stubborn. Your advocacy will need to become so frequent, so persistent, and so annoying that the school will be forced to act.
During grade school, I was bullied to such a ferocious extent, my father joined a group of parents in suing the school. Only when my father’s advocacy reached that extreme were conditions at the school improved.
Keyword: improved. Bullying still occurred. It’s impossible for schools to end all bullying. It’s human nature to ostracize and attack those who are different. Mitigation, not eradication, is the only realistic goal.
Raising autistic children involves a lot of teaching. Teaching them verbal communication. Teaching them how to identify their feelings. Teaching them non-harmful social behaviors.
However, you can not teach them to defend themselves. Autistic children must develop coping skills unique to them. They must have the ability to handle high-pressure social situations with some semblance of calm and confidence. All you can do is support them.
Self-defense doesn’t always mean punching a bully in the face. (Though, sometimes, it does). It can also mean refusing to back down when intimidated, trading insults, and exuding confidence.
But in order for children to stand up for themselves, they need their parents to stand up for them. Parents need to encourage their children–autistic or otherwise–to fight back against bullies in whatever form that may take, and not chastise them for getting in trouble for doing so.
Can’t We All Just Be Friends?
No, we can’t. Some people just don’t like each other. It’s a fact of life that your child is better off learning sooner rather than later. You want them to find people who genuinely enjoy their company, not people who were forced to be around them. What sort of message would that send?
These suggestions should be implemented together rather than individually. Parent advocacy is important, but school administrators can’t (and many times won’t), stop bullying. Autistic children need to stand up for themselves, but that isn’t possible without the unwavering support from parents.
Finally, an immensely useful skill to teach autistic children the ability to discern who’s pretending to like them, who actually likes them, and who openly dislikes them.
Live And Learn
Bullying is an awful experience, especially for those on the Spectrum. However, it’s a valuable one. The world can be harsh. Autistic children must be taught to lean on their strengths to develop their own ways of overcoming obstacles.
Join the discussion One Comment
You provide a lot of good information and I agree that autistic children must develop coping skills unique to them. However, I disagree with this sentence:
“However, you can not teach them to defend themselves.”
Yes, some autistic children may be physically incapable of defending themselves but most can. Our autistic son was trained in boxing, kickboxing, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. With his mixed martial arts (MMA) skills, he is more than capable of physically defending himself if needed. Also, his confidence in many other areas has skyrocketed.
I highly recommend that all physically capable children become proficient in MMA. The exercise alone is worth it and the freedom from fear of physical assault is priceless.