This is a guest post from ASF Science Writer Jerri Sparks Kaiser. Jerri, a parent of four children, one of whom has autism, blogs for ASF from a parent’s perspective about the latest autism research. A former Congressional Press Secretary, Jerri is an experienced science writer and has written specifically about autism for many years. Before her life in PR, she was a trained researcher having earned her B.A. in Psychology at UCLA. She currently lives with her family in New York.
Bullying is something that has been around as long as adolescents have been in close proximity to each other. Whether your children are in large schools or small schools, bullying exists. With the recent report that ASD children are three times more likely to be bullied than their unaffected siblings, the impact of bullying has taken on a special urgency in my home.
My oldest child has autism and his behaviors have sometimes led others to think he is being intentionally cruel. He has asked women in stores why they are fat or old, often provoking an accusatory look towards me, his mother. Apparently, they think I’ve raised him to be this way. My son has learned not to say such hurtful things, but it took a lot of teaching to help him recognize what is and is not socially acceptable behavior. The same approach can work for other children who do not have an ASD, but who are prone to bullying.
My son has also been on the receiving end of bullying. He has been the subject of teasing and taunts because of his tendency to flap his arms when excited and previously his tendency to walk on his toes when bored. Leg braces worn for a few years to extend his heel cords removed most of his toe-walking but the arm flapping remains.
Once some friends in the neighborhood were visiting my other three children and my oldest son came out to play, too. Since his type of play is somewhat immature, and he is a large child for his age, the kids were mesmerized by his exuberance and some snickering ensued. A quick correction by me stopped what could have escalated to hurtful comments but I realize I can’t always be there. This is where the schools come into play.
I think it is important to educate children and teachers about ways to quickly stop bullying before it begins, by either social media, ads and school discussions, or all three. This does not mean I feel teachers or other grownups have to intervene with every little thing. After all, some kids can work things out between themselves just fine. However, recognizing and remedying what constitutes bullying can go a long way in preventing damaging behaviors.
Bullying is often a result of kids being bullied by someone in their own lives. By bullying someone themselves it gives them a degree of release and control. It is also encouraged when there is an audience from which to draw approval from. According to a great site on bullying called By Parents For Parents, by removing the power of bullying we can begin to reduce its prevalence. Since learning is based on pleasure, associating bullying with undesirable social outcomes can help. By acting swiftly and firmly to prevent bullying we can remove the positive effects the behaviors may be providing the bully.
Bullying is something that can stay with people all their lives. Since past experiences shape our future responses, the sooner we educate others about the negative impact of bullying the sooner we can remove painful experiences from so many in our society. School and social outings are already difficult enough for those with an ASD, bullying just makes it worse. It’s good to know there are ways to prevent it and teach those who engage in bullying more positive ways of interacting with others.