Autism and Asperger’s are both part of the family of autistic spectrum disorders. Asperger’s and autism occur in varying degrees and, in some cases, be rather mild and hard to detect. Symptoms of autism include:
- delays in social and verbal development
- avoids physical contact
- minimal eye contact
- shies away from social interaction
Students who are diagnosed at an early age are often placed in classes for Special Needs children until the degree of their autism is assessed and it is determined how well they will interact with other students. Once in a school setting, their disability, especially if it is highly noticeable, makes them vulnerable to bullies and unwanted attention, learn more on autism and bullying.
Autism and Bullying: Disablist Bullying
Disablist bullying is the act of being bullied because of a person’s disability. A child suffering from Autism, Asperger’s or any other autistic spectrum disorder are easy targets for bullies. Because of the dislike of touch or confrontation, even small gestures, such as a bump in the hallway, can sent them into an episode.
Children who are known to bully others may take great pleasure in learning the triggers that will set off a reaction in an autistic student. What may seem innocent to others, can actually be a way of bullying to an autistic child. The bully often walks away claiming it wasn’t done on purpose, but in actuality, the knowledge of the child’s triggers allowed them to perform the act in a seemingly guilt free manner.
As children with autism age, their reactions to triggers and bullies will change. Some may lash out and fight back, while others may become increasingly more withdrawn. A knowledgeable teacher, parent or guardian will be able to assess these changes and address the issue. Children with autistic spectrum disorders can be taught various techniques, depending on the severity of their diagnosis, on how to react in stressful situations.
Autism and Bullying: Tempering the Autistic Attitude
Children with autism can have explosive outbursts if pushed too far by bullies or confrontation people. Teaching them how to control their reactions is a definite challenge and can seem impossible if a child’s diagnose is moderate to severe. A child with autism constantly deals with sensory overload and, even in mild cases, it may not take much to force them into a reaction.
The inability to recognize social cues and difficulty in carrying on a conversation can make an autistic child feel awkward and out of place. This automatically puts them out of their comfort zone and into uncharted waters. The discomfort of this type of situation in addition to the additional sensory issues can be all it takes to put a student on edge. Add the bully to the equation and the result may not be pleasant.
Parents and teachers who constantly work with their autistic children can often alleviate the feelings of discomfort by integrating the child into mainstream classrooms and activities at an early age. The early they are when they learn important coping mechanisms, the easier it is for them to adjust as they grow older. Autistic students who have been allowed to interact with other students are often less likely to react to bullies who attempt to set them off.
Autistic children are self-absorbed to the extent that the things they see, feel and hear dramatically affect whether or not they see the world as a threat. They often see the world in snapshots of time or in sound segments. This can dramatically distort how they perceive the world around them. Teaching children to connect the dots, so to speak, will help them have a more fluid and uniform view of the world they live in. It also can help alleviate much of the fear or discomfort they feel in stressful situations.
Autism and Bullying: Managing the Bully
Bullies, especially those who target children with disabilities, are most often aware of what they are doing. Depending on the situation, and whether or not disciplinary action has proven effective, removing the bully may be the only viable option. If it is unclear whether his or actions are intentional or not, some form of discipline must be kept in place. Autistic children do not do well with change. Disrupting their environment because of the actions of another can have an adverse effect on their ability to learn and mature.
Each child is different and copes with their level of disability in their own specific way. Learning their triggers and monitoring others around them will help you determine if they are the victim of a bully or an unintentional action. Learning the difference between the two can help the child stay on track and move forward with their learning .