If a child with autism is placed in a regular school, then it is important that this child is taught about social norms. They should be taught and trained on how to make friends and how to socialize with their peers. Implementing the use of social stories will help your child learn to share experiences and stories with their peers so that they are able to carry on conversations and social interactions. It is also important to teach the child about emotions; if they cannot recognize the difference in emotions they may not realize that a friend is upset and may respond inappropriately to their friends emotion, which can potentially cause turmoil. Teaching the use of social stories and emotions can also be useful in helping the child learn to identify bullying behavior, by being able to identify when they are being bullied they will be more able to communicate this with teachers, parents, or caregivers.
It is important that awareness of a diagnosis of autism is shared with peers and classmates in advance. If other children are aware of the difference in personality and behaviors they will be less likely to pick on a child with ASD and more likely to defend a friend with autism if he or she is being bullied. Be sure that your child’s classmates are also educated on the impact that bullying can have on other children, for example let them know that bullying can affect the ability to learn and make friends. Knowledge of how these negative behaviors can affect others may also reduce the risk of bullying.
There are many online tools and resources available for parents and children with special needs to give them tips on how to deal with bullying from peers. One specific site that may be useful for your child if he or she is having these experiences at school is kidpower.org. This site also includes bullying prevention, abuse prevention, as well as stranger safety; be sure to visit kidpower and read all the great resources they have to offer! I have taken 8 helpful tips to face bullying with confidence from kidpower, go over each step with your child and practice the exercises listed, it may give your child the confidence to prevent potential future bullying!
1. Walking with Awareness, Calm, Respect, and Confidence
People are less likely to be picked on if they walk and sit with awareness, calm, respect, and confidence. Projecting a positive, assertive attitude means keeping one’s head up, back straight, walking briskly, looking around, having a peaceful face and body, and moving away from people who might cause trouble.
Show your child the difference between being passive, aggressive, and assertive in body language, tone of voice and choice of words. Have your child walk across the floor, coaching her or him to be successful, by saying for example; “That’s great!” “Now take bigger steps”, “Look around you” “Straighten your back.” etc.
2. Leaving in a Powerful, Positive Way
The best self-defense tactic is called “target denial,” which means “don’t be there.” Act out a scenario where maybe your child is walking in the school corridor (or any other place where he or she might bullied). You can pretend to be a bully standing by the wall saying mean things. Ask your child what these mean things might be because what is considered insulting or upsetting is different for different people, times, and places.
Coach your child to veer around the bully in order to move out of reach. Remind your child to leave with awareness, calm and confidence, glancing back to see where the bully is. Let your child practicing saying something neutral in a normal tone of voice like “See you later!” or “Have a nice day!” while calmly and confidently moving away. Point out that stepping out of line or changing seats is often the safest choice.
3. Setting a Boundary
If a bully is following or threatening your child in a situation where she or he cannot just leave, your child needs to be able to set a clear boundary.
Pretend to poke your child in the back (do this very gently; the idea is not to be hurtful). Coach your child to turn, stand up tall, put his or her hands up in front of the body like a fence, palms out and open, and say “Stop!”.
Coach your child to have a calm but clear voice and polite firm words- not whiney and not aggressive. Show how to do it and praise your child for trying -even though she or he does not get it right to begin with. Realize that this might be very hard and triggering for your child (and maybe for you too).
Children need support to learn these skills. The idea is that your child takes charge of his or her space by moving away and, if need be, setting boundaries as soon as a problem is about to start – so that your child doesn’t wait until the bullying is already happening.
4. Using Your Voice
If your child does get into a situation where somebody is trying to push or hit or knuckle her or his head, you could practice by holding your child gently and acting as if you are going to do the action gently. Coach your child to pull away and yell NO! really loudly. Coach him or her to say “STOP! I don’t like that!” Coach your child to look the bully in the eyes and speak in a firm voice with both hands up and in front like a fence. Teach your child to leave and go to an adult for help.
5. Protecting Your Feelings From Name-Calling
Schools, youth groups, and families should create harassment-free zones just as workplaces should. However, you can teach children how to protect themselves from insults. Tell your child that saying something mean back makes the problem bigger, not better.
One way to take the power out of hurting words by is saying them out loud and imagining throwing them away. Doing this physically and out loud at home will help a child to do this in his or her imagination at school.
Help your child practice throwing the mean things that other people are saying into a trash can. Have your child then say something positive out loud to himself or herself to take in. For example, if someone says, “I don’t like you, ” you can throw those words away and say, “I like myself.” If someone says, “You are stupid” you can throw those words away and say, “I’m smart.” If someone says, “I don’t want to play with you” then you can throw those words away and say, “I will find another friend.”
6. Speaking Up for Inclusion
Being left out is a major form of bullying. Exclusion should be clearly against the rules at school. A child can practice persisting in asking to join a game.
Pretend to be a bully who wants to exclude.
Have your child walk up and say, “I want to play.” Coach your child to sound and look positive and friendly, not whiny or aggressive.
Ask your child the reasons that kids give for excluding him or her. Use those reasons so your child can practice persisting. For example, if the reason is, “You’re not good enough,” your child can practice saying “I’ll get better if I practice!” If the reason is, “There are too many already,” your child might practice saying, “There’s always room for one more.” If the reason is, “You cheated last time,” your child might practice saying, “I did not understand the rules. Let’s make sure we agree on the rules this time.”
7. Being Persistent in Getting Help
Children who are being bullied need to be able to tell teachers, parents, and other adults in charge what is happening in the moment clearly and calmly and persistently even if these adults are very distracted or rude – and even if asking for help has not worked before. Learning how to have polite firm words, body language and tone of voice even under pressure and to not give up when asking for help is a life-long skill.
We have found that practice is helpful for both children and adults in learning how to persist and get help when you need it. Here is one you can do with your child.
Pretend to be a teacher or someone else who your child might expect help and support from. Tell your child who you are pretending to be and where you might be at school. Have your child start saying in a clear calm voice, “Excuse me I have a safety problem.”
Remind your child that, if the adult still does not listen, it is not his or her fault, but to keep asking until someone does something to fix the problem. Tell your child to please always tell you whenever she or he has a problem with anyone anywhere anytime. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of adults to create safe environments for the children in their lives and to be good role-models for our children by acting as their advocates in powerful respectful ways.
8. Using Physical Self-Defense as a Last Resort
Children need to know when they have the right to hurt someone to stop that person from hurting them. At Kidpower, we teach that fighting is a last resort – when you are about to be harmed and you cannot leave or get help.
However, bullying problems are often not as clear-cut as other personal safety issues. Families have different rules about where they draw the line. Schools will often punish a child who fights back unless parents warn the school in writing ahead of time that, since the school has not protected their children, they will back their children up if they have to fight.
Learning physical self defense helps most children become more confident, even if they never have to use these skills in a real-life situation. Just being more confident helps children to avoid being chosen as a victim most of the time. There are different self defense techniques for bullying than for more dangerous situations — let your child practice a self defense move like kicking someone in the shins, pinching someone’s leg or upper arm, or hitting someone in the chest. You can practice in the air or by holding a sofa cushion.