October is National Bullying Awareness Month. For those of us with children on the spectrum, bullying is one of our greatest fears. A nonverbal child cannot stand up for himself or easily ask for help. For children who have language, dyspraxia and social skill deficits can prevent them from recognizing that they are being mistreated in the first place, or from pulling out the language needed to stop the bullying from re-occurring. As parents, bullying prevention is a lifelong reality.
My adult son has probably been bullied more times than I know. It would not be realistic to think I could protect him at all times, even though my heart would like to. Over time, I have found strategies that are helpful for everyone involved in the situation. As hard as it can be, I have found that taking my heart out of the situation helps. I must still provide facts as I know them, listen to school staff as they share what they know, and allow them to do their work with the expectation that they will help everyone involved – not just my child, but also the bully and the bystanders.
When my son was 3 and had very little language, he came home from his mother’s morning out program referring to himself as “Stupid Paul.” I was heartbroken that someone would call him such a name. He smiled when he said it, not realizing it was meant as an insult. His teacher was mortified and promised it would be dealt with. In the end, the 4-year-old who taught him this new word was also given some lessons on better ways to act when confronted by someone whose behavior seems strange. His teacher made the incident a teachable moment. I followed up at home, helping my son learn that calling a person “stupid” is not what we do and giving him the language to respond if someone called him that name in the future, as well as a plan for what to do next.
As he grew older, other incidents occurred. Sometimes the problems were resolved quickly, with the adults in charge creating teachable moments for all involved. They notified me of the occurrences as they happened and shared the plan for helping the bully as well as my son, who still struggles with reading the emotions and intentions of others. Other times, nothing was done, and I would eventually find out when I overheard my son in his room talking himself through what had happened. Those were painful times for both of us. The times that it happened, I contacted the school and scheduled meetings where we could work together to resolve the situation.
Having taught school, I knew that my concerns could only pertain to my son, since the school were not permitted to tell me anything about those who were doling out the bullying. I wish I could say that the schools were always open to addressing the problems, but that was not always the case. When administrators were upfront about incidents of bullying (without violating the law) and they had plans for helping everyone involved, we were able to move on to a better place much more quickly. It gave me the proof I needed to have faith that the school would look out for my son and also teach his fellow students to advocate for others who could not advocate for themselves.
Working with Schools
We can all agree that bullying has no place in schools or the workplace. No one benefits from the tension it produces. As a parent, you can use websites to learn more about programs that are available for schools, such as the federal government’s site or the NC Department of Public Instruction’s website. If you believe your child is experiencing bullying, these are good websites to reference as you work with the school to eliminate the problem.
Depending on your child’s age, schools address bullying through a variety of methods. Many elementary schools will focus on bullying prevention this month with class assignments, assemblies, and signs. Middle and high schools may have clubs or student groups that teach students how to intervene when they see someone being bullied. Still others will incorporate lessons into their Character Education, as a way to reinforce the skills that contradict bullying all year long. If your child’s school does not provide Character Education, it would be worth asking them to consider adopting the curriculum. Rather than focusing on teaching children what not to do, it is also important to teach them what to do instead.
Across the state, most schools have added safety features designed to help victims stay safe. If you check your child’s school district website, you may find a link where you or your child can report bullying. If you don’t see it plainly on the website, try searching for “Bullying.” It may be listed under School Health and Safety. In some school districts, the reports can be made anonymously and an administrator outside of the school will work with the principal to address reports.
The new emphasis on prevention is positive, but as parents, we must become knowledgeable about this delicate subject so that we can be strong, lifelong advocates for our children. The Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) has a free, downloadable Bullying Toolkit on our toolkits webpage. For many parents, just being able to recognize the signs of bullying is a challenge, so the toolkit provides a list of things to be aware of. It will also provide you with tips you can use to help your child, including what to say or do, as well as what not to say or do. The toolkit offers talking points if you need to motivate your child’s school to intensify their program. Sometimes our children are not the victim of bullying, but rather, they are the bully. The Bullying Toolkit can help with that as well. Along with helpful information, the Bullying Toolkit lists books, DVDs, websites, and other resources on bullying.
So what can parents do when their child becomes an adult and is no longer in school? If the bullying occurs in the workplace, college, group home, or day program, Disability Rights NC can be a good resource to help the parent, guardian, or self-advocate sort out options. If the self-advocate or adult with autism has been bullied at work and they have self-identified right after being hired, the first place to ask for help is company’s Human Resources Department. If the HR staff is not able to help, then the next step may be to contact DRNC. Their website offers information on abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
For those with services through a managed-care organization (MCO), a Community Navigator/Community Guide or Care Coordinator should also be notified. An important part of their job is to protect clients against maltreatment and help them find better options.
If you are not sure where to turn, ASNC’s Autism Resource Specialists can guide you to the help you need. Find contact information for the Autism Resource Specialist who covers your area of North Carolina on our website.
The ASNC Bookstore also has lots of helpful resources on bullying. Here are some of our favorites:
- Bullying Is a Pain in the Brain
- No More Victims: Cyber Bullying
- Aspie Teen’s Survival Guide
- How to Stop Bullying and Social Aggression
- Getting Beyond Bullying and Exclusion
Nancy Nestor, an Autism Resource Specialist in the Charlotte region, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-894-9678.
Tags: ASNC, autism, autism acceptance, autism advocacy, autism asperger parenting tips, autism awareness, autism behavior, autism bullying, autism education, autism social skills, autism society north carolina, autism society of NC, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, autism support, Bullying